There are many answers and reactions to this question. Your first instinct is probably to say, "They aren't worth it. I am worth more than that. How can I ever trust them again?", and you would be right and very justified in saying and feeling this way. When you first find out your partner has been unfaithful your first reaction may be to walk away. It may seem the easiest solution but bear with me a moment. How many years have you spent in this relationship? Was your relationship on the whole a good relationship and worth saving? Do you have children and how many lives will this affect?
Children often become the ones most affected and negatively impacted by high conflict separation. According to expert Jennifer Macintosh, conflict and separation and divorce create risks for all children, and higher risk for those already vulnerable through other factors. She states "unresolved parental conflict and diminished emotional availability impact children’s psychological growth. Children and adolescents of divorced families are more likely to experience greater economic, social and health difficulties through childhood and early adulthood (for example, more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes and drugs; to give birth as a teenager; to drop out of school early; to receive psychological treatment; and to have earlier marriages, with increased propensity to divorce).
Co-parenting conflict is a significant predictor of ongoing distress for adolescents and adolescent antisocial behaviour." (McIntosh, 2003)
Betrayal in a relationship is often the hardest thing to come back from, but is it possible to move on and begin to create a new relationship? Perhaps, if you begin to look at the old relationship as being dead and the need to create a new relationship where there can be openness and honesty. To do this there needs to be a decision from each partner to stay and try to work this through along with understanding and commitment to each other. The affair also has to be completely over. There cannot be three people in this new relationship. For the partner who has been faithful there is a lot to forgive and this takes time.
I think it is good to point out here that the partner who has been betrayed may ask themselves "What is wrong with me? Am I not good enough… sexy enough? Is it because I'm getting old and my body doesn't look as good as it used to?”
How does it feel if I tell you that it is not about you—it is about the person who has had the affair. The decision to be unfaithful may have been a conscious or unconscious decision. It may have been something that happened but ultimately it sits with them, and they cannot blame you. They need to be remorseful, repentant and honest with themselves and with you about their betrayal. For you it is about forgiveness and this can be a decision but it is also a journey.
The balance of power in your relationship has now changed. For the person who has been betrayed, you may not feel powerful, but if the decision has been to rebuild, you hold the power. Let me explain. The person who has been unfaithful has made the mistake and they need to work hard to rebuild all that has been destroyed. They need to sit and hear all your pain which is often delivered in accusation, anger and blame.
Often in counselling the partner who has had the affair may say, "I have said I'm sorry. How much more can I do?... You want to know everything that happened. Why can't we just move on?" Well… I always need to say, “No, not yet!” For the person who has been betrayed, they need to get to a place where they feel, believe and understand that the other person is truly sorry and that takes time and lots of conversation.
I need to mention here it is not helpful to talk about the affair explicitly. This never helps and only creates pictures and memories which may not be able to be left behind. To be honest, truly repentant, and sorry for the pain they have caused their partner is the best guide when asked, "How many times? Where did you do it? Was it better than with me?"
Find a good relationship counsellor to help you both to navigate and move through this difficult time and to help you have these conversations.
Infidelity is not always the end of a relationship. Sometimes it is the catalyst for change. Susan Johnson in her emotionally focused ‘model’ of counselling focuses on key emotions and their attachment significance. This model allows the counsellor to work with a process of forgiveness and the creation, perhaps for the first time, of a secure attachment bond between both partners. When you have moved on from the hurt and pain of betrayal and its effect on your relationship, continue with counselling. It can help you answer the questions for you both about "What happened and how did we find ourselves here?"
It is possible to build a new relationship. It is never easy and both partners need to be strong and decide they want to stay together, whatever it takes.
-- Val, Relationship and Family Counsellor @ Relationships Australia Qld
** If you are facing challenges in your relationship, please call us on 1300 364 277 to discuss your options or make an appointment.
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