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Yearning & Regret – Affairs

If you’re on the verge of an affair, have contemplated one, or know yourself well enough to know you could be vulnerable in this way, this New York Times point-of-view article is a must-read (A Roomful of Yearning and Regret).  Too often, people don’t really think about the full impact of the consequences, of which the Times article should give you at least a whiff.  An affair is one of the most painful and difficult things a couple can go through.  Ironically, it is also true that you can come out the other side with a stronger relationship, but only after more sweat and tears than most people would imagine.  Better to come into therapy to work on your relationship before the affair!

However, I’ve helped many people navigate the tricky waters to healing after an affair.  In addition to the gradual process of working emotions through together, there are a number of key things to understand.   One of the first things I tell couples who are going through this is that the person who had the affair almost invariably will want and expect their partner to get over it way before the partner is ready to be over it.  Plan for at least six months of heavy sledding (and that’s if you’re really working on things) before the hurt person starts to get their feet back under them.  Remember, for the hurt person this is a traumatic shock that has shattered their world order.  It takes lots of time, talk, and feelings to reassemble reality and rebuild trust.  Trust can take mere minutes to be crushed, but takes a long time to build or regain.  The patience of the unfaithful partner will be sorely tested.  Critical for this partner are really getting the impact and pain they have inflicted, a willingness to listen non-defensively to the emotions and concerns of the hurt partner, and openness to rebuilding trust and making reparations.

For the hurt partner there are many challenges as well.  Restoring order to a world view that has been shattered, grieving lost perceptions and imagined futures, and facing the emotional pain squarely without raging and attacking your partner are among these.  As the work progresses, understanding your roles in what has happened becomes important as well.  For example, understanding your contributions to the parts of your relationship that were not working, as well as ways that you may have deceived yourself or otherwise discouraged emotional honesty between you and your partner.

If all of this (and more!) can be done, couples can and do emerge with better understandings of themselves and each other, new and more honest ways of communicating with each other, and a stronger relationship forged through the fire of powerful but ultimately manageable emotions.

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