In an excerpt from her new book, Book of Love, Dr. Laura Berman shares ways to help you and your partner cope in the aftermath of an affair.
Being betrayed by the one you love can rock your relationship to its core, and many couples struggle in the aftermath of an affair. It is possible to survive, however, and even to emerge from the infidelity stronger and more in love than before. It isn't easy, but you can repair the damage and move on.
The cure for infidelity is honesty. Without it, an affair can never truly be considered over or healed. If you are the guilty party, you need to reveal the important details of your indiscretions. Hiding any portion of the affair is tantamount to continuing it, at least from your partner's point of view. As scary and difficult as it might be to confess, it is the only thing that can save your relationship.
If your partner is the unfaithful one, ask him or her to be 100 percent truthful with you. No doubt you will want to know when the affair started, how long it continued, and why it happened. You should expect straight answers and to be told all the facts. It's perfectly natural to want to know about the times you were lied to and the nature of their relationship. As difficult as these details are to hear, they will help to clear the air between you and help you to get a better picture of what occurred behind your back. Bringing the secret affair into the open will dramatically decrease its potential for harm, even though it won't always diminish the hurt.
The one thing you shouldn't ask for, or expect, is for an unfaithful partner to give details of sexual acts. However difficult it may be to resist, recognize that this is a self-destructive need that will prevent you from moving forward. If you are the guilty party, do not give in when your partner pesters you for every gory detail.
How to begin moving forward
Cutting off contact
It should go without saying that cutting off all contact with the other party is a crucial part of repairing your relationship after an affair. But, it doesn't always happen like that. Whether the other person won't stop calling or emailing, or, worse, it is a co-worker or neighbor that comes into contact with your partner every day, cutting off all contact isn't easy. But it needs to happen. Even if the temptation is gone for you, your partner will always wonder about what is really going on when he or she is not there, and this paranoia will drive a wedge between the two of you and impede any reconciliation. If the person is a co-worker, you will most likely need to find a new job, or at least a new department. If he or she is a neighbor, you might have to move. If the person is a family friend, you need to avoid any places and parties where he or she might crop up. The many repercussions of your actions demand that you take serious steps such as these. If your infidelity occurred in cyberspace, you should log onto whatever website or dating service you were using to post an apology to the other members and reveal that you are recommitting to your marriage. This should prevent any wayward emails from coming in, but, if they do, you will need to change your email address. Your partner might even request that the two of you use a joint email for a while and, if your affair occurred through emails, it might be a good olive branch to offer.
Having confessed to the affair and cut off all contact with the other person, you can begin moving forward with your relationship. This is generally the step most couples stumble over, primarily because the betrayed partner isn't willing to let the past go. From constant ranting to sobbing sessions, your partner might unleash weeks and months of punishment upon you—and, by extension, your relationship—by constantly bringing up the affair. While in the short term this is a kind of release, over time it keeps you both stuck in the pain of the affair and impedes your ability to heal your relationship.
Make a rule that the injured party has 10 minutes a day to cry, yell, and discuss the affair with his or her partner. Once those 10 minutes are up, it is time to move on for the day and deal with the present. By doing so, your partner will be able to express his or her feelings, but the short time limit will keep the past in the past and prevent the affair from poisoning your entire relationship.
How to begin rebuilding intimacy
Try to find ways to rebuild intimacy between you
Once the initial shock is over, discuss what happened openly and honestly. No matter how difficult, it's important to examine why the affair occurred and whether there are underlying problems in your relationship that contributed to it. Take any time that you need to sort out your feelings and decide whether your relationship can heal. Talk to friends and family whom you trust not to take sides to help you to put things into perspective. Spend time with your partner without discussing the affair, doing the things you've always enjoyed, and try to connect as friends and romantic partners again. Finally, be sure that you both agree on mending your relationship and realize that it will take commitment, time, and energy. If you are struggling to come to terms with an affair, seek couples therapy together. It could mean the difference between surviving and splitting, so don't be ashamed to ask for help.
Build intimacy with Dr. Laura Berman's sex homework assignments
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 8, 2014
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