People respond to a partner’s affair in different ways, depending on personal values. Some may respond by immediately leaving the relationship without looking back. Some may believe in the concept of working through adversity together and seeing if they can make it through as a stronger couple. Some may believe that the family is paramount (especially when children are involved) and want to work things out for the sake of the family staying together. And so on.
No matter the personal value systems at play, a relationship can survive an affair only if both partners actively want it to. If only one partner is interested in fighting for the relationship, it will be a frustrating uphill battle that can have compounding negative effects (e.g. lowered self-esteem and self-worth).
Affairs have several components to them. There is the emotional impact (e.g. hurt, betrayal, anger, etc.) of the affair. There is figuring out what led to the affair in the first place — behaviorally and psychologically for both partners. As part of this component, there’s acknowledging the state of the current relationship (e.g. what was missing or happening in the current relationship for the one who cheated? What was the role of the other partner?), as well as the personal psycho-emotional state of the one acting out by having the affair (e.g. what was going on inside that enabled this behavior?).
Basically, there’s the experience and state of each partner, and there’s the experience and state of the unit as a whole, which all need to be considered in recovering from an affair.
So, after the affair has been revealed, and the emotional dust has had some time to settle, the first question to answer will be if each partner is interested in working to repair the damage caused to the relationship. Of course, for both partners, this question is not usually an easy one to answer. There are many things to consider before deciding which direction you want to see the relationship go. Here’s a list of questions to help figure out the next step:
- How willing am I to work through the process of repairing the relationship?
- Where do I draw the line? (setting boundaries).
- What am I fighting for if I stay, and what will be impacted if I leave (emotionally and actively)? This can take the form of a pros/cons list.
- Which process am I more willing to take on (working to move forward together? or ending the relationship and dealing with all that comes with this?)
- How will I feel later if I decide to leave without trying to repair the relationship first?
- What do I generally want to see happen?
Being able to answer the questions above can help each partner understand the implications the decision will have.
Couples and individual therapy (for each partner) is encouraged as part of the relationship healing process. It is necessary to understand what in the relationship dynamic led to the affair in the first place, in order to prevent a recurrence. However, both partners have room to benefit from individual therapy (not only the one who engaged the affair). The hurt partner could use support to sort out emotions and learn their own role in relationship troubles. Also, the hurt partner at times can develop urges to act out in response to the affair, possibly by engaging in an affair of their own as revenge, or other forms of revenge, including even consideration of physical harm to their partner. So the triad of couples and both individuals in therapy is heavily encouraged for a relationship to make a healthy recovery from an affair.
So the answer is, yes, a relationship can survive an affair. The real question is how much do both partners want it to.
Crossed fingers photo available from Shutterstock