The question looms large, casting a long shadow over your psyche - "Can we still find hope in our shared future?" This query, born out of a shared trauma, might feel like the most urgent, pressing issue you are grappling with in your life at this moment. Are the possibilities of recovery and reconciliation real? Can the once vibrant, trusting bond of love between you and your significant other be resuscitated, allowing you both to traverse life's journey, enriching each other's existence with joy and companionship?
The answer to these questions, unfortunately, isn't as straightforward as one might hope. The most honest answer one can offer is a tentative "Perhaps." Poring over statistics, one can discern that when it comes to marital relationships shaken by the revelation of infidelity, a mere minority end up on the path to divorce. A significant majority, constituting about 60-75%, choose to remain committed to the institution of marriage. Among these persevering couples, many manage to mend the torn fabric of their relationship, rekindling love, trust, and security. However, for some, the road to recovery remains strewn with obstacles, and despite continuing their marital bond, they are plagued by feelings of hurt, distrust, and deep-seated unhappiness.
The aftermath of the revelation of an affair can leave one's emotional landscape in a state of turmoil. Feelings of confusion and uncertainty may be so overwhelming that it becomes challenging to ascertain whether the shared desire to continue the relationship still exists. This state of confusion is normal, even expected. However, it is important to remember that eventually, you will need to sift through this emotional chaos to discern not only what's feasible but also what you and your partner truly desire.
The road to recovery from an affair can be envisioned as a journey through three critical milestones. The first one is finding effective strategies to manage and mitigate the intense emotional pain. The second is understanding the factors that led to the affair. The third milestone is making an informed, deliberate decision about the future course of the relationship.
In the immediate aftermath of the revelation, your focus should be on the first milestone. You and your partner need to find ways to weather the emotional storm and survive the crisis at hand. This involves managing your strong emotions to make practical decisions while simultaneously ensuring self-care. These practical decisions may range from whether to share physical intimacy to how to manage anger. Discussing the affair without exacerbating the hurt is another crucial aspect, as is dealing with the memories and "flashbacks" that disrupt your daily routine. Navigating interactions with the person with whom the affair occurred, and deciding what to share with children and others, are also critical considerations.
Once you have managed to gain some control over these immediate concerns, you can begin to address the second milestone. You need to understand the factors that made your relationship vulnerable to an affair. What needs to be done to minimize or eliminate these risks in the future? How can you both reassure each other of your commitment to making these changes? The answers to these questions are undoubtedly difficult to find but are essential for recovery. This journey of exploration and understanding necessitates a close examination of your relationship, the external factors affecting it, and introspection about yourself and your partner.
To illustrate this, consider the example of a fictional couple, Laura and Alex. Laura realized, through a difficult journey of exploration, that there were early signs of Alex's emotional withdrawal before he had an affair with a family friend's spouse. At the time, Laura found these signs too intimidating to confront directly. To prevent a recurrence of this situation in the future, they both agreed that if Laura noticed similar signs, she would voice her concerns, and Alex would address them candidly and sincerely. They mutually committed to expressing and responding to concerns without anger, to safeguard their relationship from situations that had previously made them vulnerable to an affair, and to prioritize their marriage above all else. Arriving at this understanding required considerable time and effort, but they believed the rewards—reestablishing the emotional security integral to an intimate relationship—were well worth the struggle.
With emotional security reestablished, Laura and Alex were able to reconcile, a success story shared by many couples in similar circumstances. However, the goal of this process isn't necessarily reconciliation. The objective is to arrive at an informed, healthy decision about the future course of the relationship, which may involve restoring the relationship to its previous state, strengthening it, or ending it. By "moving on," we refer to a state where the focus shifts away from the affair, where punishment is no longer meted out to one another, and efforts are redirected towards leading emotionally fulfilling and productive lives. The affair might never be entirely forgotten, but it will no longer monopolize your lives.
The process of recovery from an affair, as detailed in this article, has assisted numerous couples in moving forward in a healthier manner. A majority, approximately 70%, choose to rebuild their relationship. Almost half of these successfully restore an intimate relationship that's stronger than before the affair. Others find the process helpful but may continue to grapple with individual or relationship issues that predated the affair—issues such as sexual dysfunctions, substance use, severe depression, or other emotional or behavioral difficulties. Some individuals, after working through this process, decide to end their relationship and move on independently. For many of these individuals, their enhanced understanding of themselves and others enables them to form stronger, deeper relationships with new partners.
The decision to move on together or separately is something we recommend you make later, after gaining a more comprehensive understanding of what has transpired. If you and your partner have already made a long-term decision about your relationship, that's okay. However, we would still advise keeping this decision "open" and revisiting it as you accumulate new insights and understanding.