Once an affair is revealed it can feel like all hell has broken loose. How this emotional fallout is handled can have a profound and lifelong impact on the future of your marriage, as well as relationships with other family members, friends and the wider social and professional circles to which you belong. Moreover, it can alter the way you feel about yourself and the world in general. In the midst of the emotional devastation and chaos that accompanies the revelation of an affair, marriage counseling can be of immediate help in many ways.
Entering marriage counseling can be encouraging to the discoverer of the affair. Even if they may not be able to show it right away, it can be experienced as a powerful statement of commitment to the relationship in the face of so much doubt. This can help start to de-escalate some of the emotional intensity.
Sometimes one or both spouses are not sure whether they want to stay in the marriage. In these cases couples come to weekly sessions to process and understand what has happened as a way to help develop more clarity and come to an agreement about what is to happen moving forward.
Frequently, at the outset, issues of safety need to be addressed. Issues may arise such as STD’s, substance abuse and other addictions, or threatened or actual retaliation by the affair partner. Sometimes issues relating to professional/workplace life need attention.
Emotional safety can involve coming to agreements about any further contact w/ the affair partner. For many, there will be none at all. For others, it can be more complicated, depending on social and workplace considerations. Establishing emotional safety also involves the person who had the affair gaining tools to respond to the intensity of their spouse’s intense emotions.
Relationships with children, extended family, friends and co-workers are always impacted by affairs. We work out agreements regarding boundaries with others and what children might be needing during this time.
The middle phase of therapy is about making meaning of what has happened. It is so tempting to skip this step and just try to go back to the way things were. The person who had the affair can sometimes be so desperate to reassure their partner that they are loved just the way they are and that they didn’t do anything to cause the affair, that exploring the relationship in depth feels too dangerous. Or, it can be the opposite… the couple tries, but ends up in the same repetitive arguments that don’t feel like they’re healing anything. Marriage counseling to counteract these dilemmas that, without intervention, can threaten the survival of the relationship in the long term is crucial.
For example, the discoverer of the affair may have many questions about what has happened. At first the spouse patiently answers as best they can. But the questions may keep coming, many of them repeated over and over. This can become bewildering and may elicit anger, a feeling like one’s face is being rubbed in the transgression. The discoverer can then feel shut out and hopeless. Marriage counseling helps to understand what the questions are really about, thus moving the dialog to a deeper level.
Eventually things become clearer and the relationship starts to feel very different… more alive, more loving, more real. At this point we start to talk about the future… hopes, dreams… creating a shared vision for venturing out into the rest of your marriage.
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and have helping couples heal for 31 years. I can be contacted at (415) 751-6515 or (925) 948-0562. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave some good times to reach you in person. However, in order to protect your confidentiality it is best if we speak by phone. If you live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, please go to the Links page where you can find a geographical listing of therapists who work effectively with affairs.