Rebuilding Trust – Recovering from an Affair

The unravelling of an affair between a couple can be one of the most gut wrenching and painful experiences they could face in their relationship. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and feelings for each partner. For the one who’s found out about their partner’s infidelity, they could feel angry, hurt, betrayed, feel a sense of violation and a loss of trust. For the partner who had the affair, they could become defensive or dismissive and may feel ashamed, guilty and angry.


An affair, is where emotional and/or sexual needs are being met by someone else outside a couple’s committed relationship

An affair is a breakdown of emotional and intimacy connection between a committed couple. Some couples choose to work through it and stay together, whilst for others, it leads to separation or divorce. Either way, the journey after an affair can be one of the hardest challenges a couple can endure and overcome.


Why do people have affairs?

People have affairs for different reasons – love, revenge, boredom, lust, rebellion. Fundamentally, people who stray, are unfilled in some area/s of their life. There is a longing to fulfil their intense need of whatever the affair brings, to avoid feeling alone, empty or to feel a sense of aliveness and freedom.

At the core of having an affair is a partner’s dissatisfaction within themselves and/or their committed relationship.

An affair is where a partner can fulfil their unmet needs and desires with another person outside their committed relationship, whether it’s for emotional intimacy, sexual or non-sexual intimacy. It provides a space where they can play out their needs or fantasies with someone else.

For a couple to understand why infidelity happened, they need to explore their own personal needs and desires and that of their partner. Once they’ve explored these areas, a couple can begin the process of recovering from an affair. This can be a painful and vulnerable space for a couple to work through. With support from an experienced Couples Counsellor, they can rebuild a healthy relationship based on mutual trust and appreciation.


What does an affair look like?

Infidelity doesn’t necessarily have to involve sex. What’s important to remember, is that the couple’s definition of affair is what matters most. Every person and every relationship is unique and some couples may view an affair in different ways.
Some common affairs include:

Workplace. The workplace is a place where people can spend most of their time and they may fall into an unplanned or planned affair with their work colleagues or friends.


FIFO / Work away. Working away lifestyles can lead to affairs with co-workers or with paid sexual liaisons.


Emotional / Non-sexual. Where there is a relationship based on an intense emotional connection and it may or may not involve sex.


Online. An online affair with someone on an adult dating site or adult chatrooms, they may have met or not.


Casual / One night stand. Where an affair has an emotional and/or a sexual connection, but has no expectation to formalise the relationship. This may also be revenge sex, as a result from discovering their partner’s infidelity.


Sanctioned. In an open relationships, the term ‘affair’ may be part of their relationship. This includes polyamory, swinging and menage a trois. With a sanctioned affair, a couple agrees upon which forms of sex are permitted with someone other than their primary partner.


Exit affair. When one partner wants to leave their committed relationship and will have an affair with the intention of being found out by their partner, with the aim of ending their relationship.


Double life affair. This is where a partner will be committed to two or more partners without each one knowing about the other. They may even have children with each partner. They may continue this for a long time.


Can a relationship or marriage survive an affair?

That depends on the couple and how much they want to work through it.
Every couple is uniquely different and whether they can survive an affair is entirely up to them. There needs to be a foundation of genuine love and care for each other to sustain the journey towards rekindling their relationship, trust and intimacy. Some couples find an affair improves their relationship and sex life. Either way, what a couple see as valid and meaningful is what matters most.


Ways to recover from an affair with Couples Counselling

Couples may find themselves in a state of crisis and confusion in the aftermath of an affair.

The neutral ground that a Couples Counsellor provides, allows them to truly express their intense emotions in a safe place without judgement. A Couples Counsellor is someone outside their circle of friends and family. They are skilled in helping a destressed couple explore their hurt and reinstate their sense of hope and connection with each other. Couples generally engage in weekly counselling sessions to begin with, then fortnightly and eventually monthly, until they are back on track with where they want to be in their relationship.

In a Couples Counselling session, there are four progressive stages to re-building their relationship to recover from an affair, they are:

1. No more affair.There is to be no more affair, no contact with the other person whatsoever.

2. Accept responsibility for the affair and listen to one another’s hurt.The partner who had the affair, is encouraged to reflect and accept their behaviour and actions in having the affair and avoid making excuses for it.

3. Explore why the affair happened.Each partner has equal time in session to share their perspectives on why the affair happened. They’re encouraged to be honest with themselves and each other, as a first step to re-establishing open communication and trust between them.

4. Rebuilding and restructuring the relationship.This is the stage where the couple work on forgiveness and rekindling their sense of appreciation, admiration and respect for one another. Through using open communication, they can explore their unmet needs, as individuals and as a couple. To improve their way of expressing their tender feelings in a healthy and mature way. To re-discover their emotional and physical intimacy. To develop new ways of handling conflicts in a positive way, that will not harm their connection. Ultimately, to allow growth and maturity between the couple.


How can a couple make their counselling session a success?

A couple that are recovering from an affair need to be patient on their journey towards togetherness. It’s not a quick fix, their participation in therapy sessions will rebuild their trust and closeness over time, over weeks and months.
Couples Counselling is a cooperative approach that requires them to actively participate in the process. 

When they open up to their vulnerability, they’re delving into the essence of who they truly are, as individuals and as a couple. For some, this can be frightening and painful. With the support of a Couples Counsellor, they can be safely guided within their tolerance levels, to a place where they can remain connected and calm.

In this space of change, the ego and masks are peeled away so they can face their unmet needs to unravel the real reason why they drifted apart. Through better understanding of themselves and their partner, the couple begin to find new levels of communication, emotional and intimacy connection.

How Couples Emotional Focused Therapy can help repair a relationship

Couple Emotional Focused therapy is an evidence based psychological therapy, used to emotionally attune and connect a couple together. As humans, we’re wired to connect with others, it’s our survival instinct. Without emotional and physical connection, there can be a sense of threat, isolation and lack of safety. A close emotional connection between a couple can deepen their love for one another and allows a strong foundation for them to endure challenges that relationships inevitably bring.

Areas that are explored in the Couples Emotional Focused Therapy include:

1 Work through primal surface emotions. The perceived lack of interest or care is usually a cover up for deeper seated emotions, that may stem from past history events or attachment issues.

2 Communication and Expression. Couples lead busy lives and can become disconnected with their commitments, work, raising a family and other stresses. Emotion Focused therapy can rebuild empathy and appreciation between a couple and improve their sense of safety and belonging within their relationship.

3 Self-Esteem and Boundaries. Couples can sometimes loose their personal identity through trying to maintain external commitments, work, family and other commitments. Emotion Focused therapy allows each partner to express their needs and feelings, improving their own sense of self and strengthening their empathy and acceptance towards themselves and their partner.

4 Physical and Emotional connection. Emotion Focused therapy integrates the use of tender physical touch between partners, like holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, expressing their desires to their partner. This brings in the harmonising of their emotional and physical energy, creating feelings of closeness, sexual intimacy and safety.

Article by: Linda Kelly, Counsellor, Conscious Life Counselling
Linda Kelly is an experienced and qualified Couples Counsellor who works with couples to bring back into focus their love, commitment, vitality and intimacy between one another. Linda believes healthy relationships and self-awareness allows individuals and couples to build resilience within themselves and within their relationship, which also helps them to cope with every day life living.


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