The cheat-sheet on healing from an affair
By Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
Have you or your partner ever experienced infidelity? Did it feel like the ultimate betrayal? Were you able to heal through it? If not, perhaps you were unaware as to how to even begin to navigate all of the complexities inherent to infidelity, nor ever had the opportunity for the right guidance and conversations in order to be able to do so. One thing for sure, understanding affairs and betrayal beyond the perpetrator-victim perspective is essential, if true healing is ever to take place.
I often meet with couples who are dealing with the aftermath or crisis of an affair. My priority is to provide them with a safe and gentle setting. My objective is to help them discover the reason behind the affair. Often the difficulty lies in discerning-and accepting- the duality of the meaning, as in “what the affair did to you and what it meant to me”. It’s never easy but these are important conversations to be had, nevertheless.
Following are some essential points to consider if rebuilding trust, healing and getting past an affair:
- Healing will take time and forgiveness is possible but you will each need to work through a very different set of intense and contradictory feelings: while one partner feels gutted by betrayal and deals with feelings of anger, loss, hopelessness, hurt and humiliation, the other typically navigates feelings of ambivalence, loneliness, loss, shame, relief, guilt and self-loathing. Remaining open to the many NORMAL warring emotions between you, without making any premature conclusions about your future, is crucial!
- The partner who had the affair needs to want to learn what to do in order to rebuild and restore trust, which includes “putting up” with their partner’s in-cessant pain…to be sure, there are no quick fixes, and only the passage of caring acts and compassionate experiences will help make peace with the past. Accountability, remorse, responsibility and sensitivity are key! Hard as it may be, the hurt partner also needs to focus back on the relationship an learn how to steer away from their obsession with the lover. Both need to choose the relationship, even if one feels totally not responsible for the affair.
- Making meanings out of the motives will only come about from those couple conversations which consist of integrating the infidelity or transgression into the narrative of the couple relationship. To do so requires knowing how to move the conversation from an investigative quest-rifling through emails and text messages- to one of exploration- a quest to understand the meaning of fear and loss, separateness and togetherness, love and desire, longing and loneliness…all important themes when unpacking the meaning of an affair but also part of a much needed awakening into forging a brand new meaning of your couple connection.
Understanding infidelity is often a complicated state of affairs.
“People stray for many reasons – tainted love, revenge, unfulfilled longings, and plain old lust. At times, an affair is a quest for intensity, a rebellion against the confines of matrimony. An illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be liberating, a source of strength, a healing. And frequently it’s all these things at once. Some affairs are acts of resistance; others happen when we offer no resistance at all. Straying can sound an alarm for the marriage, signalling an urgent need to pay attention to what ails it. Or it can be the death knell that follows a relationship’s last gasping breath. I tell my patients that most of us in the West today will have two or three marriages or committed relationships in our lifetimes. For those daring enough to try, they may find themselves having all of them with the same person. An affair may spell the end of a first marriage, as well as the beginning of a new one.” (Esther Perel, 2017)