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Written By : Trix O' Callaghan
Counselling Psychologist and Imago Therapist

Couples who have experienced the crisis of an extra-marital affair often ask me whether it is possible for a marriage to survive this.

The decision to have an affair has a devastating impact on a relationship. It happens in the power struggle stage of a relationship, when the endorphins of the romantic stage has settled down to normal and life shows up. Partners can begin to feel that their needs are not being met and frustrations make their appearance. If a couple don't have the tools to process this, they often look outside the relationship to feel alive and safe again.

An affair is a catastrophic exit but partners can also exit in other, less obvious ways. Examples are sports, friends, family, children and work. As a result a lot of energy leaks from the relationship, energy that should be used to work through the power struggle towards a conscious relationship.

It goes without saying that the exit of an extra-marital affair, as well as other exits, has to be closed completely for a couple to start the healing journey. They also have to step out of the survival dance of the victim and the perpetrator. Through a process of making mutual amends, they need to establish their equality as partners again.

It takes time for trust to be restored and the partner who has had the affair needs to be patient and understanding. He or she can sit with feelings of blame and guilt and tries to cope by not wanting to discuss the affair, as "the past is in the past, let's move forward". Sweeping it under the carpet will not make it disappear. The couple have to face what needs to be faced so that authentic forgiveness and re-connection can surface. Similarly, the other partner must be respectful in dealing with his or her pain. Using every opportunity to judge and criticize will just pollute the relationship even more.

A commitment from both partners to take responsibility for their relational space is essential. It wouldn't make sense to return to the same relationship they have had before the affair. They need tools to work through the hurt and frustrations in a safe and connected way and also have to look at the bigger picture of the relationship, instead of focusing only on the affair. They must embrace the relationship at a new level of relational maturity.

An affair does not have to mean the end of a marriage. Couples who wish to use the crisis as an opportunity for healing and reconnection, can turn a corner, and create a very meaningful transformation in their marriage. .