Should an Infidelity Lead to Divorce? Try Therapy
Infidelity in a relationship can spread anger, guilt, depression, and shattered trust to both partners and their children, extended family and friends. If it’s happened in your relationship, you and your partner know just how painful it can be.
It is one of the most common relationship problems; Therapists report that about half of their clients with marital problems list infidelity as the primary issue.
Happily, there is cause for optimism for couples who want to stay together. First, an affair doesn’t necessarily mean that the unfaithful spouse has fallen out of love with his partner; this is especially true of men who stray. Wives who are unfaithful are more likely to be looking for an emotional connection, and once that connection is made with an outsider, it can be even more damaging to the relationship than cheating based primarily on sex.
How therapy can help
- If you both can agree that you want to try to save the relationship, seeking the help of a therapist greatly increases your chances of success. Just the act of selecting a therapist, setting up an appointment, and making the time to go to a session reinforces your commitment to each other. You should both be involved in the choice so neither of you feels that the therapist isn’t “your” therapist. Feeling that the therapist is neutral and that both sides are respected is critical. For instance, I like talking with both partners over the phone before meeting them personally. In this way, the process is balanced (both of you have the opportunity to talk with me about what you want and how you feel) from the very beginning.
- Be clear, though, the work is just beginning and it will be hard work for both of you. That’s why it’s also important that both want to talk with the therapist. It’s a sign that both are committed and want to find a solution to the situation.
- You must also be willing to acknowledge that your relationship problems may be much broader and of longer duration than the immediate crisis. An affair can act as the canary in the mine and reveal other problems that were already in the relationship and that may have led to the present situation. In that sense, an affair can have a positive effect, if you are able to use the experience to reaffirm your dedication to your relationship and to explore better that relationship: where you both really are, what you need and what the relationship is giving to both of you.
- Even if the resolution of your therapy is separation, that doesn’t mean the process failed. Both of you are almost surely emotionally damaged by the infidelity — depressed, anxious, angry, and unable to trust. Therapy can help you work through those negative feelings, explore all the real issues between you (not only the ones created by the infidelity), and help you decide how you want to continue living your lives. You may decide to stay together or not, to continue with the same kind of relationship you had, or create a new relationship that fits better for both of you. In any case, the goal is to find the best long-term solution for both of you. Therapy will help you find that solution and prepare you for the changes that will need to be made.
- A European study of couples in therapy revealed that those who came in because of an episode of infidelity were initially much more unhappy and upset than those who came for other reasons. After completing therapy, though, the couples working through infidelity were as positive as the others.
The damage of infidelity can be healed if you are both committed to that end and willing to do all the work to get there. It’s a process that needs openness to your own feelings and to your partner’s. It will result in the personal growth of both members — individually and as partners.