Can Anything Positive Come from An Affair?

We cover many aspects of an affair, including why they occur, what impact they have on a couple, and how a couple can recover from them.

Why Do Affairs Occur?

Some people have had brief, one-time affairs and others have had longer, multiple-time affairs. One-time affairs are generally less discovered. When a spouse cheats multiple times, there may be an emotional reason underlying it.

Stereotypically, men tend to have affairs when they’re not sexually satisfied at home. They may not feel needed by their spouse and/or may lose some sense of self in the relationship. Women are stereotyped as having affairs because they feel an emotional disconnection from their spouse. However, it’s important to note that these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes; men may have affairs due to emotional reasons and women may have affairs due to sexual reasons.

When Are Affairs Most Common?

  • First Year of Marriage
    The first year of marriage is a transition period. People need to adjust to cohabitating with another person (if they haven’t already lived together previously) and to the idea that they’re going to be with someone forever. This struggle is an unexpected one as people generally feel that their first year of marriage will be a happy one filled with love. This period usually involves one-time affairs and generally goes unnoticed by the other partner.
  • After Babies Are Born
    Couples tend to feel a difference in either an attraction to their partner or their perception of their partner’s attraction to them. They also find themselves having to balance exhaustion from the baby (leading to less sexual intimacy) and coping with the fact that there’s another person around that they love as much as their partner. Men may see their wives more maternally and less sexually attractive. And women may be less secure about their attraction to their husbands, feel a disconnection from their husbands, and see less of them.
  • “7 Year Itch”
    After 7 years, couples have already defined and deepened their relationship with each other. However, after meeting a lot of their common goals (ex. having children, buying a home), many partners tend to wonder what’s left. Divorce often occurs or is brought up, and clinicians may see a lot of couples in the 5-7 year period.
    “Mid-Life Crisis” Period
    Similar to the “7 Year Itch” period, partners in this period tend to reassess what they’re doing with their lives. They tend to look for ways to get more excitement, and infidelity may be one of those ways. This period has a high rate of divorce.

These latter two periods are where longer affairs that are more damaging to relationships occur. This is when people are people are really looking for an emotional connection elsewhere, and have a lot of work to go through therapeutically. The first two periods are more stress related affairs.

What Are the Effects of An Affair?

Different people will have different reactions to an affair. Some react with anger or rage, going to therapy as a “last ditch effort” to salvage anything from a relationship. Some partners want to know every detail about an affair, where others don’t. An affair can shatter relationships, but if used as an opportunity to honestly examine a relationship, they can strengthen them too. Really examining their relationship and identifying what’s going on and why it’s happening – finding areas that they can work on – couples can actually build trust and understand their relationship better.

How Do You Get Through An Affair?

Affairs feel like one of the worst things that can happen in a relationship. While some couples do end their relationship after an affair, 30% of couples do recover from it.

One of the primary reasons people come in for therapy is to try and make things work and get past an affair-related issue. We have observed that couples who survive an affair tend to display two factors in how they work together:

  1. The partner who’s had the affair truly feels remorse for the act and has a true sense of empathy for their partner
  2. Both partners have to accept their part in the affair

The second factor tends to be harder for the person who’s been cheated on, but it’s important to remember that affairs happen for a reason. Both partners need to look specifically at their communication patterns, intimacy level, etc.

Any relationship has the potential to recover from an affair, regardless of its nature. There are 5 steps to rebuilding:

  1. Empathy/Forgiveness
    Both spouses need to be able to have empathy for one another and forgive each other. It’s important to set aside time at the beginning to focus on the partner who has been cheated on to be able to feel validated in their pain.
  2. Rebuilding Trust
    Both partners need to define what trust is and identify the level of trust in the relationship. The partner who has been cheated on may name things that the other partner could do to show their effort in attempts to let them rebuild that trust.
  3. Identifying Patterns
    Both partners should honestly examine their patterns of communication, intimacy, child-rearing, house cleaning, etc. What are areas that could be improved upon to deepen emotional connection and improve interaction?
  4. Re-identify Positive Roots of the Relationship
    Every relationship began for a reason. What initially attracted you to this person and what brought your relationship together? Return to these initial reasons and find ways to bring back that newness into the relationship.
  5. Willingness to Work
    Both partners need to be dedicated to moving forward with the relationship.

Although affairs can feel like an end to a relationship, people who are committed to working on the relationship can move forward and get past the affair.