A reader recently criticized my article posted on Goodtherapy.org, Could Your Marriage Survive an Affair? back in November 2014. She began her response with:
I resent this article so much that I would rip it up if it were actual paper. I am so tired of people who have never been through infidelity elevating “the few” couples who stayed married as the strong, wise “highest selves…”
I share this with you because I want to expand on the purpose of that article. I feel compelled to write articles that support the couples who choose to stay together post-affair. As a clinician who bears witness to couples achieving full recovery, I must ask “What are these couples doing right?” and share my insights.
Esther Perel has said that not too long ago, divorce was the shame many couples faced. She adds that today, staying in your marriage post affair is “the new shame“. I agree with Esther.
Too many couples attempt to weather their affair in isolation. They want to make it work but the shame and secrecy associated with “staying” sabotages their efforts for healthy recovery.
When a couple tells me they want to stay together after an affair, I know the work that lies before them. I am their scout, holding up the torch so that they can clearly see how to navigate the path toward recovery.
For their work to be effective, I must wholeheartedly believe in the possibility of recovery. While the rest of the world might tell them they are crazy for staying together, I must hold recovery as valuable and as sacred. In fact, for there to be a chance of recovery, I must place a higher value on it then they do.
Why? Because the road is a tough one and partners will, at times, want to give up. They might lose hope and think that road never ends.
Prior to my work as a marriage and sex therapist, I believed that I personally could never survive an affair. In my mind, recovery or repair were not options. But after diving deeply into this work with couples, I’ve told my spouse, “You know, if one of us were to have an affair, I do not think it would doom us. It would feel devastating but not necessarily the end”. Huge mind shift for me.
Couples can recover from affairs when both partners commit to the work of recovery. Dr. Tammy Nelson has described this work as a 3-phase process: Crisis, Insight and Vision. I will expand on these concepts in my next blog post.
Affair recovery becomes more complicated if one or both partners fail to hold themselves accountable, continue to deceive or withhold information, repeat the cheating behaviors and do not demonstrate healthy remorse for their deception or their role in their relationship dysfunction.
While I prioritize hope, I am also a realist and will frankly let couples know when the process is just not working. However many couples who work with me reach their recovery destination.
Care to weigh in on the discussion? Add a comment to this blogpost forum: Could Your Marriage Survive An Affair?
If you carry the “shame” of staying together or simply do not know how to navigate this complex road, contact me here.