After the affair... what next for your relationship?

One of the things that commonly brings couples to relationship counselling is the discovery by one that the other has had (or is having) an affair. For the one who has been betrayed, it's like experiencing post-traumatic stress. In shock, unable to think straight, sleep or eat properly. Impossible to let it go, tortured with images of your loved one in the arms of someone else, and filled with suspicion whenever s/he is away from you. For the one who had the affair, there may well have been good reasons for straying - your needs weren't being met in the relationship, your partner wasn't willing or able to discuss the issues, so you looked elsewhere. None of which excuses, of course, your decision to cheat, to hurt your partner in a way that may not be able to be repaired. For those brave couples who are able to grapple with working out if their relationship can be salvaged - the rewards can be great, even if they ultimately decide to separate. It's not for the fainthearted -working through the grief and trauma of what has happened (and strangely enough, this can be as painful for the 'betrayer' as for the 'betrayed', especially when confronted with their partner's depth of distress). The space beyond that grief and trauma, though, is the space where new insights and understandings can emerge. It's not to minimize the traumatic impact of what's happened, but it's possible to discover new potentials for intimacy and connection when questions such as "What was happening for me/us that I could not tell my partner what I need in this relationship?", and "How can we build trust together again in the knowledge that this has happened?" are asked. It's hard work, with no guarantee of a durable relationship at the end. However, for couples who come to counselling ready to take the journey of asking the hard questions, no matter where it takes them, they take new learning and wisdom forward with them into future relationship, even if it's the wisdom of "Never again - the price is too high".

As always, I welcome your thoughts and reflections. Till next post - Vivienne

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