Marriage After an Affair — Is it Even Possible?
Marriages can and do recover from an affair, very often functioning at a higher level than previously.
There are many variables that influence how successful the marriage can be including: how long the affair went on, the nature of the affair (what degree of emotional bonding occurred during the affair) and both partners motivation to re-engage in the marriage. Length of time in counselling can also be a variable. If a couple attends one or two counselling sessions and one partner decides that they do not want to work at the marriage anymore, that it should be enough to just "stop the affair" it is likely that the marriage will not succeed.
Marriages have a better prognosis if couples continue to address all of the tough questions, and stay open to change. Most couples need a third party professional to help them negotiate a new relationship. Counselling does not need to be long term but both partners need to have confidence that they are on the right track.
The Typical Steps of Recovery After an Affair
The first step in recovery is disclosure by the affair partner. Very often the other partner is asking the questions about how long, where, what did you do, how often, how do I know its over (these are the big ones at least). In counselling, the affair partner is encouraged to answer honestly without defending themselves.
If one or both partners get angry as they often do, the therapist can step in and keep the process moving. Disclosure is not a distinct process with a beginning and end however and can permeate future sessions. The therapist supports both partners through this process at all times.
The next step involves re-establishing trust in the marriage. The affair partner has to be absolutely clear that they have ended the affair. Ending the affair means no further email contact, phone calls, and texting. The other partner will normally want proof that contact has ended. The affair partner is very often asked to supply that proof.
It is quite normal for the other partner to continue to ask for proof by checking email accounts and phone records. One way of re-establishing trust is to allow that partner access with full cooperation. Trust is also established subjectively through daily interactions and although harder to assess, couples will often report that they are "feeling the trust returning" after several counselling sessions.
The next step involves assessing the historical marital climate. Couples are asked about their normal marital processes of how they maintain intimacy, conflict resolves, parent if applicable, equity of labour distribution, in law problems, and general communication patterns. Areas that are particularly vulnerable are targeted and with the couple's collaboration counselling goals are set based on this assessment.
Couples are cautioned that the marital climate did not cause the affair but may have influenced the affair partner to start the affair. The affair was the solution that the affair partner arrived at if they were unhappy with the marital climate.
Trusting Your Spouse After an Affair
Trust can return slowly but not on demand. It is of little value for the affair partner to say "trust me, I have ended the affair". Essentially you are asking someone who you have been deceptive with to believe that you won't be deceptive. After disclosure and firm commitments to end the affair, trust is slowly regained through continued vigilance by the couple to process difficult questions.
If the affair partner can maintain openness and not attempt to shut down conversations about their whereabouts the other partner can begin to forgive and gradually return to higher levels of trust. Trust is an on-going process, not an event and couples are coached to view it as such.