Can Our Marriage Survive an Affair?

When an affair takes place in a marriage or committed relationship, it is almost always a devastating experience for everyone. The first thing to realize is, no matter how much pain, anger, guilt, or confusion you may be feeling right now, you are not alone: What you are feeling is probably very normal.

Here are some of the feelings people often have when they find out their partner had an affair:

You wonder who you are and what you mean to your partner. You no longer feel special. You wonder if he or she ever really loved you.

You wonder if you did anything to cause this. You doubt your self-worth and attractiveness.

Your sense of justice in this world is shattered.

You seem to have no control over your thoughts, feelings, or actions.

You have trouble working, sleeping, or eating – or all you do is work, eat, or sleep, so you don’t have to think about what happened.

You feel alone, because you can’t decide who you can tell about this. You don’t want friends and family to hate your partner. You are embarrassed.

You don’t want to see your partner ever again, or you feel like anxiously clinging to him or her.

You may have the urge to go out and have an affair yourself.

If you are the one who cheated, you are likely also going through a variety of strong and confusing feelings:

Whether you decided to tell your partner or they found out accidentally, you are likely to feel a certain amount of relief as well as exhaustion, especially if you put a lot of energy into keeping the secret.

While a part of you may feel better now that things are in the open, another part of you may feel terribly guilty. You genuinely care about your partner and hate the fact that you hurt them.

You wonder if you should lie to your partner to protect them from the full extent of the truth.

You feel nervous or terrified about the future, anger at yourself or at no one in particular. There is often an overwhelming feeling of shame and disgust.

You wonder who you have become. If you cared about the person you had the affair with, there is some guilt and concern about them, too.

You may experience an overwhelming feeling of isolation, as few people will express empathy for your situation.

Now what?!

The hardest part is getting through the day. Who do we tell about this? There is still so much day-to-day stuff to organize, how do we deal with the elephant in the room? Which physical boundaries do we need right now? What exactly happened between you and that person? And do I even want to know? There are things that are important to talk about, and there are things that make it worse. At some point – sooner rather than later – you will need to talk about what happened, but try to keep the focus on the essentials:

How long did this relationship last?

Is this a person your partner knows, and who initiated it?

Was it physical/sexual?

What was the extent of the lies that were told in order to conceal it? Who else knows about the affair?

How much money was spent on the affair?

Is there a risk of an STD or pregnancy?

Why did you do it, and what was going on with you or our relationship?

As the betrayed partner you may have the urge to push for learning the minute, x-rated details of the sexual encounters, or want to ask self-destructive questions, such as asking your partner compare you to the person they had the affair with. My advice is – don’t! Keep the focus on your relationship, not the lover. If you’re the one being pushed to answer those kind of questions, choose your words wisely, with lots of sensitivity, and give only feedback that is constructive.

Get support!

It might take a long time to figure out what led to this crisis and where to go from here. Your first impulse is probably not the wisest. Try to postpone permanent decisions until you can think more clearly. At this point, you may not be able to commit to your partner, but you could decide to commit to the process of finding out whether you can work through this together and restore (or even improve) your relationship.

Many couples find that the support of family and friends is good, but not sufficient – as both family and friends have a stake in the outcome, as well as their own personal experiences that influence their advice to you. As a couple in crisis, you need more than just a listening ear. You’ll need a safe and controlled environment in order to work through these issues together, and you will need someone to help you navigate this process and teach you how to communicate without making things worse. That’s why many couples find they need couples therapy at this point of their relationship – and some wish they had done so before the affair took place!

Many marriages don’t break up because of a single affair. But since many feel that the secrecy and lies are the worst part of the betrayal, it will take a lot of emotional muscle on both sides to work through what happened and what it means. Some couples tend to make the rash decision of breaking up, while others would love to avoid the conflict all together and “move on” without ever really dealing with the underlying issues. But if you can make the honorable effort of working through the hard questions of what happened and why, your relationship can come out stronger than it ever was.

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