Thursday, October 11, 2012
Wellness Matters: Marriages can survive the ultimate betrayal, but it takes a lot of work
By Blake L. Jones
Access Wellness Group
After nearly 20 years of doing therapy, the scene is still riveting. One partner slump-shouldered, miserable. The other, either softly crying or shooting daggers at the culprit. “He had an affair on me.” “She’s destroyed this relationship.” These words are often said with a mixture of disbelief and utter despair.
Estimates vary widely, but research seems to suggest that somewhere between 17 to 40 percent of marriages have experienced infidelity.
Many sexual affairs begin online with chatting or finding an old flame on Facebook. Men tend to engage in more sexual affairs than women, and studies have shown that affairs happen at all ages.
When I am dealing with the couple that I describe above, I am often asked, “Can our relationship survive this?” My answer: “It depends.”
Does one partner want out of the relationship? Affairs happen for a myriad of reasons, but sometimes people have affairs because they are simply tired of being in the relationship and want a way out. No amount of coaxing or therapy will help because they have made the decision to bail. At this point, I advise my clients to find a good divorce attorney and — if they have children — try to do what is in their best interest.
If you want to stay in the relationship and prevent future affairs… get to work! Affairs do not happen in a vacuum. They are typically the result of some unmet need in the relationship or a way to escape an unhappy situation. Once the affair is finally discovered, there is a typical pattern that I see with my clients: the aggrieved partner experiences intense anger, then hurt, while the person who had the affair is often contrite and willing to “do whatever it takes” to save the marriage (he or she also is usually relieved that the affair has been discovered).
There is often a “honeymoon” phase in which the couple experiences a renewal of physical intimacy and closeness that they had not had for years. Then that fades … and the work begins … They are faced with three choices: split up, allow things to go back to the way they were before the affair or work on the relationship. The couples I have seen who survive affairs make a real effort at changing the things in their relationship that led to the affair.
It takes time. I had a client recently ask me, “Dr. Jones, how long will it take before I stop feeling all of this pain from my wife cheating on me?” I had to answer him honestly and say that I didn’t know. Some couples report that the pain NEVER goes away, really.
I’m a firm believer, however, in the principle that pain leads to change. I have seen it time and time again. When a crisis happens in a relationship, it lays bare all of the things that have been hidden or ignored. The couple must take an honest inventory of what has happened in the relationship and what needs to happen. This takes patience, love and time.
Trust needs to be rebuilt. Affairs are always based on lies and the breaking of trust. I had one client who went to elaborate lengths to hide his affair from his spouse, even getting a separate credit card to pay for the hotel room. When I counsel with couples who have experienced an affair in their relationship, I always suggest ways for them to rebuild trust. If the affair started through Facebook or another online site, I advise them to shut the site down. If both are agreeable, I suggest that they share email or other login passwords for a time so that trust can return to the relationship. Again, this takes time. Transparency is the name of the game after an affair.
If an affair has occurred in your relationship, I encourage you to make an appointment with a counselor like one of us here at Access Wellness Group. There is someone ready to help you and your partner get back on track.
Blake Jones, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group, a Lexington-based group providing counseling and addiction treatment services to individuals, families and Employee Assistance Program client companies. Jones specializes in couples counseling, men’s issues and work-related problems. He is a graduate of Berea College and the University of Kentucky. Jones, who lives in Woodford County with his wife of 17 years and their two sons, is also a singer-songwriter.