How To Survive A Straying Spouse

Few marriages can be expected to stand the course these days without the occasional sexual hiccup, and infidelity is on the increase. We have obtained advice from experts on how to survive it and how to avoid it.

How to Survive a Straying Spouse

The Star, 7 January 2004

by Sharon Bexley

Few marriages can be expected to stand the course these days without the occasional sexual hiccup, and infidelity is on the increase. We have obtained advice from experts on how to survive it and how to avoid it.

Steps to a successful reconciliation

1. Avoid snap decisions to stay or go.

You may feel compelled to throw out the cheaters, or rush to the divorce courts, but this is almost always a mistake. There is a huge amount at stake in a divorce. Take some time before considering this as an option to discover what you really want.

2. Don’t blame the symptom.

It’s too easy to say: “If it hadn’t happened, we would be okay”, which isn’t true. Straying indicates a problem and you need to sort out what it is.

3. Consider counseling.

It may be difficult to disentangle yourself from the raw emotions that have been raked up. Looking at your future options is an invaluable step in the process towards starting again, but may be too difficult for some couples to do without the assistance of a counselor.

Can your marriage live with the memory?

YES if:

1. You can talk about the straying without fighting or bringing it up in every row.

2. You think you have learnt lessons about why it happened.

3. You talk about important matters with openness and honesty.

4. You are capable of taking joint ownership of the reasons for the breakdown in trust.

5. You feel close and can trust your partner again.

It may be possible to forgive, but surely it’s impossible to completely forget a partner’s infidelity. So what can be done to cope with the memory if you decide to stay together?

Relationship counselor Julia Cole, author of After the Affair: How to build trust and love again, says how well you can deal with the memory of an affair depends in part on what sort of affair it was. She identifies several different types of affairs, but says that of these two – the “experimental” affair and the “notice me” affair – have the best chance of surviving infidelity.

An “experimental” affair happens where the unfaithful partner wants the opportunity to have sex with another person, either because of sexual inexperience or boredom. Once this is done, they may realize they actually want to return to their relationship.

The “notice me” affair is where the unfaithful partner may have tried, and failed, to address relationship problems with their partner. The unfaithful partner does not really want to leave the relationship; this is more of a “cry for help” says Cole.

Couples often blame an affair as the cause of their problems. In fact most affairs are symptoms, rather than causes, of relationship breakdown. “This is how affairs work. They often appear after a relationship has been in trouble for some time,” says Cole. So for a successful reconciliation, without too many damaging memories lasting for years, those difficulties have to be tackled directly.

However, counselor Denise Knowles wants that this is far from easy. Painful memories do linger, perhaps a great deal longer than expected. “I’ve worked with couples who only come for counseling years after an affair has happened,” she says. “Affairs leave an indelible mark on relationships and there’s no quick fix. The best thing a couple can do if they want to move on together without too much pain is recognize the positive things that have gone on between them since the affair, and what has changed for the better.”

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that an affair can ever be forgotten. But one thing that can delay a couple from moving on is the power shift between couples who choose to stay together: “In the early days after the affair is discovered, it’s usually the wronged partner who may feel powerless and insecure,” explains Knowles. “If the couple stays together though, it tends to be the wronged partner who has the upper hand. The unfaithful partner may feel so guilty that they spend all their time trying to make amends for what happened. The problem is , they may be putting too much energy into doing this, with the result that the issues that caused the affair in the first place may not get tackled.

Knowles feels that the only realistic way couples can put an affair behind them is to communicate far more openly than they ever have before – not easy when jealousy and hurt are the major emotions between you. “You must talk about your expectations. Say what you absolutely won’t tolerate from now on, and make a whole new set of ground rules. This time, be upfront enough to say what you want and make it clear that what you want might change over time”.

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