Can a Relationship Survive an Affair?

survive an affairIt depends.

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

4 thoughts on “Can a Relationship Survive an Affair?

  1. Being betrayed by your partner is very painful.I’ve been through that.I’m very happy that we manage our relationship and focused on saving it not only for us but also for the kids’ sake.Thanks for the help of our family and friends..Thanks for sharing this.

  2. My ex-husband had an affair about 10 years into our marriage. I found out not when it ended. I discovered it nearly a year later. When he ended it, I came home in the middle of the day from a business trip. He had left a letter for me explaining everything wrong in our marriage was my fault and what I needed to do to fix it.

    Things hadn’t been going well. His daughter lived with us. We married just a few weeks after his divorced finalized. He was very needy and I married him anyway. So many red flags and I stepped over them. I accept my choices.

    My ex and I communicated most stuff in writing. I grew up in a non-communicative, authoritarian household. He just felt he could not get out what he needed to say if he didn’t write it down. I grew up with fear of rejection. My dad would go on silent treatment trips with the entire family. Days and weeks of silence. Suddenly, he would just start talking as if it never happened. My parents weren’t huggers or ones to say ‘I live you’.

    This letter he left me that day was devastating. I was angry. I flooded. I wrote him a response via email. It was a rant. Neither of is ranted or screamed or fought. We were, instead, good at sticking our heads in the sand.

    I watched my mom, who is very independent and strong-willed, give in to doing anything my dad would ask. If my then husband would have asked me to do stuff, I would have found ways to make things happen.

    On the day of the letter and email, we say down and addressed the specific details and the solution? Stop all activities we were doing outside the house – pottery class, MBA prereqs, community activities. We would do everything together. My ex didn’t like it that I was involved outside the house and my time should be spent with him.

    Getting professional wasn’t a choice. We would diy. Things got better, sort of. We got involved in a club together about 9 months later. We were board members. To make it easy, my ex said we could use an email account he had on yahoo. I responded to an email from another board member. When I got a response, it was confusing and the response didn’t have a quote of what I had written. I went to sent mail. There were two emails. The second was the one I had sent. The other was from 9 months earlier. I clicked into the earliest one. My ex was telling someone I know that he was breaking it off as he knew I still loved him… It was lunch time. I remember calling my then-husband. I got voice mail. I eked out something. He called back. I left work for he day. The rest of the day was ugly.

    Did we get professional help? No. DIY. My ex wanted to ‘no longer discuss it. It was burned into me that divorce was never an option unless it was abusive – physically or sexually. Mine wasn’t that.

    I noticed my emotions getting real swingy. I was early 40s. I went to see my obgyn who indicated it may be PMDD. I went onto birth control pills. At home, things were ok as long as I ensured my then-husband got what he wanted. Growing up a hyper vigilant people pleaser, I read situations well. Even if I didn’t know how to deal with emotions (except sticking my head in the sand), I knew where not to go.

    I was a workaholic. I finally broke down with my manager about 5 years ago. I was shouldering a lot. We started board gaming regularly with a couple I liked. He was real straight shooter and kind too.

    My emotional state eroded into wild emotional swings. I tried the ‘think positive thought’ stuff. I finally looked for a therapist. I started therapy on my own.

    My then-husband wanted to start marriage counseling with my therapist because “he knows what’s wrong with you”. My therapist cited ‘conflict of interest’. He was mad. We finally did find someone my then-husband liked.

    After 18 months of individual counseling and 7 months of marriage counseling, my husband left. That was two years ago now.

    Both he and I created an environment that led to him cheating. It wasn’t all my fault. We did DIY as he didn’t want anyone to know, even a therapist, he had an affair.

    It’s been a weird road.

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