As a couples therapist, there’s no greater challenge than working through infidelity and its fallout – it’s like a nuclear bomb went off in the marriage, with no bomb shelter in sight.
I recently saw a couple whose marriage was at the breaking point due to an affair (as usual). Both partners were devastated, but in different ways. In our first session, their main question was simply: Should we stay together? This is a great question and not one that’s easy to answer, especially when partners are reeling from the emotional tsunami that every (revealed) affair slams into a marriage.
John and Julie Gottman have researched hundreds of couples post-infidelity, and suggest the following three questions, to help couples decide whether to end their relationship, or buckle up for the hard work that it will take to salvage the relationship:
1. Would you want to be committed to your partner if you trusted them again?
In other words, do you have enough admiration and respect left to salvage the relationship? Be honest and ask yourself: Do we still have fun together and enjoy each other’s company most of the time?
2. Have you let go of your anger and resentment about your partner’s betrayal and are you able to move forward?
Can you imagine ever feeling happy in your relationship or wanting to be close or intimate with your partner in spite of their actions?
3. Can you forgive your partner for their actions?
This does not mean condoning their actions but simply not letting them have power over you. Research suggests that a willingness to forgive can help heal marital problems, both big and small. In fact, marital therapists have found that forgiveness is an essential ingredient of healing from infidelity and contributes to a long-lasting, successful marriage.
I tell partners that, for either of them, if the answer to one or more of these questions is “no”, it’s time to seriously consider leaving the relationship. My job is to help couples look hard at these questions, and to answer them HONESTLY, even if the answer is hard to take. That’s why I see partners individually for our second session. I tell them that there’s little to be gained from going through the motions in couples counselling, and that they owe it to themselves and to their partner to be upfront about their commitment to the process.
IF couples answer yes to the above questions, there’s hope, and we begin the long journey back to trust and love. See my blog, My Partner Had an Affair: How to Stay Together to learn how to process the affair and rebuild the marriage.