Almost without exception, the discovery of a partner or spouse who has had an affair starts a period of crisis. Questions of trust, identity, and loss can shake the very foundations of what a person perceives to be real and can change a person’s entire perspective on life. For the aggrieved partners, the discovery of infidelity can call into question whether they ever really knew anything about their partners, and even themselves. After an affair, everything has changed.
After the discovery of an affair, clients often describe feeling a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, despair, emptiness, shock, disbelief, shame, guilt, confusion, fear, and helplessness, and they often feel several of them at the same time. It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster where you can’t predict how you will feel from one moment to the next. A person may demand answers one minute and then wish for ignorance the next, or feel unfathomable anger at the betrayal followed by deep regrets and thoughts of, “What did I do to deserve (or even cause) this?” In the early stages after the discovery of an affair, it is important to remember that these emotions are normal, and that accepting and validating them are essential to moving out of the crisis stage. During the crisis stage, the partner who had the affair also frequently experiences overwhelming emotions, but I will save that for another post.
When clients come to therapy to address an affair, they have usually had some time to ride the emotions rollercoaster for a while and are ready to consider the question, “Now what?” One important thing to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovering from an affair. Should the couple try to fix their relationship? Should they break up? Can there ever be trust again? These questions are very difficult to address in the midst of a crisis, so it often behooves couples to slow down their decision-making about the fate of the relationship until the emotions involved can be appropriately addressed. In counseling with me, I help clients consider these questions in the context of what they’ve been through and where they would like to end up.
After an affair has been discovered, the relationship as you knew it is over. Even if you decide to stay together, everything has changed. Once you know, you can never go back to not knowing, and that thought can be overwhelming and scary. There is a way forward, however, and no matter what the couple decides to do, there is a way to get to something better. In therapy with me, I help couples identify what steps to take in order to honor the experiences they’ve been through while working towards creating a better situation for both individuals.
If you are struggling with issues of infidelity in your relationship, call me or schedule an appointment online today. I will help you identify where in the affair recovery process you are and what steps to take in order to move forward, no matter what that looks like. It’s never too late to make lasting improvements in all your relationships.