Though difficult, recovery is still within reach
Most couples enter marriage with intention of savouring long-lasting marital bliss. Nobody expects themselves or their spouse to have an affair. However, the unfortunate reality is that affairs do happen.
An affair usually arises when there are perceived or real unmet needs in a marriage. Lack of intimacy, poor communication, unresolved anger, undercurrent issues, and emotional distance are all common traits of a marriage in crisis, according to Larry Lai, Head of Counselling and Principal Psychotherapist at Focus on the Family Singapore.
“There is usually something missing in the marriage relationship that has resulted in one or both parties feeling frustrated or helpless and instead of resolving the issues, one party chooses to fulfil their unmet needs outside of the marriage” he adds.
There is usually something missing in the marriage relationship that has resulted in one or both parties feeling frustrated or helpless.
Having personally known couples who have journeyed through infidelity, Larry has also witnessed, first-hand, their successful recoveries. Here are some of the key factors necessary for healing after an extramarital affair.
Be prepared for the long recovery journey
The first and foremost thing is for the wrongdoer to admit and accept responsibility for committing the affair, acknowledge the hurts and injuries they have caused, and seek forgiveness. The next and very difficult step, especially in the case of a long-term emotional affair, is for the wrongdoer to commit to ending the affair and restoring the marital relationship.
Larry emphasises that both parties must be prepared for the tough and long-drawn process in an affair recovery and restoration journey.
“Realistically, it may take 1-2 years, if not longer, for both parties to fully heal, through the help of individual and couple therapy,” said Larry.
Be willing to forgive
Forgiveness is another key ingredient in moving on after an affair. Reconciliation cannot happen without forgiveness.
This is arguably the hardest step to take for the wronged spouse. When your spouse betrays your trust and causes you deep emotional hurt, you may have a strong need for vindication or justice. Forgiveness is likely to be the last thing you want to extend.
However, it is important to realise that forgiveness not only frees the wrongdoer from shame and guilt and allow him/her to start afresh in rebuilding the relationship, it also frees you to focus on your own healing process.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting but it does mean not using the incident against your spouse in the journey ahead. It also doesn’t mean that the pain and hurt automatically vanish; you will still need the time and space to grieve as your marriage has changed irrevocably.
Rather, forgiveness facilitates your own internal healing process. It is only through forgiveness that you can free yourself and focus on restoring and strengthening your marital relationship without the encumbrances of the affair.
Seek good counsel
Working with a counsellor can help facilitate the healing and restoration process. A counsellor will generally work with both of you, through individual and couple therapy, to identify the unmet needs in your marital relationship, and guide you in the work needed for healing and restoration.
For instance, it may be necessary to establish new boundaries for re-building trust in your marriage with regards to interactions with the opposite sex and improve on the accountability and transparency in your marriage.
Take it one day at a time
The best thing you can do for yourself during the recovery period is to take things one day at time.
For those with children, the challenges might seem even more overwhelming because it will be hard to hide your stress. Be honest with your children about the difficulties that you are going through but only provide them with age-appropriate information. Don’t weigh your children down with the details or play the blame game.
Do take care of the parts of your family life that you still have control over to provide a semblance of security and stability for your children.
Infidelity does not have to signal the end of the road for a marriage but with the willingness from you and your spouse to forgive and work on your relationship, your marriage can be given a new lease of life.