According to a recent poll commissioned by The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41% of surveyed couples admitted that either or both individuals committed physical or emotional infidelity. 22% of married men and 14% of married women admitted to extramarital affairs and those percentages are higher in uncommitted relationships. Add to the fact that these numbers represent only reported incidents we can assume the actual numbers are higher and it’s clear that infidelity is a growing problem facing couples.
One little known fact is that infidelity is not the primary cause of divorce and separation and of those couples in relationships where an affair is admitted. Over 31% survive the infidelity crisis and stay together. The remainder of those couples has other significant issues that ultimately lead to their separation. When you come to counseling after the revelation of an affair, and you both share a desire and commitment to save the relationship, I know you are part of that 31% and the first thing I want you to know is there is hope and through a combination of time and hard work, you will emerge from the infidelity crisis with an even stronger relationship.
Before we get to the plan for reconstruction, there are a few practical considerations:
- Give yourself time. Do not make rash decisions based on emotions.
If the infidelity was sexual, both partners must agree to be screened by a physician for any STD or HIV/AIDS along with any recommended follow-up screenings. The results are to be shared with each other. This is a “non-negotiable” as extra-relational sex is seldom safe sex.
- Decide on temporary living and financial arrangements.
- Decide on new boundaries in your relationship as you work toward reconstruction
There are three tasks facing a couple who are dealing with infidelity:
1. Normalize and allow your feelings
The challenge of this task is to allow each person the time, space and freedom to own and express their feelings without judgment, condemnation, guilt or shame with each other. This is not a “fact finding expedition,” the facts of the infidelity are already known. This is a time for each person to find their voice and say, “I feel ….”
2. Recommit to each other.
This must be an intentional and informed decision on the part of each person, as free from emotions as possible. Frequently a couple will be asked to create a written re-commitment contract outlining specific actions they agree to take to heal the past and move toward a healthier future.
3. Rebuild the relationship.
There are three parties to any relationship: the two individuals and the relationship itself. During this time each individual needs to work on their own individual issues then come together periodically to work on issues that affect the relationship. With time, hard work, and the help of professional counselor, infidelity does not need to destroy your relationship; in fact, it could help you create a stronger, healthier relationship that will stand the test of time.