Affairs and Infidelity: Can we recover?

Far too many relationships have been seriously impacted by an affair.  Why do affairs happen?  Can a relationship survive an affair?

Of all the issues that impact relationships, few are as devastating as affairs.   The loss of trust the betrayed partner feels is as if their whole world has turned upside down.  The partner they thought they could count on seems to be a completely different person.   The partner’s character is now in question, the future is uncertain, and most betrayed partners are not sure if they even want to stay together.

Never intended to cheat

Most people do not plan to have an affair or even seek it out.  Another person comes along who is friendly, interested, and attentive, and being around them can feel like a drug high.  It can happen slowly and before they realize it, they are involved beyond what is appropriate.  Sometimes the involvement is merely flirtatious; sometimes this progresses to sex and intimacy.  At some point, the betrayer has a sense that this behavior isn’t right, but the ‘drug’ of an affair can seriously cloud judgment and make one temporarily put their integrity on hold.


I don’t really want a divorce!

Typically, the partner who had the affair does not want their primary relationship to end.  With the exception of partners who cheat repeatedly, most  love their partners and want to stay with them.  They are filled with remorse and guilt, and in many cases, aren’t even sure why the affair happened.

Warning signs

Although there can be many reasons for an affair, there are some common warning signs that signal trouble ahead.  One risk factor is a couple who are drifting apart emotionally, spending less time together, and are just going through the motions of being a couple.  They may not be arguing a lot, but neither are they looking forward to seeing each other at the end of the day, or having fun together very often.

Conflict may not be obvious and, in fact, couples that rarely disagree are not necessarily better off.  Built-up hurts or resentments that never get resolved  or discussed can work to erode closeness even when there is little overt fighting.  Often there are problems with sexual intimacy; either less satisfying sex, or no sex at all.

Sometimes there is a precipitating factor.   A new baby, money worries, family issues, job problems can all create stresses that result in distancing.  These things can happen to any of us, but the couple who doesn’t seem to notice that the relationship is slowly deteriorating and lack the skills to tackle this are at big risk for relationship problems, including affairs.

Affairs usually come to light

The partner having the affair may believe that it will never come to light.  They may plan to end it on a daily basis, but never quite do so.  In my experience, almost all affairs are found out eventually, and with more destructive effects than if they purposely ended the affair and confessed.

With the introduction of modern technology, an affair is hard to keep secret, and a not surprising number of affairs are revealed by cell phone messages, text messages, and emails.  The betrayer who wishes to keep the affair a secret seems to have a surprising lack of common sense about being caught.  Many would argue that a part of them wants to be caught.

The discovery leads to a major crisis

When the affair is first discovered, a huge crisis ensues.  Often the first response to the question, “Are you having an affair?” is denial.  This initial dishonesty is a desperate attempt to cover up facts that the betrayer is certain will result in loss of the relationship. Unfortunately, this dishonestly just adds more mistrust than would occur if they just owned up to the affair.  The attempted cover-up that goes with the initial discovery only serves to put in doubt any future acknowledgements made. The betrayed partner begins to wonder what is true and what is a lie.


The value of seeking help.

Here is one place that a therapist who is very experienced in working with couples and affairs can be invaluable.  Few couples are prepared to tackle this on their own.  Rocked by the impact of the disclosure, the betrayed partner is seriously traumatized and the betrayer is left trying to stabilize the situation.  Many do not disclose the news to anyone else.  They are embarrassed, ashamed, and don’t want their relationship marred by the affair in the eyes of friends and family. Couples have no one to talk about it but each other and they are often barely speaking.


Having a skilled couples therapist to work with who can guide them through this very rocky terrain with map in hand can be essential.  This is likely the biggest crisis a relationship ever endures.  Look for a couple therapist with lots of experience working with couples and affairs in particular.


Can this relationship be saved?  A crucial factor


One of the first decisions to be made is whether to stay in the relationship and begin to heal.  As mentioned, often the betrayer does want the relationship to continue; it’s the betrayed partner who isn’t sure if they can ever get past the sense of betrayal.

Here is where its important that the betrayer  take full responsibility for their wrongdoing, not minimizing or blaming the other partner for ‘causing’ the affair to happen.  This is not to say that they didn’t both participate in allowing the conditions that made an affair more likely, but in no case is the betrayed partner responsible for the betrayer’s poor judgment on their choice of how to cope.

If the betrayer takes full responsibility for their behavior and is willing to do whatever is necessary to repair the damages, then the prognosis is much more positive.

Full disclosure is essential

It is at this point that I encourage the betrayer to disclose the full extent of the affair.  Omitting some key information in an effort to avoid hurting the betrayed partner never pays off.  Details have a way of coming to the surface eventually, and when the betrayed partner finds out that they are still being lied to or information is still being withheld, it is usually a major setback.

