As discussed earlier, one of three events occur after the discovery of an affair. For some, nothing changes in the relationship and the affair is either ignored, denied, repeated, or continued. The affair can unfortunately also end a relationship depending on the intensity and length of the affair and the values of the parties involved. For others, the occurrence of an affair can signal a reassessment of the existing relationship and provides an opportunity for change, growth and a more improved relationship.

Let’s take a closer look at these options before going any further.

Option 1 — Ignore the Affair

For many, an affair can simply rock the world we live in. To contemplate leaving the family home and/or one’s partner would be inconceivable and it is simply easier to put the affair at the back of your mind and lock it away.

The decision to do nothing quite often happens in older couples and couples with children, who decide to stay in a marriage for the children only. Unfortunately, the action of “no action” or doing nothing doesn’t promote self growth much less assist the relationship. The betrayer sometimes has repeated affairs to satisfy his/her needs for closeness and intimacy, and other times boxes him/herself within an unsatisfying relationship filled with guilt and shame.

The betrayed deals with the affair privately but can overtly or covertly ‘punish’ the betrayer for the duration of the relationship. Quite often in these cases, there is a shift in who controls the relationship, where the betrayed now holds the power.

The people who chose to do nothing after the discovery of their partner’s affair will most likely not be reading this or looking for assistance. Fortunately though there are other choices and the discovery of an affair usually is a catalyst for change.

Option 2 — The Relationship Ends

34% of relationships end after the discovery of an affair. Sometimes the decision is owned entirely by the betrayer, when he/she decides to end the existing relationship and progress the relationship with his/her lover. The affair was simply a means to leave the relationship which leaves the betrayed with no choice but to grieve and go on with life. On other occasions, the person who has been betrayed ends the relationship based on his/her beliefs and values.

Our beliefs and values are a set of guidelines or rules by which we live. They are ingrained in us by things we learnt from our family of origin and special people like teachers and neighbours. Our values can include beliefs in things like marriage, fidelity, sexuality, religion and even dress code. For example, some people would never get a tattoo anywhere on their body at any given time of their life. However, others proudly display numerous tattoos; hence values are different from person to person. It is for this reason that some people are more accepting and forgiving of infidelity and others are not.

Your decision whether to end a relationship after an affair may require some examination of your values and beliefs. Deciding to end or stay in a relationship after infidelity has been present, is a huge decision. Values play a big part as discussed above, but there are also other factors. Choosing to stay will be discussed in option 3. For now we will look at what happens when the relationship ends. Regardless of who makes the decision to end the relationship, a person’s life is generally turned upside-down at this point. We will now look at some common problems after the termination of a relationship.

1. How do you “turn off” your love?

Right now, after finding out about the affair, you most likely think you hate your partner. But look closely at the reasons for feeling angry, betrayed, lonely and scared. You are shattered because your partner, the one you love, has looked to another for comfort, intimacy and all the other things you once shared. The easy way to stop loving them is to hate them, but this is destructive and soul crushing.

Understand that it is their behaviour you dislike, and right now everything they are doing and saying is inconsistent with the person you love. If the affair is continued, then it is likely that behaviours and actions which you do not agree with will also continue, and day by day, you will notice that the person you once loved no longer exists in the same human being. He or she has changed because of some internal drives or desires that are unfamiliar to you.

Learning to fall out of love with your partner is probably more difficult when you chose to go your separate ways, without a third party. This is because the unexplainable and bad behaviours have ceased and he or she has resumed being the person they once were. Putting some distance between you both may make life easier, and perhaps a good friendship may be the outcome.

2. Sole parenting

Hopefully the incidence of an affair will not end the relationship between the children and either of their parents. Remember that all children deserve to know both parents, despite their mistakes, and denying kids that privilege is extremely harmful. Once things settle down a little, there will be huge changes in lifestyle for all concerned and the kids must learn to adjust to two homes, two sets of rules and two individual parents. For the residential parent (who lives with the kids), it is a difficult task to cope with not only their own emotions but those of the children.

Understandably, children feel the effects of separation which in turn can result in behavioural problems. The last thing a sole parent needs when coming to terms with a separation, is the burden of naughty children. Some sole parents describe the period of separation as operating on “auto pilot” where they just function on a day to day basis, going from here to there as best as possible.

Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes and miss appointments. If you were to remember one important thing, try not to involve your children too much in the separation, and only give them enough information for them to understand that both parents still love them and will continue to love them forever. Understand that their behavioural problems are temporary and are a reaction to the changes in their young lives.

As difficult as it may seem, the ideal outcome for a child, would be to continue having loving parents, despite the relationship ending. This can be achieved by being sensible adults and putting the needs of the children first. If at all possible, continue to be parents and share roles and responsibilities equally.

