Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Do all affairs mean the end of a marriage? Absolutely not. Many couples stay together despite experiencing an affair. But an affair does mean THAT marriage is over.
Your marriage 1.0 is done. Whether you create 2.0 together is up to you. Staying married in and of itself does not signal success. Surviving an affair is quite different than thriving because of an affair.
If you get through the affair experience and stay married you want to look for a few cornerstones: a) that the affair has improved the marriage, b) that the couple has addressed the vulnerabilities or problems that led to the affair in the first place, and c) the marriage itself has healed.
Let's look at a three essential pieces you need to make your marriage better after an affair.
Each person honestly assesses their own role in the affair happening. The couple identifies the vulnerabilities in the marriage itself. What issues, behaviors, attitudes, patterns, vulnerabilities were they responsible for individually? Together? For example, I was working with a wife in Fairfield County, Connecticut who was ripping with anger after discovering her husband's affair. Once we took honest inventory of how she showed up in the marriage, she admitted that she could be cold, distant, and at times controlling. While the only person who had actually had the affair was her husband, my client's willingness to take ownership was imperative in their ability to work through the infidelity. Taking responsibility for her behaviors in the marriage helped reduce her feelings of being a victim, and also gave her positive control over learning and growing because of it. It's easy to take a victim/perpetrator stance in the wake of an affair. But that won't get you through it. Both parties need to take honest inventory. Like it or not, both parties have a contributing role, and a part in creating the marriage. Knowledge of exactly what roles and parts is power when it comes to creating a better marriage after an affair.
Aspects of the affair are infused into the marriage. What was achieved in the affair? What was found outside the marriage should be brought in. Common themes are: greater freedom, renewed sexual adventure, mystery, excitement, and admiration/adoration by the affair partner. The couple can work to incorporate aspects of the affair to breathe new life into the marriage. The partner who didn't have the affair can be freed by the experience, too -- after all, who doesn't want better sex, more acceptance, more adoration, etc.? One husband in Manhattan said about his wife's affair "it gave me permission to dream bigger about what I actually wanted from our marriage, too. I could finally access things I was too afraid to ask for before - in and out of the bedroom. Even though it was freaking hard, I have to say I'm grateful it happened because I don't think we'd have gotten to this place otherwise.
Honesty and trust are restored. The couple commits to improved and increased emotional, mental, and physical intimacy. Since an affair destroys a marriage, a new marriage must be created in the wake of an affair. This requires renewed commitment to the being honest, and to creating and maintaining an environment of safety and trust. Often times, both people in a couple experience a renewed commitment to each other and to the marriage as a response to the threat of the loss. They realize they do not want to lose their spouse/marriage/family. Rather than simply move on, however, the couple needs to HEAL. Healing happens when positive changes occur as the result of both people being willing to improve the marriage and be vulnerable and honest moving forward. Often times an affair happens because the couple has shut down certain avenues of communication and intimacy. Over times they have each concealed parts of themselves, or stopped being their most authentic selves with their partners. When an affair blows apart the previously broken construct, the couple has the opportunity to open back up the channels they'd previously closed off. They focus on improved and increased openness, sharing, safety. As a result they experience a renewed vitality. Healing the marriage takes this + time.
One of my favorite things about helping couples through an affair is the opportunity they have to create a new and better marriage because of it. Of course, not all couples can do this. Sometimes affairs are an exit strategy, cause wounds that can't be healed, or bring a marriage to an end that simply wasn't meant to make it.
But other times, both people in the couple get a new lease on life together, and as individuals in the couple, because of the crisis of the affair. Understanding that your old marriage is over allows you to ask yourself whether you're ready, willing, and able to create a new marriage together.
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about working together.
Lauren, Affair Specialist