A barrage of questions and accusations

The initial efforts to heal the relationship often include an inexhaustible barrage of questions, accusations and tears.  While this is hard on the one who had the affair, it is essential to be willing to tolerate it for a while to begin to dispel the fear that there is no more to be learned.  Here is where a therapist who is experienced in working with affairs can help guide the couple toward healthier communication about the affair and eventually an understanding of why this happened and subsequent healing.

Goal:  a healthier relationship than it was before

It is not enough to just put the relationship back together.  The couple must learn what went wrong, what each of their parts in the distancing of the relationship were, and the skills and tools to tackle whatever comes up between them, both personally and as a couple.

A good relationship is not an accident, and sadly, it does not often happen without conscious efforts on both parts.  Since most of us did not learn enough  about how to have a healthy relationship and most did not have wonderful role models, it is not too surprising that we are caught off guard when things go wrong.  But it is certainly a learnable skill, providing you have a good teacher.

Let us help you!  We have extensive experience with Affairs and Infidelity.


THE COUPLE CENTER – Therapists who love working with couples!

Call and speak to one of our therapists now:

Bay Area  – Call 510 277-3111

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Keys to a successful relationship

I was watching a TED talk this week on what constitutes Success. Richard St. John asked 500 people with successful careers what they thought made them successful. He condensed their responses into a lively, humorous, 4-min. talk for the TED audience. I was struck by how many of his 8 keys to success were so applicable to the success of relationships.

Surprisingly many couples don’t really work very hard at making their relationships better. If they were growing a new business they’d likely be thinking, planning and working on it constantly. What if even half of the effort people put into a new business or project, were applied to improving their relationships? Assuming they knew what efforts to make, they’d be almost certain to see some real improvements!
FOCUS (#4 of St. John’s eight keys to success) is paying more attention to something you often take for granted. Really think about what you could do to improve things between you and your partner.  Even just ONE thing.

Brainstorm (IDEAS, #7) about what might make it more satisfying.  Get creative.  Brainstorm together with your partner.  Think outside the box.

PUSH YOURSELF (#5) it may be hard to change, but work at it anyway! Always wanted to run a marathon but knew you’d need to get in better shape?  Taking the first step is crucial.  Get up off the couch!  Or how about a no TV night together?  Or a date night?

GET GOOD AT IT (#3) Practice, practice, practice. We all know that practice yields results.  What results can you achieve in your relationship?
One of the ways in which THE COUPLE CENTER works with couples, is to get them to take a more proactive stance in their relationships, to follow through with what they learn in our sessions and apply it during the week.  We provide the ‘know-how’; you provide the application. You end up with a more successful relationship.  What we notice is, the harder  a couples tries to make their relationship better, the better it usually gets!  If they get stuck, we can help them get unstuck and move toward results.


Ready to get unstuck in your relationship?  Call us and see how we can help?            510 277-3111

Subscribe to our Newsletter to keep focused on your relationship; use it as a reminder that you can’t neglect it – it needs nurturence and attention!


How to get your ‘silent partner’ to talk to you more often

He:  “Do we have to talk about this right now?”
She : “If I wait for you to bring it up, we’d never talk about anything!”

Blaming each other for everything only leads to more conflict and less connection in relationships. When conversations have become predictably negative and our partner seems to be avoiding talking, we are left feeling hurt, alone and very frustrated. Unresolved conflicts can stack up in the background only to resurface days later in a flash. Soon tension fills our relationship and we may wonder if we will ever feel close again. Does this sound like your relationship?

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The Importance of Pre-marital Discussions

When meeting with married couples in therapy, I am so often struck that they are arguing about a topic that they never discussed before marriage. Each partner is now surprised that the other person sees it differently. When I explore this with them, what I often hear is that it never occurred to them to discuss these ‘far-in-the-future’ events beforehand.

Topics like …
Do we have the same values about health and fitness?
Will we celebrate all birthdays and holidays with extended family?
How will we share housework? Childcare?
What will our standard of ‘tidiness’ be?
What amount of our incomes will we save vs. spend?
What constitute an affair?
How much debt is OK?

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The Fragile Relationship

by Barbara Swenson, Ph.D., Director, THE COUPLE CENTER

I am frequently struck with sadness when I meet a couple whose relationship is dangling by a slowly fraying thread.  Typically this couple has been together for some time, often many years, while wounds and resentments have stacked up so high in one corner of their relationship that at least one of them seems to have already  ‘checked out’.

This partner appears distant, guarded and does not express much optimism that couple therapy can be of any help.  The other partner seems more hopeful and desperately wants the other not to give up. Since it takes two to heal a relationship, the therapist’s  job becomes that of determining whether the reluctant partner really is “done”,  or, if their distant, pessimistic stance is the way they are protecting themselves from further hurt and rejection.  This is not a question the therapist can pose early in a first session.   Each partner must begin to experience the therapist as fair, able to see both sides, and able to communicate some understanding of each of their points of view.

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