3 Signs your relationship can survive an affair
If you’ve recently discovered infidelity in your relationship, the future will, suddenly, feel uncertain. But there are giveaways if you will, or won’t, make it through next year as a couple. By our dating expert, Kate Taylor
One of the most devastating parts of discovering a partner’s affair is realising that everything you took for granted, including your shared future, can’t be depended on any more.
That means it’s hard to follow all the usual advice for getting over a broken heart—plan ahead, set new goals, decide on a new direction—because you simply don’t know where you’ll be, or what the best next step is to take.
The good news is, you will survive this experience as an individual. You will. If you want to survive it as a couple, here are the most important signs that you can recover together.
1. You can discuss the affair with your partner
Communication is the key to surviving an affair, but it’s the hardest thing to sustain.
When you discover that your partner has been unfaithful, you will naturally crave as much information as you can: where it happened; when it started; how often they saw each other; how much money they spent on gifts and dates; why…
But, overcome with shame, the unfaithful partner will usually look to shut down communication immediately or try to end the questioning by revealing as little information as they can.
When one person in a relationship refuses to talk, we call it “stonewalling”. It’s incredibly destructive, as it almost literally builds a wall between the two of you.
To survive an affair, a wall must be built, but it should be between the unfaithful partner and the other person, not between you and your partner. You need to shelter together on one side, especially early on.
How to do it:
Agree to set time-limits on the conversations. This isn’t giving them an undeserved easy ride: time-limits help you, too, as too much information can be overwhelming and hurtful.
Set 30-minute limits on your conversations about the affair, and when the time is up, take a break, have a cup of tea and maybe get some fresh air.
Another way to establish a more open communication is to ask different questions. While your brain will draw you to probe for the most painful details, try to ask questions that force your partner to rationalise what they did.
Instead of, “Were they better in bed than me?”, ask, “What did this relationship represent to you? What could you express to that person that you felt you couldn’t express with me?”
Ask them how they felt when they came home to you after seeing the other person. Ask them how they managed to disguise it all for so long.
By asking these type of questions, you’re establishing a base from which you can create a new relationship together. Because the next important sign you can survive together is:
2. You can accept that your original relationship is over
You now have the opportunity to build a brand new relationship with each other or move on independently.
Instead of clinging to your shattered image of your partner, you have a chance to see them as a flawed human being who you can still try to care for—or someone you no longer want to be around.
The choice is yours. But facing the end of the original relationship is an important step.
How to do it:
Grieve the end of your first relationship. Cry over your wedding album. Walk through the much-loved rooms in your house, take off your wedding ring.
If you’re still living together, create space in the house that is just for you—even moving to separate bedrooms. Life as you knew it has come to an end, and this is the time to initiate a hard reset.
You might feel a confusing urge to avoid this step, in order to avoid facing the pain you believe you’ll feel, or even to avoid making things uncomfortable for your partner. Don’t avoid this step! Your recovery can only begin when you face what you’ve lost.
In rebuilding your relationship, don’t be afraid to take things very slowly. Date. Build up to sex. Try to weigh up this “new” partner as objectively as you’d judge someone new, without being clouded by familiarity and a need for security.
Don’t try to hide the affair from your friends, either. When you open up, you might be surprised how many people you know have been through this experience too.
Open up to carefully selected friends, however; your feisty friends who will make you feel ashamed of even thinking of staying together are not who you need at this stage. Look to your wise, open-minded friends in the early stages.
When you create a new relationship, it’s your opportunity to decide on what the legacy of the affair will be. Let it be positive.
3. Your partner is willing to be more open
In time, you can hope to be able to blindly trust your partner at their word again. But until then, feel no qualms about asking your partner to share their plans, relationships and correspondence with you more openly.
How to do it:
Just ask them. How they respond will be telling. If they’re defensive, irritable or overly emotional, it could be a sign they were hoping to continue their clandestine behaviour, or aren’t ready to commit to you completely. It might be that their affair represented freedom from responsibility and they’re reluctant to take on the burden of caring for your feelings.
Ideally, they’ll volunteer this information because they’ve taken on the responsibility of rebuilding the trust between you. That’s the most positive sign of all.
When the unfaithful partner takes up the mantle of discussing the affair, sharing their life, and repairing the damage, you have a real, solid chance of surviving as a couple.
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