Counselling after an affair
Counselling can help, following the discovery of an affair, in at least five ways.
Firstly, it can help the couple in thinking through their next steps. It explores the questions 1) do we both want to try and work at the relationship again? and 2) do we have faith that this is, at least in principle, a possibility?
Secondly, it can address the practical question of what has actually happened. The affaired-against partner is very much playing catch-up in term of information. In counselling we can explore ways to ask the inevitable questions, which may be quite specific ('did you see him/her on my birthday last year? Did you stay at the hotel we went to in the Summer?'). The partner that had the affair may be very reluctant to give details, and it can be helpful to talk through how information is part of the healing process. (It may also help slowly re-establish honesty and trust).
Thirdly, counselling can offer a safe environment to express the normal feelings of anger, abandonment, sadness and disorientation which follow for the affaired-against partner. But the partner who has had the affair may experience powerful feelings too - not simply guilt or remorse, but perhaps mourning for the affair relationship, once it's over. And longer-term resentments and other feelings which have been simmering are often now able to be expressed for the first time. A 'secure base' to explore these issues can be very helpful.
Fourthly, counselling can help a couple decide what was missing in the relationship before, and what they now want. This can start with an honest assessment of each partner's wants and needs. Again, it may seem counter-intuitive to the partner who has had the affair to make a wish list at all, but in fact this is usually very helpful to their partner. The wish list can cover the whole spectrum of the relationship, from the amount of time spent together and apart, talking together and playfulness, through to non-sexual physical touch, and the meeting of erotic needs.
One of the main things that happens after an affair is a loss of our idealised image of the other. How can I see him/her as a good person again when they've betrayed my trust? Lastly, then, counselling can help us re-imagine our partner, and redefine the ways in which we give and receive trust.
With the the help of an experienced relationship therapist (ideally with specialist training) couples can not only survive affairs but develop far richer and more rewarding relationships.