SPRING IS IN THE AIR, the sap is rising so I thought we’d take a look at affairs. The one element of all affairs, be they emotional attachments, sex flings or long term – they cause huge amounts of upset and pain to all concerned.
Couples often arrive at RELATE because one partner has discovered the other has a relationship which they knew nothing about. They might find inappropriate texts on the phone, a receipt for a hotel room or gift which they knew nothing about or they noticed such a change in their partner’s behaviour that, when challenged, it all came out.
This is the crisis. People cannot sleep, cannot eat, don’t know who to tell and generally feel consumed with questions, doubt and mis trust. The “guilty” partner sometimes wants to forget the whole thing, or might have doubts about which person they want to be with, feels guilty, silly, ashamed or continues to lie. Often, they try to minimise it “We never touched, it meant nothing, I wasn’t myself”
This when the couple begin to realise what is at stake. The relationship might end and neither knows who will end it.
Why do people have them?
There’s no one reason and no “ type”. People seldom go out looking to have an affair.
Often, it’s a life stage. In today’s world of work where people spend a lot of time, attractions that start as friendships or
“having a laugh” can develop into a relationship that crosses the line. They discuss personal issues with their colleague rather than with their partner at home, and feelings develop.
What helps to mend a relationship?
The unfaithful partner must end the affair, once and for all.
They should be transparent about their future actions, share information about schedules and movements and disclose any interactions with the other person.
It might be necessary for a short time to share privacy controls such as passwords, since it could be impossible for a deceived partner to trust without this level of openness.
Talk it through.
The whole process may take months or longer. Often, the unfaithful partner wants to draw a line under events and not talk about them, or a faithful partner is reluctant to ask questions in case the answers are too painful. It’s important to tell the story of the affair and why it happened.
Set a time limit for your discussions, and don’t talk when you’re tired. You could end up talking for hours and hours and go round in circles.
Agree to discuss future challenges too, don’t just hope they’ll go away. Talk about the future threats to your fidelity, like crushes or friendships that could cross the line.
Commit to a new future together. Both of you must do this and mean it.
Find time for each other, take an interest in each others’ lives and feelings, and resolve to be honest with each other in future, even if it means taking a risk.
At Relate, we always suggest that couples mark out time to spend together. They turn off phones, laptops, TV etc. Sometimes they can go out together or stay in, listen to music and chat. In a busy household quality time together can easily be lost. It has to be arranged. Giving one another time and attention is vital.
Sometimes, the sexual relationship between you goes into overdrive but that doesn’t necessarily last. There’s a need to reaffirm the relationship sexually. It’s not helpful to ask for comparisons with the other person at first. You need to establish the facts and listen to your partner’s comments.
Consider some relationship counselling. Find your nearest Relate and get in touch.
Long term effects of an affair
Only you can decide what to do after an affair, and whatever you decide will not be easy. Many affairs cause havoc in a relationship that is already dogged with problems, but they can provide an opportunity for positive change too.
Unfaithful partners can work out how their former behaviour led to giving themselves permission to have an affair – and resolve to change. As a couple, you can make changes to your lifestyle and ensure it supports a faithful relationship in the future.
Make sure that you’re open and honest with each other about your wants and needs.It is possible to create a new, stronger relationship in the wake of an affair, but the cost can be very high.
An affair can also have destructive effects on your family. Children, in-laws and friends may all find themselves caught up in events, and perhaps having to take sides.
Permanent barriers can be created. Even so, an affair does not always mean the end of your relationship. With hard work, commitment and patience, it may be possible to come through this crisis changed, but also stronger.
The key message is to understand why the affair happened, rather than run away from the reasons. Whether you stay together or part, it’s crucial to gather some insights into what went wrong. Do this, and if you remain together you will have a deeper understanding of yourselves. If you part, you will know that you had the courage to face the truth, and will be better prepared for future relationships.