Infidelity can shatter even the strongest relationship, leaving
behind feelings of betrayal, guilt, and anger. For the one-quarter of married
couples who have suffered this breach of loyalty, according to the American
Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, overcoming those feelings can be
But with the support of family, friends, a good therapist, and
each other, it is possible for a couple to put the cloud of an affair behind
them, and in some cases, emerge as a stronger unit.
By Ty Wenger
Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a romantic pickle: Cheryl, a woman I
had been dating for about three months, was nearing her 25th birthday. The
birthday gift in any three-month-old relationship is a dicey one, and I
deliberated over it for weeks. Too big too soon and it could look like I was
trying too hard. Too little and I might appear indifferent. Too romantic and
I'd run the risk of setting the bar too high.
And so it was with great enthusiasm that I finally unveiled...
For others, an affair is too heavy a weight for a relationship
to bear, and parting ways may be the only answer. But before a fighting couple
both head for the door, there are steps that can be taken that might help the
relationship get on the track to healing. Experts tell WebMD why someone might
have an affair, how an affair can be overcome, and how to know when it's time
to call it quits.
Cause and Effect
"There are many different reasons why someone might have an
affair," says Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, a marriage and family therapist in
Illinois. "Sometimes it is purely a case of bad judgment -- a person may
feel satisfied with their marriage, but a late night at the office with a
co-worker and a couple of glasses of wine can lead to lack of impulse control.
More commonly, it's a search for an emotional connection -- wanting someone to
pay attention to you, flatter you, be attracted to you."
Whatever the reason for the affair, the effect infidelity has
on a relationship is devastating.
"Nothing rocks a person's sense of
self, trust, and marriage more than infidelity," says Weiner-Davis, author
of The Sex-Starved Marriage. "Infidelity leaves people questioning
their sanity, as well as everything they believe to be true about their spouse,
and about the viability of their marriage. Infidelity is
People find themselves crying a lot, not being able to
concentrate, being upset, and feeling depressed.
"These are all of the initial emotions
that go with the discovery of the betrayal," Weiner-Davis tells WebMD.
"However, emotions change over time."
When the initial shock of an affair is over, then it is time
for both people in the relationship to examine what role they played in letting
the relationship slide down such a slippery slope:
"You have to stop the affair, first and foremost," says Jamie
Turndorf, PhD, a couples therapist in New York. "You can't reinvest in the
marriage if you have one foot out the door."
Remember that there will be ups and downs after an affair. "The road to
recovery after an affair is jagged, and that is completely normal," says
"The person who had the affair needs to be willing
to discuss what happened openly if the betrayed spouse wants to do that,"
"The person who had an affair has to be willing to
be accountable for his or her whereabouts, even though he or she thinks that
may be unfair," says Weiner-Davis.
"There needs to be a willingness to make promises
and commitments about the future, that an affair will not happen again,"
The betrayed person should set the timetable for
recovery. "So often the person who cheated is eager to put the past in the
past, but he or she really has to honor the other person's timetable," says
"The person who had the affair should examine the
personal reasons for straying and what needs to change to avoid the temptation
in the future," says Weiner-Davis.
As for moving forward, both people in the relationship should take
responsibility for building a new foundation. "Both people in the
relationship should ask the other what he or she can do to rebuild the
connection and what actions should be avoided because they are breaking
it," says Turndorf, author of Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You
First). "Even the person who was cheated on should say to herself,
'What role did I play in driving you away and what can I do to make you more
connected to me in the future?'"
Try marriage therapy or take a marriage education
class. "You really need to find a counselor or therapist who is
pro-marriage, and can help get your relationship back on track," say
Weiner-Davis. "Steer clear of therapists who see infidelity as a marital
death sentence -- it isn't."