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43% Of Couples Don't Survive Infidelity – Here's How To Be The Ones Who Do

Written by: Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Shan Merchant

Infidelity can be a devastating blow to any relationship. The betrayal, the hurt, and the shattered trust after an affair can leave husbands, wives, or partners feeling lost and unsure of the future. It's an earthquake that tests the very foundations of a partnership. But here's the thing – even in the face of such adversity, there is hope.

Couple quarrel sit in bed not talking

Yes, you read that right. In my experience as a couples therapist, there is indeed hope for couples who have been through infidelity. In fact, by reading the following Infidelity Survival Steps, understanding the hard truths, common misconceptions, and complexities, and by taking the right steps in this difficult time, you can be one of the 57% who not only survive infidelity but emerge stronger and more connected than ever before.


Four in every 10 marriages are rocked by affairs


According to 25 years of research done by psychiatrist Dr. Scott Haltzman, 40% of marriages experience infidelity. And those are just the reported numbers! Generally, people who’ve had affairs tend not to tell the truth about whether they've had affairs or not.


What does this tell you? You're not alone


In a society where secret affairs seem to be this prevalent, it's important to recognise that you are not alone. Even though the numbers may seem disheartening, they can also serve as a reminder that many couples face this challenge and come out the other side. The fact that others have overcome infidelity and rebuilt their relationships should give you hope and encouragement.


The most successful couples do this


I often compare the couples in my practice and look at who works through an affair and who decides to break up. I see a pattern.

  1. The couples in my therapy practice who work through the affair are willing to delve into every facet of their relationship before the affair unfolded.

  2. They commit their energy to the crucial stages of understanding and exploration.

  3. They choose to abstain from perpetuating conflicts, assigning blame, or inflicting shame upon one another. They put their weapons and defences down.

  4. They are prepared to listen patiently again and again to the answers to these questions: How did we get here? What was missing?


Couples that refuse to do this find themselves on a path to emotional exhaustion, hopelessness and ultimately, failure.


The three most important areas to focus on

  1. Communication – What was left unspoken in our relationship? When did we stop communicating or what was the quality of our communication like?

  2. Did you feel prioritised, valued, and appreciated by me?

  3. What was missing in our sexual relationship?

Keep on reading as I will focus more on this in this article.


What should we do to recover from an affair?


If you are deciding whether you will stay together to try to work through it, you are now in the Exploration stage of the aftermath of an affair. Couples I have observed successfully recover and repair their relationship from the devastation of an affair do the following things:


1. Go to couples therapy

Couples therapy is 100% necessary. After an affair, emotional safety and trust have gone. Emotions are high. Defences are high. Conversations about the affair require a whole new level of communication skills that many couples do not yet possess – an evolved language of speaking, listening, understanding and empathy. Imago couples therapy (the type of couples therapy I practise) will teach you a powerful and safe method of communication (called an Imago dialogue) to navigate all the complex emotions of an affair, re-establish safety, understand the why, and rebuild trust in your relationship.


2. Go to individual therapy if you need to


This is often really helpful for partners who are struggling to manage their feelings and feel overwhelmed with anxiety and distress. It’s a supportive confidential space to help you process your feelings. Individual therapy is also helpful for the unfaithful partner who needs a safe confidential space to work on the why behind their actions – initially they might not know, and individual therapy can help you understand yourself more, develop self-awareness and explore different reasons before you bring this into your couples therapy.


3. Take responsibility for your contribution to the 'relationship exit'


While it's clear that the unfaithful partner is responsible for causing the most damaging rupture to the relationship, in 99% of cases I find that both partners have contributed 50:50 to the conditions that created the affair. You must uncover and own your contribution. We do this in pursuit of growth and to accelerate your recovery from the affair.


In Imago couples therapy I explain to couples that an affair is just one type of relationship 'exit'. Think of relationship exits as the escape hatches we use when our relationship becomes challenging. These exits are like detours we take to avoid confronting our partner or dealing with issues. They can be distractions, like working long hours, spending too much time on our phones, or prioritizing children, family, or friends over the relationship. Addictions and compulsions are also ways to exit a relationship.


Other ways to exit a relationship are subtle but no less devastating because they’re all about how you relate to your partner – you may routinely threaten to leave during arguments, for example, or you might withdraw when your partner says they want to talk, or you might occasionally give them the silent treatment.


Why do we do this? Well, instead of facing our partner and our problems, we take these exits to avoid conflict, intimacy, and vulnerability. In working through your affair, you must identify all your exits. So, your partner’s relationship was an affair, what was yours?


