Coping with an affair
I know many people who hold the view that if their partner had an affair that would be the end of the relationship. However, in the counselling room, many couples that may have held that view find the reality of an affair taking place puts them in a very different position.
Firstly, it is worth considering what an affair actually is. Whilst the common view is to view affairs as one partner concealing a sexual relationship with another person, there are couples who would view inappropriate communication such as flirty texts or comments via Facebook as effectively an affair. However, it is easy to be clear what an affair is not and that is to move from one life-partner to another. Whilst 50% of marriages or long-term relationships will survive an affair, only 10% of people who have an affair go on to establish a long-term relationship with the other person.
However, the basis for having an affair can be many and varied. There can be straightforward “opportunistic” affairs that may result from a drunken night whilst away from a spouse or partner or the “revenge” affair where a person seeks to get back at their partner’s previous infidelity. The “exit” affair tends to occur where one partner wants out of the relationship and hopes the affair will force their partner to conclude the relationship must end. Most commonly the affair that presents in counselling is the “notice me” affair where one partner feels they have tried to communicate issues with the relationship and their partner has not been able or willing to listen to this.
The discovery of an affair provokes many emotions from anger and anxiety to questioning one’s self-worth. When a “notice me” affair has occurred it is often worth exploring what was happening in the relationship prior to the affair beginning. Furthermore, it can help to look at the affair as a message to the relationship and explore what this may be. A common experience in couples is where one is very focused on their career to improve things for the family but fails to notice their partner’s growing loneliness as time and energy is deflected from the relationship. As time goes on this focus prevents the concerns being raised being given due regard and at some point, a more sympathetic ear may be found from which an affair can evolve.
Therapy or counselling can help both partners begin to understand their role in the affair and re-evaluate what the affair may mean. Often couples want to go back to the way things were but are encouraged to move forward to a better relationship having learnt the lessons the affair held.