The impact of affairs on a relationship

I do not need to tell anyone that has experienced a partner having an affair or being the person having the affair what effect this can have on a relationship on so many levels. There are many reasons that lead to affairs happening in a relationship, which has a detrimental impact on both parties.

Why do affairs happen?

The key triggers of why affairs happen are commonly around partners feeling there is an emotional disconnection, a lack of any intimacy, a breakdown of communication and not feeling heard by the other partner. This increases when children come along, as the couple can feel that they are only a mum, dad, wife or husband and start to lose themselves within the couple relationship and their own individual identity. When couples are in this place of emotional disconnect, this leads to withdrawal from each other or on-going arguments.

This does not happen overnight and can be building for many months and in some cases years. This can make the relationship vulnerable and create resentment towards each other. Once a relationship is in a vulnerable place, this leaves it open for a third party to be invited into your partner’s life. The huge difficulty for the partner that has been affected by the affair, they cannot understand why their partner could do this to them, feeling like it is the ultimate betrayal. This is because they have also felt the same disconnect in the relationship, however, they did not choose to have an affair, therefore it is understandable that this is hard for any partner to ‘get their head around’.

The impact an affair has on the partner

The impact on the partner that has been affected by the affair, triggers the sense of loss within the relationship. Both partners may have been experiencing on-going loss already within the relationship for some time due to the emotional disconnect between each other. However, this is on an unconscious level and can be normalised, as a result of the length of time the emotional disconnect has been going on in the relationship. Loss triggers feelings of shock, denial, anger, confusion, humiliation and sadness on a conscious level when there has been an affair. This can be like being on a roller coaster ride for both partners as emotions and thoughts are intensified.

The roller coaster of emotions floods out in many ways and has many trigger points. The other partner that has had the affair does not know how to manage this, as it is a process and is not about trying to fix it, whilst getting hopeless on both sides. What is needed is time to heal, patience and understanding, this requires support to work through together as a couple. It is very rare that this can be worked through without support, as it needs time to deconstruct what has been happening in the relationship to then be able to rebuild it. 

What couple counselling offers

Couples counselling offers a safe, confidential and contained space for both parties, to explore and ‘unpick’ what has been happening in the relationship to get them both to the place they are at.

When there has been an affair it is difficult for friends and family to be objective and not judge either partner’s choices, which can add more pressure to the couple’s situation. A counsellor’s role is to be non-judgemental and empathetic to both parties, as the counsellor is a neutral party, with the privilege of having the helicopter view.

What can you expect from the couple's sessions

All counsellor’s structures of sessions will be varying, however, the outcome of the work with a couple has the same aim, to support you both to explore and understand each other’s perspectives to support you to reconnect, feel heard and facilitate communication.

The road to recovery is not easy, but if you both commit to the journey, it can give you both a whole new perspective on what you want from your relationship. In the long run, creating a deeper and stronger couple connection, building a solid foundation. You will realise how important it is to grow together rather than growing apart. Relationships are like plants, they continually need water, feed, re-potted and trimmed just like relationships.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 3DZ
Written by Ann-Marie Masson, (BACP Registered Member)
Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 3DZ

I have spent the past 15 years working as a qualified Relate counsellor and trainer, specialising in working with relational issues. Alongside this, I have built up a successful practice working with couples, individuals, children and young people supporting them in improving their emotional and mental well-being.

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