What happens after an affair? Why do some relationships survive while others end?

Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
  • The chances are that you know someone who has been affected by infidelity.
  • The reasons for straying range from being in a relationship that has been "bad" for some time, a desire to prove sexual prowess and appeal, no longer finding a partner attractive, or boredom and an urge to do something different, according to experts.
  • While the reasons behind an affair vary, all couples face challenges and decisions about what comes next.
  • Here, experts provide advice for dealing with infidelity.

'How can my partner love me when he cheated?'

Q - My partner and I met at high school and have been together for 17 years, but we're living apart because he had an affair. I sensed something wasn't right between us - we've been under financial pressure that has caused fights - and I found texts from another woman on his phone. He says he loves me, but how can you love someone and do this? 

A - People assume affairs happen because people want a thrill on the side, but it's usually for duller, sadder reasons. Often the person who has an affair feels their partner doesn't have much interest in them anymore. They have an affair to get attention. And it can come as a surprise if you thought things were okay to hear that your partner feels he doesn't matter anymore. How has life been for you? How loved have you been feeling? How good has it been for you to be in this relationship? You both need to talk about this. Try and hear each other's point of view. It may help each of you understand why this has happened and perhaps be able to forgive. - Bill Hewlett, Relationship expert.

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'My partner had a one-night stand. I want us to get through it, but how can we?'

Q - A few weeks ago, my partner told me he'd had a one-night stand with a friend. He was drunk. She was drunk. I know it meant nothing, but it's been a huge shock and I feel angry. I don't want to lose sight of our marriage, though. I know my husband is sorry and I trust it won't happen again, but how do we move forward? 

A - There are situations like this when an affair occurs and it wasn't premeditated. It happens one drunken night when a person's moral reasoning is compromised by alcohol. Your husband has admitted what happened and feels shame, guilt and remorse. Those feelings are a powerful motivator to repair your relationship. Your partner must understand what steps he needs to take to regain your confidence. An affair can be a catalyst for you to air grievances and misapprehensions and if you can address these, some relationships can even become better in the end. - Dr Gery Karantzas.

READ MORE: 'I found out my boyfriend has been seeing someone else for 7 years and I'm okay with it' – Here's why I chose polyamory

'Should I end our marriage?'

Q - Last year, my husband told me he'd had an affair. It lasted three months and he ended it to try to save our marriage. We've been together for 15 years and have two children. I've tried to get past what happened but no longer feel good enough for him. Should I leave him?

A - Relationships are built on respect, trust, and consideration of our partner's feelings and an affair flies in the face of that. The message your husband has sent you is, for whatever reason, something about you isn't good enough, so I chose to seek it out elsewhere! Your husband has to understand the extent to which he has hurt you and he needs to communicate that you mean something to him. He also needs to work to repair your broken trust and to recommit to you. Trust means we have faith in how people behave and we can predict their behaviour. An affair violates the predictability of your husband's behaviour. So he needs to engage in consistent behaviour so you can re-establish confidence and predictability in him. You need to reach a point of forgiveness and to see from your partner that he's working to re-establish your confidence. If you both have a desire to make sacrifices for the well-being of the relationship and still love each other, you may be on the road to recovery - Dr Gery Karantzas, School of Psychology, Deakin University.

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'I married my husband and while we had differences, I thought he'd change. But now I realise we're too different.'

Q - I don't want to leave my husband because we have three children. He works hard and he loves me. But we're different people and as time goes by the differences become bigger. He doesn't give me what I need - mentally or physically - so I have affairs. I know it's wrong, but I'm lonely. What should I do? 

A - You aren't the first person to meet someone who you thought you could change. People get locked into a relationship. Weddings, babies and household bills are all stresses in life that can bring out the problems. Two types of commitment drive relationships - a personal desire to be in a long-term relationship with your partner or a structural commitment where we stay because we feel locked in due to children, finances or cultural reasons. It's the personal dedication and commitment that's important if a relationship is to survive. If you don't have this, then the transgressions will continue. There is also good evidence that the stress of being in a dissatisfying relationship impacts our physical and mental health. Consider whether you genuinely feel committed to the future of the relationship and make your decision based on that. - Dr Gery Karantzas.

READ MORE: This married couple is engaged to their live-in partner with whom they have a baby - 'Polyamory is not a threat to monogamy'

'My ex-partner thinks we have a chance of reuniting, but I no longer want to be with him.'

Q - I left my partner because I had an affair - one of two in the seven years we were together. When we met, I was in love, but things changed. I'm trying to handle the break-up with kindness, but I think he sees that as a sign we're not over. How can I be kind but clear?

A - Sometimes, there's a desire to end a relationship, but people don't know how to end it. So they start an affair, inevitably their partner finds out and they use that mechanism to bring about change. Then the person who leaves feels guilty and is kind to the person they've left. But this can mean the person who is left, like your partner, hopes their ex's kindness will lead to reconciliation. It's hard, but you have to stick to your guns. Don't get his hopes up. He has to come to terms with the new reality, so be civil and friendly but resolute. - Bill Hewlett.

Have you dealt with an affair in your relationship? Tell us about it here.

Credit: Bauersyndication/ Magazine Features

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