After the Affair – Relationship Recovery
Is it possible for a relationship to recover after an affair? Usually when I ask this question women tell me that it is their absolute NO Line. If their partner is unfaithful, then it will mean the end of their relationship. However, often women find when it happens to them, that life is not so black and white. They have feelings to contend with jealousy, rage, sadness, revenge and regret about what has happened. All these feelings can oscillate between intense heartache and anger. What makes the feelings more confusing is we fire up with anger, and it is our way of keeping us safe from the deeper feelings that are too painful to bear.
Women can find themselves questioning just what their relationship means, and despite being so clear before finding out about the affair, that they would leave, now find themselves considering if they can stay. It is a horrible tug of war between head, your logic telling you he is a cheater, and you should go, and your heart crying that you love him.
One thing is for certain if you decide to stay, your relationship will never be quite the same again. Rebuilding the love and trust in a relationship is a long slow process. It is challenging and requires commitment from both partners.
You need to see a commitment from your partner that he is willing to put the relationship first to demonstrate trustworthiness, not just through words but also with actions. You need to see your partner walk the talk. Anyone can say they are sorry and promise it will never happen again. A real commitment to a relationship is demonstrating again and again, to you, through actions that they are trustworthy. You need to think clearly about what you need from your partner to know that they are being true to you and communicate that so that your partner has an understanding of your needs and how you are feeling.
Before you can begin to rebuild your relationship with your partner you need to be clear about what you want. You cannot begin any process of reconnection until you know whether you still want to be in the relationship or not. Here are some areas to think about that will guide you to a conclusion about whether you can move forward with your partner.
Anger and Resentment
Do you feel as though you have processed your anger and resentment towards your partner? Until you have worked through your anger and resentment to a place where you are not feeling extreme rage, you cannot consider reconnecting with your partner. Your anger will hold you back from feeling the deeper feelings you need to get in contact with and from connecting with your partner on a deeper level to discover why the affair happened in the first place.
Can you forgive your partner for the affair? This does not mean accepting what they have done, or letting them do whatever they like. It means forgiving them so that you can put the affair behind you. To be able to forgive someone usually means being able to communicate with them how you are feeling and be sure they understand how they have hurt you. The forgiveness then enables the relationship to start afresh, but it does not mean that you forget what has happened. It means that you set new boundaries in place having learned what has happened before. It means you can let go of what has happened and not bring it up in every argument because you feel as if your partner doesn’t understand how you feel and what they have done. Forgiveness is the capacity to move on and work on the relationship recognising all the issues, not just the affair.
Would you want to be with your partner if you could trust them again? What you need to ask yourself is what state the relationship is in separate to the affair. Is this a good relationship and the affair a mistake brought on by stress and disconnection? Or, is this a toxic relationship where the affair is another symptom of the dysfunction between you? Is this one incident you need to recover from or has there been many incidents in the relationship that have spoiled what was once a good connection? Is the affair part of a pattern that repeats and repeats? These are the questions you need to ask yourself because in order for the relationship to recover from the affair you need to be able to make a true commitment to work together to rebuild trust.
Your Partner must Walk His Talk
If your partner apologises for the affair and says he wants to work on the relationship, then you need to see him show you through his actions that he means what he says:
Your partner must be prepared to express remorse for what he has done and mean it. This might mean saying sorry not just once but many times. If you partner tries to say that you were partly to blame for the affair because of your behaviour in the relationship they are not taking responsibility for their own behaviour. This is an important key to recognising whether your partner can own their own mistakes. If they cannot take responsibility for their part in what has brought the relationship to crisis, then it is unlikely that the relationship will recover.
You partner has to be able to communicate how they have been feeling. We know that affairs often happen because there has been something else going on in the relationship that your partner has been trying to escape from. Your partner has to be willing to talk about how they have felt so that the relationship can be repaired.
Your partner needs to be willing to answer your questions about the affair, no matter how painful or if being truthful may reveal further pain. The only way to gain trust and intimacy is through honesty. So while holding back may make your partner feel as though he is protecting the relationship, ultimately he is preventing the relationship from moving past the affair because you will always have questions unanswered and feel there is something being concealed in the relationship. It is not up to your partner to decide what you can and cannot cope with knowing. However you should ask yourself important questions about that. Do you really want to know every detail, remembering that if you know everything you will have to live with that knowledge and the feelings and images that might result for the rest of the relationship.
You partner needs to clearly articulate that the affair is over and mean it. They need to sever all contact with the other woman and mean it. This does not mean having an expectation that they can still be friends with the other woman, this is totally unrealistic. It means being transparent with their computer and mobile phone and their whereabouts. It also most importantly means being clear about their reasons for wanting to return to the relationship and be with you, rather than pursuing the affair.
What about you?
You need to be able to put the affair behind you. This doesn’t mean forgetting what has happened, it means not bring the affair into every conversation you have, especially if here is an argument. It means being willing to see that there may be issues in the relationship that need working on and being open and willing to work on them.
You also need to be super clear about what you need from your partner. You need firm boundaries. If you don’t think you could forgive your partner for a second affair, you need to be clear. If you need your partner to be super transparent about his movement and give you access to his electronic equipment ask for that and expect your partner to respect you.
Together you are building a new relationship that with hard work and commitment has the potential to be stronger than it was before the affair. You both need to make a commitment to learning how to manage conflict more effectively, make time to communicate and put the relationship first. Ultimately the relationship must move back into a space of physical intimacy so that true intimate connection can be developed. This can only happen with real commitment, especially from your partner through words and actions that he really wants to be committed to the relationship and is prepared to prioritise the relationship and put you first.
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