Why is recovery from infidelity so difficult?
As we all know, intimate relationships are based on a foundation of trust.
When one partner admits to their spouse that they have been unfaithful, trust disappears in an instant, causing the dynamic between the couple to change radically.
The first question that couples in this position ask me when they enter couples counselling is whether their relationship can be saved. This is impossible to answer upfront as many aspects come into play, including both individual personality factors, the history and dynamics of the relationship as well as the nature of the infidelity and the meaning and significance of the infidelity from the point of view of each partner.
My couple counselling clients often underestimate the personal strengths and commitment that will be required in order to survive as a couple. I would equate the process to climbing Everest successfully if you have only ever climbed Table Mountain beforehand!
Why is personal strength and resilience an essential for both partners when infidelity comes to light?
Inevitably there is an extended period of hurt, resentment and anger in both partners following an infidelity. Initially the “wounded” party will usually express hurt and outrage at their partner for their betrayal. This phase may last from a few weeks to months and sometimes even years. To remain in an unhappy and stressed state of mind for an extended period places a great deal of pressure on the psyche. There is a danger, therefore, that a person in this position can become seriously depressed. Anxiety can also become chronically elevated as the partner tends to worry excessively about whether or not their partner is still cheating or the cheating might resume.
The partner who has “committed” the infidelity will usually have to endure an extended period of mistrust, where every absence will often be questioned and monitored. So too, with all digital devices.
When questioned by their partner, the spouse who has cheated is in many cases unable to explain their motivation for seeking, and finding, another relationship. When I see these individuals on their own, they are sometimes not able to make sense of their own behaviour and motivations for embarking on an illicit relationship. This can cause high levels of self-criticism and self-doubt and this, coupled with long-term negativity and suspicion from the partner can also lead to feeling of hopelessness and despondency.
When faced with coping with infidelity, there are couples who make the decision not to embark on this process at all but rather to “put it behind them” and to move on with their lives. It is highly unlikely that this strategy will save the relationship in the long-term, however, as the “hot” emotions are merely shoved under the carpet, forever tainting the relationship.
Due to the above, I therefore suggest that if you are faced with infidelity in your relationship, find professional, experienced help without delay as you would do if you decided to climb Everest!