Figuring out how to handle an affair is one of the most difficult things a couple may ever have to do. You may be thinking it couldn’t happen to us. Fortunately, it is a minority of relationships who have to deal with this issue.
The best estimates are that about 3-4% of currently married people have a sexual partner besides their spouse in a given year and about 15-18% of ever-married people have had a sexual partner other than their spouse while married
However, for those that do experience an affair in their relationship it constitutes a significant trauma. The partner who participated in the affair will experience the situation differently from the one who didn’t however both individuals will be impacted a great deal. Often times it is dealt with much like someone experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is often a defining event that is highly emotional. Then there may be other events that occur later, which trigger flashback type reactions. So the comparison seems warranted. The following fundamentals will hopefully serve as a starting point to begin sorting things out for those facing an affair in their relationship.
1: The first thing to decide is how much information you want to have about the affair. Remember you cannot un-hear details once they are given to you. But you can always ask more questions later if you like.
2: To the best of your ability honestly answer whether you may be able to forgive. You don’t need to answer if you will forgive yet. That comes later. Most theories of forgiveness are fairly consistent in their definitions of the end state of forgiveness, indicating three common elements: (1) gaining a more balanced view of the offender and the event; (2) decreasing negative affect toward the offender, potentially along with increased compassion; and (3) giving up the right to punish the offender further.
3: Carefully consider to what extent it matters where on the spectrum of emotional affair – physical affair the betrayal sits. For some it is harder to deal with if it is more on one end than the other.
4: What will it take to be able to trust each other again? Especially early on after the affair is discovered there may be very specific things that are needed to help alleviate the anxiety in the relationship.
5: Identify what factors contributed to the betrayal. Studies indicate that nearly 1/3 of cheaters were unhappy in the relationship before they cheated. The couple will benefit from having this understanding of why this happened. Taking into account relationship dynamic factors, environmental factors, as well as individual factors of both partners that created the context in which the affair occurred.
6: Develop a plan of how to deal with moments that trigger anger, fear, jealousy, anxiety etc. in the relationship. These often decrease with time but can be quite intense in the beginning.
7: Ask yourself what changes are required in your life if you choose to stay in the relationship. Are you prepared to do the work necessary to mend the relationship?
8: Ask yourself what changes are required in your life if you choose to end the relationship and walk away. Are you prepared to make those changes now?
Though the above list of basics may seem straightforward it is not easy. The estimates are that it will take a couple 1-2 years to recover from an affair. These figures usually assume there are not other significant strains on the relationship and both partners commit to working through their issues. It is helpful to be very patient with each other at this difficult time. The relationship has experienced a significant wound. It is up to each partner to determine whether they are unable to recover from this or if this is a phase of the relationship that will ultimately make the relationship stronger.
For those who are looking for a psychologist who specializes in recovery from affairs a good resource is:
If you aren’t sure you are ready to speak to a professional yet you could check out an online support group such as:
For the research buffs in the audience you can read more stats on the subject at: