Why is that some couples can recover from an affair and some cannot? Here are some indicators of successful recovery when an affair has been disclosed intentionally or unintentionally, that are based on the latest research and my work with couples:
- The couple has previously experienced mutual love, respect, and trust in their marriage. If they never experienced this level of connection, the affair will likely become the final reason for ending their marriage.
- The spouse who had the affair is able to move quickly to changes in behavior focusing on honest disclosure and the complete cut-off of all relationship ties with the other person.Once the affair has been discovered, the longer the spouse keeps secrets, withholds information, or continues in any kind of affair behavior, the harder it becomes for the marriage to survive.
- The spouse who had the affair assumes responsibility for helping his/her spouse feel safe again. This means the spouse who had the affair will be willing to go to exceptional steps to regain the spouse's trust. It also means that the betrayed spouse will be given enough time to process grief and hurt, even if it takes longer than the spouse who had an affair thinks it should.
- The spouse who discovers the affair is able to genuinely forgive. Some people are not able to get past the impact of the affair, but it's necessary for the marriage to move forward. Keep in mind that the impact of the affair will vary according to whether it is disclosed, undisclosed, or unitentially disclovered. For the spouse who discovers the affair, forgiveness means they can move forward in the relationship past the affair. For the spouse who had the affair, real forgiveness helps them heal from shame and live without fear of continual accusation.
- The spouse who had the affair gains necessary insight into their affair behavior. Counseling is essential in helping with this process. In order to guard against repeat behavior, a person needs to understand the various influences that were at play when they chose the affair and give proper attention to each.
- The couple finds new ways to pursue intimate connection with each other. Simply returning to "the way we were" often means a return to the chronic disconnection that makes a relationship more vulnerable to an affair. Resourceful couples find ways to make their relationship stronger by both accepting responsibility for the problems in their marriage and working toward change.