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Rebuilding your relationship after an affair

The affair is out in the open. The disclosure in and of itself is consequential for the future of a couple’s relationship. Research suggests the backlash of an affair can affect couples’ physical and emotional availability and connection to each other[1]. When a safe connection seems lost, it can lead to a “flight or fight” type response, where partners may become angry and aggressive, or may shut down completely to try not to care[2]

 

Behaviours

1. Emotional vulnerability

Once infidelity renders the bond between two committed partners insecure, both individuals are emotionally vulnerable after an affair[5]. This can result in opposing behaviours, such as withdrawal and defensiveness from the partner who had the affair, and insecurity from the injured partner[6]. Both partners are prone to the self-protective means of either avoidant or anxious behaviours.

2. Discerning each others’ behaviours

The injured partner may also become less trustworthy and more suspicious of their partner’s behaviour after the disclosure of an affair. Where trust has broken down, the injured partner may attempt to discern their own emotional safety by making interpretations of exchanges with their partner including judgments based on their partner’s behaviour[7]. For example, something as simple as walking out of the room to receive a phone call, a response that may have previously been seen as considerate, might now be experienced as a betrayal; it may create significant concern that the partner is still involved with another person[8].

Overcoming an affair – strategy

It is important to develop strategies to deal with and overcome such mistrust and suspicion. Couples may need to go to great lengths to reassure one another that the relationship with the affair partner has truly ended[9]. Negotiate ways in which to rebuild trust, such as agreeing to share passwords or access to phones, social media accounts, etc, with one another in order to re-establish safety. Research suggests the key to success here is joint decision-making, rather than giving in to demands from one (usually the injured) partner[10].

 

How to deal with an affair as a couple

Disclosure of infidelity often precipitates a roller coaster of emotions that can cycle unprofitably. After the initial shock and roller coaster of emotions, some couples may use the disclosure to track where things went wrong, how to overcome the problem and how they might move beyond it[11]. A number of studies have found that couple therapy can be an effective way in coming to terms with an affair, and moving on together[12],[13].

A study carried out with couples where one partner had an affair asked participants for their advice to others in a similar situation. Participants emphasised communication, external support, going slowly, and offering forgiveness[14]. Advice included:

  • Really listen to one another, to try and really understand where they are coming from
  • Don’t hold anything back, but at the same time don’t yell and scream
  • Find someone to talk to outside of the marriage
  • Stay around positive people
  • Don’t make any quick decisions
  • If you choose to forgive someone, forgive them. You can’t constantly bring it up.

 

Feel the need to talk this through further? You could start by talking to us on our online forum, from the 28,000 dads on forum – you’ll probably come across someone who has been in your shoes but a little further on in the journey to be able to offer you support.

Want to read some of our related articles on this subject? Take a look at this one…

TEN THINGS THAT MAKE RELATIONSHIPS WORK IN THE LONG TERM

ARGUING ALL THE TIME?

 

References…

[1] Oka, M., Sandberg, J. G., Bradford, A. B., & Brown, A. (2014). Insecure attachment behavior and partner violence: Incorporating couple perceptions of insecure attachment and relational aggression. Journal of marital and family therapy40(4), 412-429.

[2] Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

[3] Johnson, S., Makinen, J. A., & Milliken, J. (2001). Attachment injuries in couples relationships: A new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(2), 145–155

[4] Oka, M., Sandberg, J. G., Bradford, A. B., & Brown, A. (2014). Insecure attachment behavior and partner violence: Incorporating couple perceptions of insecure attachment and relational aggression. Journal of marital and family therapy, 40(4), 412-429.

[5] Johnson, S., Makinen, J. A., & Milliken, J. (2001). Attachment injuries in couples relationships: A new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(2), 145–155.

[6] Schade, L. C., & Sandberg, J. G. (2012). Healing the attachment injury of marital infidelity using emotionally focused couples therapy: A case illustration. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(5), 434-444.

[7] Brimhall, A. S., Miller, B. J., Maxwell, K. A., & Alotaiby, A. M. (2016). Does it help or hinder? Technology and its role in healing post affair. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 1-19.

[8] Bogaert, A. F., & Sadava, S. (2002). Adult attachment and sexual behavior. Personal Relationships, 9(2), 191-204.

[9] Brimhall, A. S., Miller, B. J., Maxwell, K. A., & Alotaiby, A. M. (2016). Does it help or hinder? Technology and its role in healing post affair. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 1-19.

[10] Brimhall, A. S., Miller, B. J., Maxwell, K. A., & Alotaiby, A. M. (2016). Does it help or hinder? Technology and its role in healing post affair. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 1-19.

[11] Olson, M. M., Russell, C. S., Higgins‐Kessler, M., & Miller, R. B. (2002). Emotional processes following disclosure of an extramarital affair. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28(4), 423-434.

[12] Dunn, R. L., & Schwebel, A. I. (1995). Meta-analytic review of marital therapy outcome research. Journal of Family Psychology, 9(1), 58-68.

[13] Baucom, D. H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K. T., Daiuto, A. D., & Stickle, T. R. (1998). Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 53– 88.

[14] Olson, M. M., Russell, C. S., Higgins‐Kessler, M., & Miller, R. B. (2002). Emotional processes following disclosure of an extramarital affair. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28(4), 423-434.

 

Author: Kiran Kaur

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