Affairs is a topic that I often deal with in therapy. It is one of the hardest topics to tackle and takes a lot of sensitivity and care to navigate.
Even defining an affair is difficult. Some believe it must involve sex to be an affair, whereas others think viewing porn (with masturbation) is a type of betrayal. Yet still others consider friendship with someone who you are attracted to and keep secret from your partner is an affair (i.e., an emotional affair).
No matter what your definition, the commonalities are:
Getting some sort of need met outside of your primary relationship
The outside relationship is often hidden or secret from your partner
There is attraction between you and the “third party”
Interestingly, I’ve had the opportunity at different times in my career to work with all 3 parties involved in an affair—the person who commits the affair, the betrayed partner, and the third party (i.e., lover). I’ve heard the “affair narrative” from all 3 perspectives and have a lot of compassion for each party involved.
Today, I’m going to focus on the betrayed partner. A common question I get asked is:
How do I trust my partner after an affair and move on in our relationship? Is this even possible?
The answer is always the same…I don’t know. It is possible, but it’s not up to me to decide if you can trust your partner again and continue with the relationship. It’s up to you. What I can do is guide you through the shock, hurt, and betrayal so at the end of the process, you can better decide for yourself what is right for you.
Some clients have opted to stay together, and others have decided to end the relationship. There is no “one size fits all” or “right or wrong”. Each situation is unique and complex.
Here are some questions to consider, to help you get to your own conclusion.
Was this a one-time fling or an ongoing relationship? For how long?
Has the affair ended? If not, is your partner willing to end it?
Is there a history of affairs or unfaithfulness in the relationship?
How was the affair revealed? Was your partner caught or did they self-confess?
What was the response of your partner when the affair was revealed? Defensive, denying, or remorseful?
What is your partner willing to do to earn your trust back?
What do you need in order to start trusting your partner again?
How does your relationship have to change in order for it to move forward and work long-term?
Can you trust yourself, to trust your partner again?
Is there any behavior that you need to work on (to make change possible for your partner)?
Are you and your partner willing to get help if you get stuck in the process?
When you’ve really contemplated these questions, the answers will bring you closer to deciding if you could trust your partner and move on in your relationship. No matter the answer, there will be sadness, hurt, and suffering.
I hope that you will be kind to yourself, surround yourself with loving people who will journey alongside you through this process, and have the courage to do what you must for yourself.