Home Contact Resources Gallery Services Recovery
Courage is Contagious

After the Affair: Introduction


After an affair, most people expect divorce, or at least a miserable time in their relationship. No wonder they are very creative in their efforts to keep the affair hidden.

Yet when disclosure occurs, a question arises. Is it really the affair that spells the end of the relationship? Or is the affair merely a sign or symptom of the extent to which the relationship is already in trouble, the partners in pain?

When the crisis of disclosure erupts, many couples look to relationship therapy as a last resort: a final attempt to repair their damaged relationship. When they enter therapy, they often bring with them an air of futility and hopelessness that seriously limits their ability to restore their relationship. Actually, the conclusion of failure that often characterizes these couples usually predicts the outcome of therapy- separation or divorce. A commonly accepted definition of an affair is "a non-agreed upon sexual liaison outside of the primary relationship." People generally do not expect that a relationship can endure infidelity. For many, the affair is the last straw, while for others it is the first sign of any problems. The end result is the same: divorce, separation, or continued relationship misery- a form of emotional divorce. The exceptions to this pattern interest me very much.

Some couples challenge the affair -divorce sequence. Holding tenaciously to their commitment to the relationship, these couples struggle to create a partnership that is mutually satisfying.

As they adjust to the crisis precipitated by the disclosure of the affair, I have come to notice four identifiable feeling states that describe the experience of the partners as they cope with the event. These courageous persons truly turn the crisis into an opportunity. Recognizing and working with these four feeling states markedly enhances my ability to assist those couples who define the affair as a crisis in their relationship and are attempting to continue in it. Elaborating these four feeling states to professionals and non-professionals will, I sincerely hope, assist others in their efforts to overcome the painful and often devastating experience of an affair. Dealing with the emotional swamp of the aftermath of an affair may help the partners to continue the relationship or end it, constructively, resulting in less damage to themselves and their children.

The four feeling states, denial, anger, guilt, and sadness are not sequential or mutually exclusive. Although denial characterizes the beginning phase of an affair, because by definition, an affair is a secret, at various moments in the aftermath of disclosure, one or both partners may make extensive use of denial to contain the powerful feelings emerging. Moreover, a partner may experience more than one feeling state at a time. Most common, is the denial of anger. Yet, at any moment the partner may burst into rage, and then deny the feelings have anything to do with the affair. As couples do their work, each partner moves in and out, back and forth, through the various feeling states. (More)