Can our marriage survive an affair?


by admin on October 5, 2009

Dear Susan,

Does anyone’s marriage ever truly survive an affair?  I am not experiencing this personally but I have two friends that are in the throes of this and I don’t know what to do to help them.  I thought it might be helpful to hear your views and get other people’s ideas as well through your blog.  Curious

Dear Curious,

This happens to be one of the most complex questions because every situation is different, but, the simple answer is yes.  Not only can marriages survive but they can get better and stronger than ever as a result of working hard to overcome the infidelity and rebuild a relationship that becomes secure and intimate.

There are many reasons why people have affairs but in my experience the patterns are similar so I will give a generic overview of this pattern and then readers can fill in their unique stories (all correspondence is confidential of course).

When we marry or move in with our partner, we tend to fall into life and its busyness and think that the relationship will thrive and endure without much attention.  Everything can feel more urgent or important than the relationship and therefore, if we are not very careful, our needs for closeness and intimacy can gradually fade into the background and our connections become weaker and weaker.  Often we don’t know what we are missing but even if we do, we don’t know what to do about it and life goes on….until someone else starts paying attention to us and the juices start to flow.

Affairs most often begin when we least expect them to.  Most people don’t go in search of them.  When someone’s attention starts to bring us back to life it is one of the strongest experiences a person can have.  Because it is so strong it is hard for most people to resist – even wonderful, loyal family types can succumb.

What happens next is purely biological in that the brain becomes bathed in hormones that drive the person into the arms of the other.  Both lose touch with reality and all that matters is having this wonderful experience of being seen, appreciated, wanted, desired, and what feels like being truly loved.  In this state people don’t hesitate to lie or do whatever it takes to be fulfilled.

The sad truth is that these feelings are temporary and usually last until the couple is caught.  (The illicit nature of an affair keeps the hormones raging.)  The person cheating never wants to tell their partner for fear of hurting him or her.  Of course that is the worst decision because the betrayal is horrible and painful but the lies make it so much worse.

There is obviously so much damage done to a relationship and a family by an affair but it can also be seen as a wake-up call to put a ho-hum relationship on a new track.  It takes a long time for the person who has been betrayed to recover and to be able to even want to trust again, but when both people agree to fight for their relationship and family I have seen wonderful things happen.

The result of a re-commitment to each other can be life altering.  Before an affair the couple could have been sleep-walking through life and the relationship may have been bland.  Following the affair, the individuals wake up.  Life starts to have colour and texture.  The couple’s relationship becomes fulfilling and has meaning.  People learn how to love and how to be loved.

I welcome your insights, experiences and views on this subject.  It is complex and each person who has experienced this may have something to say that can be helpful to many people.

Thanks for being part of this.