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Helping your relationship heal if you’ve had an affair

Tags: affair, cheating, relationship therapy, couple therapy

If you’ve had an affair, there may be a question mark hanging over your entire relationship. If you and your partner have decided to work things out, the following tips can help you both to overcome the effects of the affair and start moving on together.

When you first admit to your partner that you’ve had an affair, it’s natural for them to feel lost and confused. Their safe connection with you has been threatened, and it can lead to a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. They may feel angry and behave aggressively or they may shut down and be unable to communicate with you at all [1].

Affairs leave people feeling emotionally vulnerable, so your partner may become insecure and clingy to protect the relationship [2]. They may repeatedly ask for reassurance that you love them and are still committed to the relationship. Try not to get frustrated - give your partner time to react to the news without criticising them.

After the initial shock and rollercoaster of emotions have died down, you and your partner can both begin thinking about how and why things went wrong in the relationship and how you might move beyond the problem [3]. Revealing an affair can cause your partner to become extremely aware of your behaviour in the relationship and they may start to analyse and judge your actions [1]. They may become more suspicious of you, even when you are behaving normally. For example, if you are trying to be considerate and leave the room to answer your phone, your partner may worry that you are trying to talk to someone in secret [4].

How can I help us move on?

One of the best things you can do is try to understand your partner’s point of view. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, even if it hurts to hear. It is also important for you to communicate your own feelings.

You will both need to find ways to overcome the mistrust. For example, you may consider sharing the password to your Facebook account or giving your partner access to your phone. These things will only work if the decisions are made together, so make sure you discuss these ideas thoroughly and come up with a plan that works for both of you [4].

As well as talking things through together, several studies suggest that couple therapy can be an effective way of coming to terms with an affair and moving on together [5] [6]. In a recent study, couples who had successfully dealt with an affair recommended seeking support from people outside of the relationship, as well as talking and listening to each other.

References

[1] Oka, M., Sandberg, J. G., Bradford, A. B., & Brown, A. (2014). Insecure attachment behavior and partner violence: Incorporating couple perceptions of insecure attachment and relational aggression. Journal of marital and family therapy40(4), 412-429.

[2] Johnson, S., Makinen, J. A., & Milliken, J. (2001). Attachment injuries in couples relationships: A new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(2), 145–155.

[3] Olson, M. M., Russell, C. S., Higgins‐Kessler, M., & Miller, R. B. (2002). Emotional processes following disclosure of an extramarital affair. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy28(4), 423-434

[4] Brimhall, A. S., Miller, B. J., Maxwell, K. A., & Alotaiby, A. M. (2016). Does it help or hinder? Technology and its role in healing post affair. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 1-19.

[5] Dunn, R. L., & Schwebel, A. I. (1995). Meta-analytic review of marital therapy outcome research. Journal of Family Psychology, 9(1), 58-68.

[6] Baucom, D. H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K. T., Daiuto, A. D., & Stickle, T. R. (1998). Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 53– 88.

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