Intimate love — 26 July 2009
There can be a happy marriage after an affair

Recently, a few of our political figures have brought the subject of infidelity to the forefront of public attention. Though an affair is a very painful private trauma, when our elected figures are involved, it shames and saddens us all. It is easy to expect that these marriages will end – though they rarely do. Can these and other marriages that have experienced infidelity be repaired and restored to a level of mutual happiness?

The occurrence of infidelity shakes the stability of the marital commitment, trust and security between the mates. It also calls to question their own uniqueness to each other and their future.

Kristina Gordon and Donald Baucom state in “Couple Therapy and the Treatment of Affairs”: “When cherished assumptions are violated by revelation of an affair, both the injured partner and the partner who participated in the affairs may feel that they cannot predict the future; thus, both partners may experience a loss of control and safety regarding themselves, their relationship partners, and their relationships.”

This initial stage of hurt, and betrayal, shame and confusion can lead some couples to initiate the termination of their union. Yet, with trauma and forgiveness-based therapies, couples can restore their stability and marital happiness.

Non-physical emotional affairs, including online relationships may also be devastating to the mate. Nearly a quarter of the injured mates in J. Schneider’s cybersex behaviors research reported in “Elephant in the living room” have divorced and about two thirds have lost interest in sex with the partner who was involved with another person online.

Though infidelity is an extremely hurtful and traumatizing event to both partners, research findings by Allen and Baucom identified two factors that predict greater chances for salvaging marriage after an affair. The straying partner’s prior satisfaction with the marriage and his/her level of remorse were good predictors for recovery from affairs within the context of couple therapy.

The offended mate’s capacity for forgiveness also determines the chances for success in restoring the marriage. Forgiveness, say Gordon and associates, “Usually contain three common components: (1) gaining a more balanced view of the offender and the event: (2) decreasing negative affect toward the offender, potentially along with increased compassion: and (3) giving up the right to punish the offender further or to demand restitution.”

Sincere contrition by the partner who had the affair and forgiveness by the offended partner combined with their mutual desire to preserve their relationship are essential elements for successful couples’ reconnection.

Another essential factor of recovery from infidelity, says Dr. Allen, is the couple’s ability to talk with each other non-defensively, candidly and remorsefully. This is certainly a difficult task at best.

Glass and Wright found that that reactions to an affair are more severe for an injured partner who has had difficulties with self –esteem and trust prior to the affair.

To best accomplish the transition from their emotional distance to a happy reuniting, the mates need to be guided by a skilled couple therapist.

Most pairs who have worked through and resolved their betrayal trauma can enjoy a lifelong happy marriage. For some, overcoming this crisis bonds them for life in a healthier marriage.

• Do not assume that an affair automatically implies an end to your marriage.
• Understand that physical, emotional or online connection is a betrayal of your spouse.
• Treat infidelity as a major relationship trauma to be overcome through openness, talks, and treatment toward a recommitment to each other.
• Recall the nature of your marriage prior to your infidelity. If you have been previously satisfied and feel repentance, you can, with therapy, rebuild your marriage. Ecstasy is short-lived, commitment is rewarding for life.
• Understand that your partner’s infidelity is his/her personal weakness – not a reflection on you. Seek the depth of your forgiveness.
• Use professional help to facilitate your re-unification work.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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