An af­fair doesn’t have to end your mar­riage

How some T.O. cou­ples have cre­ated stronger, more ful­fill­ing re­la­tion­ships post-af­fair

Richmond Hill Post - - Currents - Names have been changed and de­tails have been shared with per­mis­sion from all par­ties.

Cheat­ing may be more com­mon than you think. Ac­cord­ing to a re­view of 31 stud­ies, ap­prox­i­mately one-quar­ter to one-fifth of North Amer­i­cans ad­mit to hav­ing cheated, and though men are still more likely to cheat than women, women are clos­ing the gap.

I don’t con­done cheat­ing, but I also don’t be­lieve that ev­ery cou­ple ought to break up af­ter an af­fair. For some, cheat­ing means the end of a re­la­tion­ship, and for oth­ers, it changes the course of the re­la­tion­ship — some­times for the bet­ter.

Sonja and Rob­bie have been mar­ried for more than 15 years, and they never con­sid­ered break­ing up af­ter Rob­bie’s af­fair.

“I found out while I was at work five years ago,” Sonja ex­plains. “He called to tell me that he’d been hav­ing an af­fair for sev­eral months and had bro­ken it off a few weeks back. She was pissed and had just threat­ened to tell me, so he wanted to get out ahead of it.”

Sonja says she felt sick to her stom­ach and called her sis­ter to pick her up.

“I couldn’t even tell her what hap­pened. I just told her I had a ter­ri­ble mi­graine and couldn’t drive or be alone,” she says.

“I never thought of leav­ing him. I thought of killing him,” she says and laughs, “but we were happy to­gether. We were in love. We ac­tu­ally liked each other, which is more than I can say of some of my friends who ap­par­ently have never dealt with cheat­ing.”

Af­ter a year of ther­apy and four more years of pri­or­i­tiz­ing the re­la­tion­ship, they both report that their mar­riage is stronger than ever.

“We were kids when we met. We fi­nally learned how to com­mu­ni­cate in ther­apy — some­thing our par­ents never mod­elled for us. There is no ex­cuse for his af­fair, but deal­ing with it wasn’t the hard­est thing we’ve faced in our re­la­tion­ship. One of the tough­est parts is keep­ing it a se­cret. I know I’d be judged for stay­ing,” she says.

The ten­sion be­tween the de­sire to work on the re­la­tion­ship and the fear of pub­lic sham­ing is com­mon. But when oth­ers judge you for stay­ing (or leav­ing), their judg­ment is rooted in their own fears about their own re­la­tion­ships.

The re­al­ity is that no re­la­tion­ship is per­fect. Over the course of a life­time, you will in­evitably hurt one an­other. Hav­ing an af­fair may be par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing or it may be yet an­other hur­dle you face as a cou­ple. You may con­sider cheat­ing the ul­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship trans­gres­sion, whereas oth­ers might con­sider dif­fer­ent forms of be­trayal more dam­ag­ing. This is why it is es­sen­tial to talk about how you de­fine monogamy and how you feel about cheat­ing from the on­set (or right now if you are yet to have these con­ver­sa­tions).

Swansea res­i­dent Rick agrees that ver­bal­iz­ing your ex­pec­ta­tions and val­ues is key. These con­ver­sa­tions pre­cip­i­tated a pos­i­tive shift in his mar­riage af­ter his wife cheated.

“She slept with an ex-boyfriend af­ter our first child was born, and she de­cided to tell me right away. I was pissed. And it still stings if I sit with it, but we un­der­stand each other bet­ter now.”

He says he wouldn’t call it a sil­ver lin­ing, but he does think that the con­ver­sa­tions that fol­lowed her dis­clo­sure have made him feel more se­cure.

When I ask about whether he’d leave if it hap­pened again, he nods but adds that he feels more se­cure now be­cause they’re open about how they feel — the good, the bad and the ugly.

So how do you know if you can re­pair your re­la­tion­ship af­ter an af­fair? First, it takes two peo­ple to re­pair a re­la­tion­ship, so if you’re both will­ing to put in the ef­fort and you want to (re)cre­ate a ful­fill­ing shared life, it’s prob­a­bly worth a shot. I highly rec­om­mend work­ing with a ther­a­pist. It’s not a guar­an­tee that you’ll over­come the hurt of an af­fair, but it’s a good first step.

If you cheated and you’re will­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for your ac­tions and lis­ten to your part­ner’s feel­ings (all of them), it’s a pos­i­tive sign. If you’re still blam­ing oth­ers or if you’re in­val­i­dat­ing your part­ner’s feel­ings, you may not be ready to make the changes re­quired to re­pair the union.

If your part­ner cheated and you’re open to ex­press­ing what you re­ally feel (e.g., anger, grief, fear, in­se­cu­rity, in­ad­e­quacy, sad­ness) and dis­cussing your own needs and ex­pec­ta­tions to re­build trust, it’s a good start. You have a right to ex­press your­self, make re­quests and set new bound­aries, but you don’t want to use the af­fair as a weapon to get what you want in­def­i­nitely.

In some cases, an af­fair is a symp­tom of other re­la­tion­ship is­sues, and in oth­ers, it’s re­lated to the cheat­ing part­ner’s own cir­cum­stances or is­sues. No two cases are alike, but if you set the stigma of cheat­ing aside and fo­cus on clar­i­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, ex­press­ing love and ex­plor­ing emo­tions with the goal of mu­tual ful­fill­ment, I be­lieve you can re­pair, re­cover and have an even more ful­fill­ing re­la­tion­ship post-af­fair.

It is es­sen­tial to talk about how you de­fine monogamy with your part­ner

DR. JESS Jess O’Reilly is a sought-af­ter speaker, au­thor and sex­ol­o­gist (www.SexWithDrJ­ess.com).

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