When a couple is faced with infidelity and want to overcome it, there are usually three main issues that need to be confronted and dealt with:
1. Coping with the blame
After an affair has taken place, it’s quite common for both the betrayer and the betrayed to pass the blame card. Often after the initial heartfelt apologies are made, fingers are pointed and blame is pushed onto both parties. But in order for healing to take place, each partner must explore the personal issues that might have contributed to the affair. In my practice, I’ve seen a few common scenarios. For example, the infidelity might have stemmed from a family history of cheating and acceptance, which in turn created a learned behaviour that is reinforced at home.
Also common is the midlife crisis, which results in the adulterer questioning his/her lifelong choices: marriage, job, etc and/or the person who was betrayed drifting away from their partner and their relationship in more ways than one. Whatever the issue or issues, both parties need to treat the infidelity as “their” problem and only then can they start to discuss what’s going on in the relationship.
2. Working on forgiveness
There is no quick-step guide to overcoming infidelity; however, these few suggestions may help lead you down a path of forgiveness and recovery. First of all, the couple should commit to attending therapy at least a few times a month in order to bring a mediator into the picture who can help them learn how to express their feelings openly, honestly and without judgment. This is also a scheduled time dedicated to nothing but improving the relationship.
Secondly, both parties should share their schedules with each other in considerable detail, in order to avoid having long periods of time for which they aren’t accountable. This can help ease the mind of the betrayed partner.
Thirdly, the adulterer should agree to cut off all contact with the third party, and should be open and honest about any contact that this party tries to make.
And finally, the partner that was betrayed should be allowed 5-10 minutes of venting time per day to get out any emotions and/or questions that they have — a time limit on this is important, however. It is also important to stay away from asking specific sexual details (“Did you have sex?” is okay, but asking where they had sex or if there was dirty talk is not helpful). Inquiries such as these generally don’t help in the healing process.
3. Bringing back physical intimacy
Trying to create a sex life after an affair has taken place can be one of the most challenging things for a couple to deal with. The hard fact of it is that sexual healing will only begin after a certain measure of forgiveness has been achieved. This is not easy, and comes at different times — if at all — for each individual. The first step to forgiveness is often accepting the fact that the past cannot be changed, and giving up the hope that it could have been any different. It’s also important to remember that infidelity is a life-changing event for both partners, which requires introspective work on all accounts. Relationships can, however, actually thrive after an affair, once each partner has done work on themselves and on their relationship. This can bring the couple closer together and make them more honest with themselves and each other, foraging bonds stronger then they each thought possible.
Dr. Teesha Morgan is a sex therapist based in Vancouver, BC.