If you really want to come back stronger from an affair, these are the types of conversations that you absolutely, 100% need to have. However, discussions like these are extremely difficult to have on your own without support. Without an expert couples therapist to keep the conversation emotionally safe, couples very easily slide into blaming, shaming, stonewalling and stand-up rows. So, if you're serious about rebuilding your relationship, please find an experienced couples therapist who has a proven system – like Imago couples therapy – to help you.


4. Discuss three main things


In my experience the 3 most important areas of your relationship to explore after an affair are:

  1. Communication. What was our communication like before the affair? What was being ignored or left unspoken? What couldn’t I tell you? What was I afraid to tell you? What didn’t you want to hear? It’s essential you become a couple that can openly talk about everything in your relationship. No topic is left undiscussed. For example, my successful couple clients who have recovered from affairs now possess strong communication skills and can talk about topics like money, debt, sex, fears, frustrations, children, parenting and in-laws, and they know how to resolve conflict in a safe way. This is a skill I taught them, and any couple can learn it.

  2. What was happening in our sex life before the affair? I haven’t met anyone in a committed relationship where it isn’t important that they feel wanted, desired and attractive to their partner. Both of you have a responsibility to keep this aspect of your relationship alive.

  3. Did we both feel valued, appreciated, and supported by one another? Or did one or both of us feel criticised, dismissed, disrespected, or neglected?


5. Be careful who you tell about the affair


This can be hard for the faithful partner not to seek support from everyone – you absolutely must seek support from your nearest and dearest. However, if you want to rebuild your relationship, think very carefully about who you'll choose to tell about the extramarital affair. Loyal family members and friends may find it difficult to ever forgive the unfaithful partner and may not understand the relationship conditions that contributed to the affair.


If everyone in your life knows about the infidelity, it may pile a lot of social pressure on top of the tension and hurt that exists between the two of you. This may create a pressure cooker situation that makes it doubly hard to stay together and move forward.


I advise that you agree on finding a balance between getting the support you need from your loved ones, and on making a reconciliation as easy as possible for you, if you want to stay together.


6. Be wary of the myth of the effortless marriage


Understand that an effortless marriage is a myth. Successful, long-term relationships and marriages require work. I’m afraid it’s not enough to keep money coming in, maintain the house, communicate only about practical tasks or logistics, and enjoy looking after the children. What is required is a consistent, conscious effort towards building intimacy and connection.


Couples in long-lasting relationships:

  • Show interest in each other, and they share and listen to each other’s ideas and passions

  • Know how to safely communicate, repair and resolve issues and conflict

  • Understand each other’s history and childhood wounds, and how these affect their relationship

  • Learn to love each other in the exact way they need to be loved

  • Are physically and emotionally intimate

  • Know that little efforts every day to move their relationship in a positive, loving direction go a long way.


However, if both partners are willing to work on their issues and create a healthy relationship, they can move past the pain and into a trusting and fulfilling future. It takes time and effort but is worth it in the end.


How to rebuild our relationship after infidelity


Rather than rebuilding your old relationship, you are deciding to build a new relationship with new behaviours. Here are the skills you'll need to learn:

  • Take responsibility for your own emotions – make sure you know what to do to look after your own emotional state (eg. exercise, enough sleep, good nutrition)

  • Take responsibility for your own contribution to your relationship dynamic – how positive or negative are the words, looks, touches and gestures you offer your partner?

  • Learn how to listen properly – making sure your partner feels that they can always share their feelings with you, and that they are properly heard and acknowledged by you

  • Practise talking openly – being open and vulnerable about your true feelings with build intimacy and connection

  • Practise conscious conflict-resolution – I can show you a method that makes couples unafraid of conflict. The couples that I teach to become able to talk about any contentious topic – money, sex, parenting, fears and family – become an unshakeable team.


To summarise all of this, although the impact of infidelity can be overwhelming, it is possible to heal and come out stronger after going through such a devastating experience. Both partners need to take responsibility for their roles in the conditions that led to the affair and work together towards rebuilding trust. With patience, understanding, and repeated evidence of renewed commitment from both partners, couples can make it through infidelity and come out stronger than ever before.


If infidelity has rocked your relationship or marriage, I can help. Book a free 15-minute clarity call with me now here.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Shan Merchant Brainz Magazine
 

Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Shan is a relationship coach and couples therapist who takes professional couples from the brink of divorce to peaceful, reconnected, and unafraid of conflict in 90 days or less. Shan teaches couples a simple communication skill that takes them from the ‘Power Struggle’ to the ‘Peaceful’ stage of their relationship. Testimonials from her clients across the globe range from, “We put our wedding rings back on,” to “Things are a million times better between us.”

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