When one member of a monogamous couple has a sexual and/or intimate emotional relationship with a third person, explosive consequences often result. Traditionally, the choice to engage in an outside relationship is shrouded in secrecy and deception, inflicting a second injury on the relationship.

There are, of course, always two different stories in the mix — that of the person who takes this action, and that of the one who learns of it. Both stories matter! Can a relationship survive infidelity? Absolutely! But only if both parties are willing to step out of blame and defensiveness to open-heartedly work toward an understanding of what has happened in the relationship, and how they would like to move forward.

Therapy after an affair can be gruelling, as the betrayed spouse, suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress reaction, usually needs lots and lots of gritty detailed information that the other party may be reluctant to share. This need to repeatedly review every tiny aspect of the infidelity can be very wearing for both parties. What is going on is an effort to re-claim the relational landscape. If so much happened outside of their awareness, what else might they not know?

This review phase is particularly hard for the actor, who is more likely motivated to put the past behind them and focus on moving into the future. It is also terribly difficult to witness the kind of pain and torment their partner might be experiencing. Nonetheless, it is an important step in the healing process. But there must follow an honest examination of what the affair means.

An affair always encompasses crucial information about either the relationship or the individual, and for effective choice making, this information must be identified and articulated. Did the affair arise from a felt insufficiency in the relationship? Did the affair arise from feelings that perhaps he or she does not want to be in this committed relationship at all? Affairs can be used as revenge, an expression of anger, a way to get a partner’s attention, or a way to fill in loneliness or unfulfilled desires. Understanding what led to an affair and what its message is offers a road map for what next. It determines whether it makes sense to work on the repair necessary for the relationship to heal, or to part ways as amicably as possible.

The guidance of an experienced therapist through the land-mined territory of infidelity can be invaluable. Schedule an appointment to get the help you need.