The first thing in moving forward is to realise they probably haven’t done it to you. Affairs are rarely initiated with malicious intent to deliberately hurt the partner, although hurt is inevitably the result. (If it was done purely with intent to hurt you, then you really do have a problem and shouldn’t be with that person.) It’s important that you accept that as hurtful as it is, the affair was not about you and not done with the intention to hurt you.
It’s so hard when your partner has been unfaithful.
“How could this person I love, and who I thought loved me, do this to me? How can I possible get over it? Should I even try…?”
These are the thoughts that plague you.
So, can you get over it? Possibly.
Should you try? Most definitely.
To deal with the affair and at least try to move forward is far braver and harder than just giving up and leaving.
There is always a reason why someone has an affair, and it’s generally because they are not happy and the affair makes them feel better. So to be able to move forward you have to understand what led your partner to have the affair in the first place. Once you’ve done that, you need to fix what caused it so there is no need for an affair, or any other ‘solution’ such as excessive drinking, drugs, overwork, or other unhealthy distractions from the misery of life.
I’ve spoken with countless people who have had affairs, as many women as men, and some of the reasons include:
- Feeling disconnected from their partner, not valued
- Too much pressure from their partner, feeling overwhelmed or criticized
- Living parallel lives and no longer feeling like partners, so feeling lonely
- Not being able to tell their partner how they are feeling, yet feeling they can share with their lover who understands them
- Bored with life and their relationship
- Not feeling desired sexually by their partner.
Affairs are intoxicating, as is any new relationship, so people tend to get drawn into them and find it hard to leave, even when the buzz wears off and the affair is no longer satisfying them. It is a kind of addiction as the chemicals in the brain function as with addiction: the ‘reward’ circuitry goes into overdrive with a dopamine high associated with the excitement and clandestine nature of the affair; but over time that is no longer satisfying, what gave you the high no longer works, yet you are still drawn to it craving the same reward.
If you understand the physiology and the psychology of affairs in general, and can establish what led to the affair, then it is easier to accept it and easier to move on.
It will still hurt though, and an important thing to understand is that your partner can’t actually heal the hurt, that’s something you need to do for yourself. That takes time.
There are different requirements for all three of the entities involved, that is: your partner, you and you as a couple:
- Your partner needs to be truly remorseful;
- You need to forgive your partner;
- You as a couple need to work on your relationship to ensure the conditions that led to the affair are fixed.
This is not easy, and parts of the process can be quite lonely. You have seen a side of your partner that you didn’t know about, a darker side, the scales have fallen off your eyes. You have to ask yourself the challenging question of: Can you still accept him or her even with these imperfections? And the even more challenging one, given the hurt and shame you’re feeling: What might have been your role in contributing to the affair?
These are hard questions. They are also questions that can lead to personal and relationship growth. If you and your partner can dig deep into yourselves and open yourselves up to each other with such honesty and realness that you can share and heal, then you will move forward together.
It’s also possible that the process means you decide that you can’t move forward together, but the process will enable you to move forward separately without bitterness and resentment, even with love.
One thing to be cautious about is that you don’t ‘resolve’ the issue by turning it into a power play where you as the betrayed partner take a holier-than-thou attitude, lording it over your partner who is constantly reminded of what a terrible person they are and therefore how inferior they are. This is not addressing the underlying causes and will not lead to an improved relationship.
It is essential that the underlying causes be addressed. Otherwise your partner will have another affair, or reach for some other solution such as becoming an alcoholic. Or they will simply leave you.
Sometimes relationships do need to end, and an affair is a valid reason to end one. But it’s not inevitable.
Do the work and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome: a relationship with greater understanding, more depth and closeness, and more resilience.