It is far too common for couples to come into my office with one of them reporting a betrayal by the other. The betrayals come in various forms. It could be betrayal on the internet, where one of the couple has a relationship via explicit e-mails. It could be through text messaging. It could be through connecting with a co-worker and engaging in an office romance that does not include sexual intercourse. Or it could include the ultimate betrayal of having an affair where the partner is sexually intimate with another.
When couples come into my office, the pattern is usually the same. The one who is caught is now guilty, remorseful, repentent and wants to save the relationship, vowing never to do it again. The betrayed person is hurt, angry and bitter. The betrayed person does not know how he or she can ever trust the other person again or identify what the other person can do to rebuild that trust. Regardless, the relationship is rarely desolved at that point but can easily go around in circles with one constantly asking for forgiveness and the other not knowing if full forgiveness can ever be had.
What these couples fail to realize is that the “affair” is merely a symtom of deeper problems that they have been reluctant to deal with. These deeper problems were ususally there long before the affair began. I am not minimizing the hurt and emotional pain caused by these affairs. However, the lingering pain of the ended affairs often become smoke screens to avoid dealing with the underlying problems that resulted in the affairs tin the first place.
Affairs do not happen out of thin air. Affairs are usually dysfunctional responses to the inability to deal with those unresolved issues. In order for couples to truely move on, they need to develop the courage to honestly identify and openly talk about those unresolved issues. Openly talking about those issues and negotiating resolutions stand the best chances in achieving the intimacy that was lost or perhaps never was. It provides opportunities for couples to reinvent themselves. Avoiding conflict at all costs or constant arguing about surface issues are opposite ends of the continuum that does not work. It is vital that each take responsibility for the problems in the relationship and each take responsibility for resolving them. That means listening to the other person without pre- judging. It means understanding, though not neccessarily agreeing all the time. It means validating each other as valued entities in the relationship. It means not engaging in power struggles, where each end up feeling like either a winner and a loser. It means feeling like the relationship is a true partnership and not a sole proprietorship. If these things can be accomplished, than trust can be rekindled and possible future betrayal no longer a lingering fear.