Surviving an affair

Surviving an affair

Nothing rocks a relationship more than when one person steps outside of the relationship either through a sexual or emotional affair.  Upon the affair becoming known, a couple has several critical and immediate decisions to make.

One decision is whether or not to allow punishment into the relationship aimed at the person who committed the break in fidelity to the relationship. Some couples or individuals have a belief in punishing someone who has done wrong and often the person who was unfaithful agrees to be punished- for a period, usually a period that neither person agrees to upfront. Other couples don’t have this belief in punishment but the hurt party is overwhelmed by anger, fear and hurt and lashes out as a result of these thoughts and feelings.

When I get the opportunity to work with couples very early upon learning about infidelity, we discuss the choice to bring punishment/abuse into the relationship. However, choosing to allow punishment into a relationship is a very dangerous and wild beast that once let out of its cage can be difficult to reign back in. When a person has been hurt through infidelity, trust is lost and the person often feels hurt, fear, anger and many other strong emotions. From a cognitive level, the person has left their thinking mind – the prefrontal cortex and entered their emotional mind or limbic systems in which fight or flight is the response. Our brain cannot differentiate between a saber tooth tiger trying to kill us and our spouse cheating on the relationship.

We seek to control what we fear and infidelity, a fight reaction is to control the offending partner, often in relationship harming ways such as criticizing, blaming, guilty, threats and contempt. Unfortunately these punishing behaviors  though understandable have several negative consequences for the person doing the punishing as well as the relationship. The brain is use-dependent and the more the person punishes, the more brain thinks it feels better-in the short term. So the brain starts to generalize any perceived triggers more widely and the punishing behavior increases or becomes difficult to turn off.

Another decision is whether or not to repair and improve the relationship. I’ve yet to meet a couple that experienced infidelity in which the relationship was in a strong, healthy and happy place prior to the incident. Usually infidelity comes about because there was something not working in the relationship and one individual’s needs were not being met to such a level that the individual decided to get their needs met outside the relationship.

We always want to repair and IMPROVE, we do not want to go back to the way things were as this will result in a break down in the marriage. So in order to repair and improve the relationship BOTH individuals in the relationship must be will to work on changing their behaviors to help the relationship. Often the hurt individual is reluctant to change because they didn’t go outside the relationship and feels the other person needs to make it up. However, this is a punishment voice talking and in a relationship it takes both people working on it to improve it.

Another decision the couple must decide is whether or not they can let go of the past and work towards forgiveness so that trust can built. This is important choice and decision because without it the relationship will flounder to recover. By continuing to bring up the past and withholding forgiveness, punishment is sure to flourish and it’ll be hard to develop trust. One thing both couples must remember is that it is very hard to feel warm and loving feelings towards a person that is making you feel bad via punishment.

Finally, a couple must decide whether or not they want to engage help with a professionally trained counsellor. Couples can attempt to repair and improve their relationship on their own. The benefit of seeking outside help is that a professionally trained counsellor has specialized skills and training in human development, relationships, brain functioning along with various effective counselling theories to speed along recovery more effectively. A professionally trained counsellor can help couples navigate the various challenges to improving the relationship and give the couple new and more effective skills to make sure the relationship is better and stronger in areas of communications, sexual intimacy, friendship and trust.

Our effective relationship counsellor on infidelity will help you repair and improve your relationship. She will partner with you to help you learn more effective relationship skills, improve communication, friendship and sexual intimacy. Contact us to find out more at 9030 7239 or visit

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