Betrayal, deception, mistrust. And very, very hurt.
These are the emotions people harbor after finding out their spouse has been cheating on them. Many of us know marriages that broke up because of an affair, but that's not what I'm addressing here. In fact, if both parties are willing, a marital affair is something that can be worked through, allowing the marriage to not only continue, but in fact to thrive.
Here's how to process an affair to come out ahead in your marriage.
1. Know that forgiveness will be possible . Before you even begin the path towards processing the affair, it's easier to know there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. In my 15+ years of working as a psychologist, I've had the pleasure of witnessing countless couples revive their relationship after a marital affair. Just keep in mind that once you begin to understand how the events happened and each other's feelings, forgiveness becomes possible. Not only can each partner forgive the other, but they can also forgive themselves. Forgiveness is a choice and a method by which we move forward.
2. Take responsibility for your part now . Dealing with the affair can be used as an opportunity for both parties to examine where they may have emotionally defaulted on the relationship. What holes are there? What types of support can they now start to implement? Success hinges on each party being willing to take responsibility for their role in the relationship atmosphere. This can be hard to absorb for many people in the throes of betrayal and pain, but it works.
3. Institute kind, open and routine communication . Free-flowing, yet always respectful, communication is key for restoring and maintaining intimacy. Before most marital affairs happen, healthy communication takes a dive. Misunderstandings are rampant and both parties were likely hurting. Fluid speech involves sharing your feelings as well as listening carefully to your partner's experiences, and peppering your day by being in touch when you're not together. To regain the spark, it might help to revisit the feelings you had when your relationship started to be serious. Start by sharing what you liked about each other then and what you like now.
4. Be willing to stretch for your relationship . When things feel the most challenging -- for example when you are annoyed or angry at your partner -- take a step back and ask, "What can I do for him/her today? How can I give? What wishes can I grant them?" Reaching out to help can often alleviate the ill feelings we had.
5. Make dates. Whether a two-hour leisurely picnic in the park or a full-on Broadway show night on the town, make sure to schedule in dates at least once a week. The caveat is that you have to get out of the house, preferably with smartphones off.
Using the above methods to restore a relationship's positivity will inevitably lead to restoring trust and returning real, ever-present love. Obviously, these steps can be challenging, and getting the help of a professional can be instrumental in helping you both heal. Ultimately, as hard as it might sound at the beginning, a marital affair can be a turning point for recreating a solid, united, lasting marriage.