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Recovering from infidelity or unfaithfulness in a marriage or committed relationship can be an uphill task and much more difficult than most people realize. And recovery starts with understanding exactly what kind of affair it was.
What kind of affair was it?
Affairs that involve emotional attachment to a person outside a marriage, and not just sex, are naturally much more difficult to deal with. For starters, it may be an indication that the cheating partner is no longer interested in the marriage. Studies have shown that women seem to be more likely than men to forgive their spouse where no emotions were involved in the infidelity. Research has also been conclusive in establishing the fact that men are generally less forgiving regardless of the circumstances of their women’s cheating.
Naturally, what all this means is that passionate infidelity involving deep feelings is more serious will inevitably end up in an emotional mess often leading to violent assault and a breakup.
What does the therapy do?
The main role of the therapist should be that of a neutral supportive listener. This is a critical part of the healing process as both partners pour out their usually strong feelings of hurt, guilt and so on.
It is advisable for couples to go through this process before making a final decision on whether or not to end the relationship. This is because sessions will often clearly bring out the needs, desires and future goals of either party in the relationship. It therefore becomes clear whether the marriage can be repaired or not.
The good news is that studies show that most marriages survive infidelity. In fact, in more than half the cases of infidelity being discovered in the US, marriages not only survive but emerge stronger with firmer commitment from both partners.
Phases of recovery
The first stage is the trauma phase. In extreme cases both partners may experience physical symptoms ranging from loss of weight and appetite to more serious conditions triggered by the raw shock and emotions that follow the discovery of the cheating. Thinking clearly is usually a major challenge for both parties at this juncture.
After the dust has settled, follows the second equally challenging phase of clarification. Partners will want to understand why the affair happened. Closure is critical in healing and the sooner a couple can get to this stage of healing the higher the chances of saving the relationship are.
The next step would be working on the issues that led to the affair. This is where the real work of repairing the relationship starts, and it is no picnic either. It will often be a rollercoaster of feelings of guilt and anger for both as well as a deep longing for the relationship to return to its best moments.
Finally, the couple should be able to enjoy the benefits of the renewed relationship they have created after days, weeks and maybe even months of therapy. This new relationship will more often than not be stronger than the previous one. The couple will also tend to understand each other much better than before. Acceptance by both parties that their previous life and problems have been changed forever is key here.