Updated May 7, 2020
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
Can you truly learn how to repair a marriage after an affair?
Too often, the common response to infidelity and unfaithfulness is this: “Get out of my bed, out of this house, and out of my life! I want a divorce!”
Infidelity statistics found that more than 40 percent of couples who have cheated on their spouse are divorced and that 57 percent of men and 54 percent of women have admitted to adultery.
Meanwhile, 74 percent of men and 68 percent of women state they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught.
One would wonder if monogamy and fidelity in relationships and marriages have gone out the window after reading these facts.
The statistics are not the true picture — it depends on how the survey was conducted and the sample size used.
Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor Frankl (Frankl, 1949)
How can a marriage survive, grow, and even flourish from the shock of infidelity?
Healing from an affair is not that simple. First, it’s important to acknowledge that an affair may be the result or manifestation of many underlying causes.
Quite often, if partners could communicate their feelings in an open, honest manner to each other without criticism, judgment, or stonewalling, an affair might not have been the result.
To go a bit deeper, many people are not in touch or aware of their feelings, leaving them vulnerable so they go outside of their relationship too often to get their needs met — needs might have been met if they had talked to one other.
In our daily lives, the trials and tribulations of raising a family, making ends meet, managing careers, and parenting can often produce a great deal of stress.
These challenges get carried into the relationship, causing the relational space to become polluted.
Trying to balance our lives leaves us weak and detached from our inner selves as well as our partners. We become spiritually bankrupt.
When this occurs, there is a loss of connection, not just with our partner but also with our authentic self. The result is a set up for compulsion.
The human need for connection and bonding is so essential to our emotional well-being that we unconsciously seek in something or someone where it is easier to connect.
Some choose alcohol or drugs, some choose shopping, others choose eating, and some choose an affair.
Often, it’s not even a choice. It’s simply a compulsion to connect — a sort of “perfect storm”.
What is the process of restoring a relationship after an affair?
How do you clean up the relational space where the couple and their children (if any) live and play? Is it possible to repair and heal the relationship?
Not only is there a possibility but a very high probability if both partners want to find a way to salvage their relationship.
It is essential that both partners are willing to learn how to shed their survival roles and become authentic. This is the gateway to intimacy.
In learning how to achieve authenticity, the couple is now able to see and hear one another with a new set of eyes and ears.
Here are 2 ways to do it.
1. Work with a therapist.
It takes a trained therapist who understands that each partner lives in a different neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a different story with a unique history that created distinctive experiences.
Each experience fashioned filters that make their perspectives and understanding different from one another.
The objective is to learn about those differences with the purpose of knowing the partner in ways that may have never been revealed before.
The content doesn’t really matter. It’s the essence of each other that must be revealed that is most important.
There are many modalities in couples counseling that can transform a broken relationship into a vital, meaningful, and healthy connection.
In her workshops with couples, Master Relationship Builder Hedy Schliefer role models connection by walking around a room filled with heartbroken couples in deep despair and pain with a yearning to re-connect.
They chose this path as opposed to racing to their respective lawyers to give their relationship a chance to heal.
Schliefer strolls around the circle looking into the eyes of each participant to illustrate presencing by looking into the eyes of their partner with the intent of revealing who they really are so they can be seen by their partner.
Schliefer teaches the concept of the three invisible connectors:
- The relational space:
- Crossing over the bridge
- The encounter
The relational space is the sanctuary where the couple lives.
Crossing over the bridge to their partner’s world for a visit in their neighborhood becomes the encounter — it is not a conversation or dialogue.
The host shares something of great importance with their partner about their neighborhood that they want the other to know.
The art of listening and mirroring back is the role of the visitor. There is a precise structure to the encounter which is facilitated by the therapist.
2. Use presencing to restore a relationship.
To truly appreciate and understand presencing, you need to recognize the symbiotic relationship between a mother and child. This is the foothills of connection.
In his Still Face Experiment, Dr. Edward Tronick illustrates the dynamic between a mother and child to show how essential presencing and bonding is for human beings. It is not just in the first stage of life when we are in a symbiotic relationship.
Although not symbiotic, the need for connection continues throughout our lives. The lack of presencing creates frustration and disconnection.
Frustration and disconnection can rupture our sense of peace and well-being. When we disconnect, we go into a crisis. When this occurs, partners are triggered for becoming unfaithful even if it is ego-distonic to one’s value system.
The need for connection is so powerful that it trumps values, mores, norms, and intellectual functioning. It is on the deepest level of our brains that these needs occur.
The need for connection is part of our DNA.
When the mother and child are in connection, bonding is evident through the eyes. Too often in this mad and crazy world of technology, we’ve lost the human connection, unable to look into the eyes of our loved ones.
Our eyes and ears are focused on devices dependent on batteries or electricity. We’ve slowly lost touch — both literally and figuratively — with our partners. We’ve stopped seeing each other.
Our eyes and ears are tuned in to the television, computers, iPads, electronics, or cell phones.
We’ve become mechanical and robotic, paving the way unwittingly to a loss of connection with our partners, children, friends, and colleagues.
Presencing is the first step to reconnection.
Looking into the eyes of our partners is to find their soul, essence, and being-ness.
Crossing the bridge to your partner’s neighborhood allows one to discover their authentic self, perhaps for the first time. It encourages the survival role to recede and for the essence to emerge.
Demonstrating a deep sense of appreciation and high regard for the other will bring about change, leaving the relational space clean and uncontaminated.
The encounter produces the chemo-therapy that the brain divinely gives us for connection. The production of oxytocin emerges to restore our equilibrium and sense of well-being.
Schliefer states that “to achieve these goals of earnest re-pair after a distressing rupture, the therapist must create a contradiction. The therapist must establish a relational and emotional ambiance in which both the mutual expression and acceptance of deep regret as well as genuine forgiveness can take place.”
The environment where this can occur must be safe.
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. To learn more about how Encounter-Centered Couple Therapy can renew and restore your relationship, contact Joan.
Cohen, L. (1956). Leonard Cohen Quotable Quotes. Good Reads.
Frankl, V. (1949). Victor Frankl quotes. Good Reads. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2782.Viktor_E_Frankl
Schliefer, H. (2015). Hedy + Yumi Relationship Builders. Retrieved from http://www.hedyyumi.com/ website
Tronick, E. (Producer). (2009). Still Face Experiment: Dr. Edward Tronick. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0