Many couples arrive in counseling because of an affair. The betrayal, anger and embarrassment are too much for some people to deal with alone. Counseling can help by providing a safe place to work through painful aspects of the affair. New skills can be learned to help negotiate the ups and downs that naturally follow such a traumatic event, and marital issues that contributed to the affair can be identified and remedied.
For the person who did not have the affair, it may be impossible to forgive and recommit to their spouse. However, many marriages are repaired and even strengthened. Through persistence and time a couple may gain a new perspective that leads to solutions and improvement. Trust and respect can be reestablished and eventually forgiveness can come.
It is important to uncover why the affair occurred. Some of the reasons include, not getting enough from the marriage, not contributing enough, compulsive behavior, immaturity, retaliation, and impulsive behavior resulting from substance abuse. It may also be an attempt to end the marriage.
The first step to repairing the damage is to end the affair. If it continues in any form, it will continue to draw energy away from the relationship. It is not uncommon for the spouse who had the affair to develop strong feelings for the person with whom he or she had the affair. These must be dealt with directly, but a quick end is critical.
Another important aspect of marriage repair is to be accountable. The one who had the affair must admit and accept responsibility for his or her actions. The partner who did not have the affair can consider what role he or she played in the other partner not getting their needs met in the marriage. This can be a real challenge for some people. After all, they didn't make their spouse have an affair. The problem is that without accepting some responsibility for the problem, they become a victim with no control over the solution. They are at the mercy of their spouses choices. The marital relationship is jointly responsible for finances, pleasure, and intimacy. It is also responsible for loyalty.
Healing will take time and requires a long range view. Sometimes it can be helpful to take a time out and get some space. It may be too hard to deal with intense emotions and clearly define goals while seeing each other everyday.
Initially, it may be best to tread lightly on the details of the affair. Later, when the trust is restored it might be appropriate to be more specific in order to uncover problems within the marriage. In has been helpful for some people to write out the details and put them away for a year, with the understanding that they will be talked about then, if it is still necessary.
Reaching mutual goals is also important. If saving the marriage is not a shared goal it will likely end, with or without counseling. Some people say they want to repair the marriage but their ultimate concern is financial stability. They don't believe they can afford divorce. If that is the case, it is best to be open about it so counseling can take another direction. It may become divorce counseling instead of marital counseling. The advantage is that wounds can be healed that will help prepare for future relationships. If children are involved, an amicable divorce can be tailored that makes co-parenting possible.
Forgiveness may be the hardest part of recovering from an affair. It will occur over time and may be facilitated by religious or spiritual support. Restoring the state of grace that existed prior to the affair is the goal, not excusing the behavior.