When two people take the vows of marriage, it is an implied commitment that it will last as “long as both shall live.” The sacred trust of fidelity will not be broken. However, for many reasons, some will seek intimacy elsewhere. In most cases, the infidelity is discovered. The effects of this can be devastating. Betrayal, anger, abandonment, revenge, are all normal reactions when the affair is discovered. It may be as simple as excessive flirting, emotional attachment and finally sexual relations. In my practice, I have been witness to many levels of adultery. I have seen the pain it can cause, not only to the spouse but also to the children.
Can the marriage be saved, or will it break apart? Maybe, it depends on many factors. What triggered one spouse to seek another? Is there a lack of intimacy in the marriage? Abuse? Alcohol or drug abuse? One partner who believes that there are better mates out there. Whatever the reason, two critical things are needed to at least start the process of healing. The willingness to forgive and the willingness to accept accountability.
For many, when their trust is broken, they cannot trust the person again. For some, betrayal starts early in childhood, usually by a parent. If this is the case, the trust may have never been given, or cannot be regained. I have heard the saying that I will forgive but never forget. But is that true forgiveness?
On the other side of this equation is how does a spouse prove they are trustworthy? The simple answer is you can’t. Only faith and true forgiveness can restore a marriage to what it had once been.
How does a couple overcome this? When I work with a couple I will always ask each of them why you married your spouse. Did the love you had just disappear? Or did it eroded over time? Eros is the love of sexual attraction, and connection. It is basic to our instincts but usually fades and if possible it turns into Philia love. The love that holds a family together. Commitment, sacrifice, appreciation, and loyalty. This is the love that can stand up to life’s challenges. In its purest form, it is unconditional. When a spouse is unfaithful, either Philia’s love was never achieved, or it was ground down over the years.
While one spouse may break the vow of fidelity, both spouses usually have a responsibility to the breakdown of the marriage. The one who was betrayed may feel they hold the higher ground. This can turn into a power play that never helps the couple to regain balance in the marriage. Righteous anger is toxic. In addition, anger is usually used to cover more feelings of vulnerability. Acknowledging these emotions takes courage.
So how does one start to heal the relationship? Resolution is the key. This is where a marital therapist may play a role. An impartial, trained professional who seeks to put the relationship first. The couple must have a sincere desire to commit to the process and be open-minded. All connections to the one in which the spouse was cheating must end. There cannot be a third person in the counseling sessions lurking in the background.
The counseling process begins by gathering information on the marriage and on the background of each partner. Strategies to reconnect are suggested. Compassionate communication techniques are introduced along with the concept of “fair fighting”. Jumping starting or reinforcing basic intimacy is attended to with the specific needs of each couple considered. Other factors that are stressors or create distance are also addressed.
The process of reconciliation and recommitment to the marriage is arduous. A journey that takes love, courage, and commitment. There is no one set path to follow. But it is not an impossible journey if both truly want to stay married.