Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
No matter how this information gets to you, it can be one of the most challenging and overwhelming moments in your life. The statistics can be hard to define because not everyone is going to admit to cheating, but studies show that anywhere from 20% to 40% of marriages experience infidelity. This number goes up a great deal if we include emotional affairs as well. It's important to know that you're not alone in this, because it can be very easy to feel like you've just had everything taken from you. It can also be easy to feel completely lost as to what to do next. Today we'll take a look at some good first steps and things to keep in mind to make sure moving forward can be just a little bit easier.
You've Discovered the Affair: What First?
Many people feel that they need to make a decision right away on if they're going to stay and work on the relationship or leave. You don't have to make any big decisions right away. Learning about an affair can send anyone into a state of shock where you're not yourself. In these blogs I usually try to give as much advice as possible to make healthy changes without needing a therapist, but this is one instance where talking to a professional as soon as possible is very important. One of the most valuable things a therapist provides is perspective. Perspective from a professional who isn't a close friend or family member, someone who isn't tangled up in all of the systems of your life. They can help you process these big decisions about staying or leaving, and help you take your time in coming to a decision that you feel good about. Another thing to remember is that choosing to stay and work on things doesn't have to be a permanent choice. It's much easier to give things a shot for a couple months and then decide to leave than to file for divorce and then decide you still want to try and work on things. If you're going to work on things, then beginning couples’ therapy right away is also very important. It's also important to note that sometimes your partner might decide they're leaving and make that choice for themselves. In this case there is still a great deal of helpful information here to help you take care of yourself in the best way possible.
Infidelity Causes Questions...Lots of Questions
One other thing that always comes up right away is questions. You will find yourself with a million questions about the affair. You deserve to have your questions answered but it's very important to pay attention to what kinds of questions you're asking. As a rule of thumb questions about details are going to do more harm than good. Hearing every detail and being a detective about every piece of the affair is only going to hurt. Learning more broad information such as who was the affair with, how long did it go on, and generally how far did things go, is fair and helpful information to know. The biggest question however, is usually why? Why is a really big question with a very important answer, we're going to come back to it at the end.
You Deserve Support After the Affair
As I mentioned above finding support needs to be a priority, and right now your best support probably isn't your partner. After an affair is discovered many partners become so overwhelmed by feelings of shame for their actions that they find it difficult to be helpful as supports. They'll need to work through this in their own therapy so they can show up for you, but for now it's good to seek help from others. A therapist is good start and from here it's ok to put a little thought into who you want to share this information with. It can absolutely feel difficult or shameful to share that your partner had an affair, so choosing close friends or family that you know will show up for you is important. Many partners may try to set boundaries on who you're allowed to talk to about this, but right now you deserve the support you need. There is also a myriad of support groups for partners who have been cheated on, hearing the stories and support of other people in your position can be very helpful. Regardless of who you go to for support, no one gets to tell you how you should be feeling or reacting to the situation.
The #1 Question: Why?
Earlier I said we would come back to the question of "why did you have an affair?" and here we are. This can be a very difficult question for a couple of reasons. The first is that your partner might not have a good answer. People's reasons for cheating are usually complex emotional knots and can be hard to identify let alone express; this is another spot where your partner doing their own therapy is a huge help. The other reason this can be a difficult question and answer is because it can bring things back to the relationship or to you. The two primary reasons I see affairs happen in my work are these: One, the person has such great internal pain that they use the affair like a drug, a quick hit of intense validation, that quickly fades and ultimately increases their internal pain, leading them to need another hit of their drug. Two, their needs aren't being met in the relationship and so they look outside of the relationship to get their needs met. This can be very hard to hear because it can feel like the blame for the affair is being laid at your feet. This is not your fault. The decision to cheat always lies with the person who chose to do it. There are always other options, from voicing that needs aren't being met and working to improve the relationship, to just choosing to leave. Your partner accepting full responsibility for their actions is a necessary step to moving forward. Regardless, “Why?” can be a difficult question and answer to work through. Your partner may not fully understand the why themselves, or it may stem from things both of you need to work on in the relationship. Either way, finding the right answer to why leads to hope.
There is Hope, Even After an Affair
When you know why the affair happened, you and your partner can truly work to move forward. The first step in therapy is working through the pain of the betrayal and working to rebuild trust. Once this begins to feel better, we can start truly addressing the why. By working to resolve why the affair happened, we resolve large underlying problems that have been wreaking havoc on the relationship, sometimes for years or decades. The couples I see work through an affair come out stronger, happier, and healthier. I would in no way suggest that affairs are good things, but when you choose to work forward through one, you can come out happier than you were before.
Interested in Starting Therapy for Infidelity in Plymouth, MN?
Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need to deal with infidelity. Our Gottman marriage counseling experts and sex therapists want to help you address sexual concerns here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to therapy for infidelity, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.