Infidelity. Affair. Cheating. Betrayal. They’re all ugly words. None of us want to even say them aloud. And certainly, none of us want to use them to describe our marriages. After all, we vowed, “till death do us apart”…
For many, those vows are truly that, a vow. But when infidelity enters a marriage, that line of the wedding ceremony is often quickly replaced with “as long as we both shall love” and then the march to the best divorce attorney begins.
Infidelity doesn’t have to result in divorce
But this doesn’t have to be the case. While infidelity is often cited as a prominent cause for the termination of a marriage, it doesn’t really have to end it. In fact, many couples who experience infidelity do not to let it end their marriage but instead to take the painful attack on their vows and turn it into a marriage strengthening opportunity.
Affairs don’t mean the end. Instead, they may lead to the beginning of a marriage you never had before- but with the same partner.
Things can never be the same as they were before
When working through marital struggles, couples often share (anything from communication to infidelity) that they “just want to go back to the way it used to be.” To that the answer always is- ‘you can’t. You can’t go backward. You can’t undo what’s happened. You’re never going to be the same as you were before.” But this isn’t always a bad thing.
There is hope if both partners are committed to making the relationship work
Once infidelity has been discovered- and the extramarital relationship has been ended- the married couple decides they want to work on their marriage. There is hope. There is a mutually desired foundation. The path ahead can be confusing, rocky, difficult but the climb is ultimately well worth it for those dedicated to rebuilding the marriage. Recovering from an affair is not an easy 1-2-3 routine for either party in a relationship. Both people in the relationship suffer- differently – yet the marriage suffers together. One key component to recovery is full transparency.
1. Full transparency within support circles
Couples undergoing infidelity recovery can’t do this alone. The temptation for the betrayed is to gain support – to circle the wagons and share the pain they’re experiencing. The betrayer doesn’t want the truth known as it’s embarrassing, hurtful and leaves further pain with others. Neither is wrong. However, the transparency does need to be shared in a way it doesn’t actually hurt the support circles or hurt the couple more. If full disclosure of the affair is shared with support circles (parents, friends, in-laws, children even) it forces that person to make a decision. How/who do they support. They’re triangulated. And they’re not the ones in therapy processing and working things out. This is unfair to them. While it’s tempting to want to share for comfort and support, it’s a delicate conversation to have with the support systems. This is an awkward and emotionally challenging conversation to have with friends, family, and colleagues- but if you’re going to make your marriage something it has never been before – you’re going to have to do things you’ve never done before. Complete honesty yet still keeping some of the trauma private to the relationship is one of those things. People around you will perhaps know that there is a struggle you’re facing. Share with them that there is indeed a struggle. Sharing this does not need to be a bashing of either person but simply stating the facts. “We are dedicated to saving our marriage and making it something we’ve never had before. We have been rocked to the core recently and are going to work through it. We would appreciate your love and support as we work together on building our marriage to where it needs to be.” You don’t need to answer questions or share intimate details but you need to be transparent that things aren’t perfect and you’re dedicated towards your future. Support of loved ones will be critical in the climb ahead. By keeping some of the details private though it allows the couple to actually heal better as they aren’t forced to work through the affair together- and then later still have the judgment, questions or unsolicited advice from the triangulated party.
2. Full transparency within the relationship
Transparency must exist between couples. No question can go unanswered. If the betrayed needs/wants details – they deserve to know them. Hiding the truth only leads to a potential secondary trauma later when details are discovered. These, too, are difficult conversations to have but in order to move forward, a couple must face the past with honesty and transparency. (For the person asking the questions, it is important to also realize you may not want every answer and to decide what you really do/don’t want to know in order to heal.)
3. Full transparency with technology
Today’s word of social media and devices easily lends itself to relationship struggles, including ease of meeting new people and hiding inappropriate relationships. Couples need to have access to one another’s devices. This doesn’t mean you use it, but the accountability of knowing passwords, security codes, and option to view texts/emails is important. This not only helps build trust but also adds accountability within the relationship too.
4. Full transparency with self
This is maybe the hardest to have. The betrayer often wants to think once the affair has ended that things will be “normal” for them. Wrong. They need to realize why they had the affair(s). What led to them? Why were they tempted? What prevented them from being faithful? What did they like? Being transparent with ourselves is very difficult, but when we know ourselves truly, we can change our path to ensure we’re climbing where we want to go.
Full transparency is one of the hardest aspects of recovery. But with dedication, even when it is easier to conceal, transparency can help the relationship to take steps toward building a foundation of truth and strength.