Sometimes, the other parent is negligent in his/her duties which make sole parenting even more difficult. To best deal with this scenario is to reframe this situation by turning the negative into a positive. For example the fact that the other parent has little time with the children, means that you are the more fortunate one who will witness the wonderful milestones that raising children brings with it.

Many community agencies offer support for sole parents in areas such as group workshops, child minding, counselling for the children and household / gardening assistance.

3. Changing roles

When a relationship ends, we sometimes find that our role changes. This usually happens because a separation forces the equity from the relationship to be divided, and when one property has to be shared into two parts; both parties end up with heavier financial burdens.

This usually results in both parties needing to be employed. Where children are involved, women can be forced back into the workforce, and the role of mother is stretched to include a “provider” role as well. When dads are sharing in the caring role of the children, their role is one which includes a “nurturing” component.

Despite recent trends for both parties to work, many individuals must adjust to the extra demands of wearing several hats, loss of dual incomes, and having no help around the home.

4. Loneliness

The longer the relationship, the potential for loneliness is greater. It doesn’t matter how positive you are, how amicable the split may be, or how many friends you have, you will have periods of loneliness. Sometimes it is helpful to sit in the dark, listen to sad music and cry your eyes out.

Forgive yourself for the occasional gloomy day, but there is a big beautiful world out there, and believe it or not, other fish in the sea. Don’t go fishing too soon though! There is no magical cure for loneliness except to surround yourself with friends, keep busy, join clubs and get fit. Be determined to learn and grow from this experience.

Option 3 — The Relationship is Reassessed and Resumed

Infidelity doesn’t have to end the relationship. But it is a big wake up call that something is seriously wrong. If the couple can identify the problems in the relationship and develop skills to deal with these problems, they have a good chance of surviving the ordeal.

Both parties have a lot of work to do in order to restore trust, and to begin it is imperative that both parties are committed to work on the relationship. This means that the romantic affair is ended, talked about, changes made within the relationship and dealt with.

Healing the relationship initially involves both parties working individually on themselves. The betrayer needs to examine the motivations for having had the affair in the first place. By this, he/she needs to look for answers to emotional issues happening within him/herself and not external circumstances like intoxication, close friendships, business trips etc. The same goes for the person who has been betrayed, who needs to look at his/her emotional needs, also being mindful of what part they played.

For example, be really honest about whether you were too busy with work, too tired to talk or too disinterested in what was going on. While this process appears to be seeking who is to blame, it is more like both people being honest enough to acknowledge their shortcomings and forthright enough to ask to have their needs met.

Many people do not have the skills necessary to work through the aftermath of infidelity without getting sucked into negative discussion and destroying any positive groundwork they have built. It is vitally important to develop healthy conversation in the relationship, and learn to see things from the other person’s perspective.

The best way to do this is to set aside time regularly to talk and listen. Remember that to be committed, you need to talk and listen. What is also important is to decide when you should talk about the affair and how to develop ways to protect your relationship from further harm.

Once communication is flowing, a renewed relationship should be negotiated. This involves setting in place some relationship rules like keeping each other informed of each other’s movements and allowing each other permission to remind the other if things get forgotten. Of course, your rules may include the time you spend with each other and can stipulate weekly outings and annual holidays as well.

Below is a checklist of the process:

  1. Acknowledge the infidelity — no matter how much you want to ignore it, forget it and get on with life, it happened and must be dealt with.
  2. End the affair — in order to rebuild the relationship, the unfaithful partner must end the relationship once and for all. Any contact with the former lover will cause further unnecessary pain. This may even involve relocating the family or changing jobs.
  3. Talk about each other’s emotional needs — it’s obvious that the offending party’s emotional needs were not getting met, and in order for affairs not to be repeated, these needs have to be identified. Of course the person who has been betrayed will have unmet emotional needs, together with the need for assurance that the affair will not be repeated.
  4. Give of yourself — having identified each others’ needs, work hard at actioning behaviour changes. Be creative in showing each other that they are valued and respected.
  5. Restore trust — in order to restore trust, be mindful of letting your partner know where you are, if you will be late, and of future business meetings and trips ahead of time.
  6. Make some changes — it’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life which is probably one of the reasons for the affair in the first place. Let go of obligations which burden you and take up more pleasurable hobbies together.
  7. Reconnect — talk, talk and talk some more. Reminisce about your first meeting, the birth of the children, old friends. Make plans for future holidays and build a wonderful exciting future together.
  8. Forgive — It is unhealthy to hold onto resentment. Forgiveness requires generosity but is merely a decision. A decision which can free you from the burden of the resentment you have been carrying and help you to move ahead in your life.

The last item above mentions forgiveness. We all know that when we don’t forgive someone, it can “eat us up”. If you have read this far in this series and your relationship stands a chance at surviving after infidelity, then you need to read this section on forgiveness to not only maintain your relationship, but to sustain it and have a better relationship than before.