Question: I just found out my husband had an affair with someone he worked with last year. He says it is over and wants to be with me, but I don't know how to forgive him and trust him again. Can a marriage survive an affair?
Sincerely, Trying to Survive
Answer: Dear Trying to Survive,
The short answer is yes, marriages can survive an affair. I see many couples in my clinic who survive the aftershock of an affair all the time. But it's one of the toughest things to recover from. Here's why:
When there's an affair, the injured partner (the one who was cheated on) feels betrayed, blinded and doesn't know what he or she can really believe or not. Sometimes he also wonders if it's his fault the affair happened in the first place. The participating partner (the one who was cheating) feels guilty, found out and ashamed. They also sometimes wonder whether there's something wrong with them in order for them to have an affair. Both partners are going through their own unique challenges as they try to recover from the affair. This makes it hard for them to heal as a couple.
In addition to their unique individual challenges, the couple is also going through challenges together that also need to be addressed. Questions like "Do we tell anybody?" "When do we have sex, again?" and "How do we make sure this doesn't happen again?" are some of the most common ones.
Most of the time, couples don't know everything they need to talk about in order to really heal from the affair. This makes the relationship vulnerable for future affairs and can make healing each spouse's unique challenges even more difficult.
Because of this, I have the firm opinion that a couple needs to do more than just "move on" after an affair. There's just too much for a couple to address in order to really "move on" without additional help. As a result, couples should seek additional help from books, church groups and even professional counseling. By seeking outside help, you're more likely to address your unique challenges in your relationship and make the changes that will make it stronger and more likely to succeed. Seeking outside help may take a little more time and effort but, hey! Your relationship is worth it.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.