One of the most heartbreaking, brain-searing, crazy-making times for couples is dealing with the aftermath of an affair. I often meet couples for the first time in their scorched earth, post-affair period because they need my help as a therapist then like never before. Recovering from any betrayal of trust is slow and painstaking and the more intimate the betrayal, the more raw the pain, shame, rage and hurt that follows. It takes consistent intense focus, patience and commitment to create a new post-affair relationship if a couple still wants to be together. Many don’t make it out of the seared earth of the post-affair landscape together, heading off in different directions. Sometimes a partner leaves the primary relationship to be with their co-affairee, but statistics show that more often than not, relationships that start as affairs tend to shrivel and burn when the daylight of real life hits them. This is because so often affairs are motivated by fantasy, longing and yearning for what the other person represents to us – what we long for and feel we need in ourselves – rather than who they are. Frequently an affair is about making a run for freedom, youth, virility or a sense of aliveness – snatching an opportunity to feel hot, passionately loved or lusted for, in an otherwise numbed-out existence. At the absolute core infidelity frequently has less to do with anyone else’s deficits or attractiveness and more to do with a deeply unacknowledged inner self that’s been silently screaming for something for a long time.
That’s why understanding the personal ‘why’ of an affair is so important whether a couple stays together or moves apart in its aftermath. For an affairee to grow from their experience and have a better chance at creating a hot, devoted relationship – either with the same partner or a new lover – you need to acknowledge why you ended up chasing your desires and yearnings down in such a dramatic, secretive, damaging way. There are many ways to feel alive, to take big risks, to grow, to have sex, to leave – so why did you choose that way?
For the betrayed partner – you must ask yourself not only whether you think you can eventually move past the pain of betrayal with this partner, but whether you actually want to. If desire for the other is absent beneath the rage and shock of revelation, it’s going to be very difficult to find lasting happiness together – BUT – little can be decided in the searing pain of the immediate aftermath. You must both give yourselves time; time to adjust to a brave, new relationship landscape before either of you make any snap decisions about which paths to take.
Understand also that although you must turn towards one another to heal if you want to be together, not turn away – you are each dealing with VERY different emotional experiences. While you each need to look within to your authentic desires and longings in your new world – you are likely feeling very different constellations of emotion, grief and pain. Betrayal can be felt as a deep trauma. Shame and guilt can feel paralysing.
Seek help and find kindness for yourselves and each other everyday as a top priority, not an afterthought. After the burning of the old, inevitably comes the shoots of new life. Give it time, give it plenty of the water of compassion.
Just be the love that you are.
Author, psychologist and couple therapist, Debra has consulted on everything from panic to depression, parenting, grief and relationships. She collaborated for four years with maverick minister Dr Francis Macnab on thought-leadership and program creation around wellbeing and spirituality. Their Centre for Wellbeing was a finalist in The Melbourne Awards.
Formerly a yoga teacher, Debra’s work combines ancient wisdom with contemporary psychology and has been published in peer-reviewed journals in Australia and the US including Spirituality in Clinical Practice and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Her PhD won the Relationships Thesis Award of the Australian Psychological Society. Debra is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and creator of The School of Love – an online temple to love – offering a relationship-saving eCourse and eTherapy.
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