Affairs… Can a Marriage Survive an Affair?
The short answer to whether a couple can recover and grow after one partner has had an affair is… a conditional yes. Although the factors that lead to affairs are complex, the recovery and healing are twice as complex, difficult and challenging.
One factor that frequently is cited as a cause of affairs is the lack of intimacy within the relationship. What follows is a brief discussion as to what role a lack of intimacy has in creating a vulnerability for an affair to occur.
A Diminished Intimate Relationship
Why is it so difficult for many couples to obtain and sustain intimacy of a depth, quality and sufficiency to carry across a life time with a ‘loved one’.
Interestingly, intimacy can be equated to physical fitness, to explain this comparison, take some time to consider the following… once a person who exercises regularly stops their exercise routing, they will soon experience a subtle, but noticeable to them, a reduction in their sense of overall fitness.
For a healthy level of intimacy to remain between the couple, a person has to be continually applying themselves to the process of both giving and receiving affection and intimacy. This is not too different to maintaining physical fitness and good health.
However, it is difficult to provide a simple and neatly packaged answer to this question, as there are many variables that affect a person’s life and relationships.
Affairs are heart-wrenching betrayal that can leave a person feeling broken, alone and vulnerable
One popular belief held by many couple counsellors is that people subconsciously choose a partner who will help them recreate their own childhood struggles. When two people are doing this in their marriage at the same time, this is likely to create a vulnerability within their relationship.
At this point, either partner may feel exhausted or hopeless from trying to get their physical or emotional needs met, and they may develop a sexual relationship or an emotional relationship, even a combination of both with another person.
Other strategies that people employ to manage their intimacy void is by focusing their energies into other activities such as work, sport, drugs, alcohol, gambling, or similar. These activities in turn frequently create a range of other problems that allow the lack of intimacy to be minimised and not to be addressed.
An important step in freeing oneself from childhood struggles is to assume self-responsibility and have a close look at the role they may have played in the marriage failure. This is not a simple process, but is an opportunity for both partners to resolve childhood issues that interfere with their adult lives and to obtain the life they truly want.
To take these steps involves courage, self-honesty and a belief in the relationship. It also means that one cannot get caught-up in blaming, anger or resentment – a difficult task given the understanding and the entitlement for such feelings, these feelings are mostly destructive.
For the relationship to begin the process of rebuilding, trust must be restored before intimacy can be re-established. However, the deceptions which affairs are built around leave a deep and lasting wound within the other partner that lingers for a long, long time.
For the relationship to have any chance to recover, the unfaithful partner has to cease all contact with the person they had the affair with. A commitment to total honesty with their partner is mandatory. Trust is something that is earned over an extended period of time, merely saying ‘trust me’, simply does not work.
If the unfaithful partner expects trust to easily return, and becomes frustrated that it has not, then the relationship has little prospect of recovering from this point. IF the unfaithful partner applies themselves to ensuring active and honest communication, and is prepared to maintain this over a long period of time, then the relationship has a good chance of recovery.
At this point, intimacy has a high probability of returning and the marriage becoming even stronger.