Experts tell WebMD how to overcome infidelity in a relationship and how to know when it's time to call it quits.
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
Infidelity can shatter even the strongest relationship, leaving behind feelings of betrayal, guilt, and anger. For the one-quarter of married couples who have suffered this breach of loyalty, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, overcoming those feelings can be extremely difficult.
But with the support of family, friends, a good therapist, and each other, it is possible for a couple to put the cloud of an affair behind them, and in some cases, emerge as a stronger unit.
For others, an affair is too heavy a weight for a relationship to bear, and parting ways may be the only answer. But before a fighting couple both head for the door, there are steps that can be taken that might help the relationship get on the track to healing. Experts tell WebMD why someone might have an affair, how an affair can be overcome, and how to know when it's time to call it quits.
Cause and Effect
"There are many different reasons why someone might have an affair," says Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, a marriage and family therapist in Illinois. "Sometimes it is purely a case of bad judgment -- a person may feel satisfied with their marriage, but a late night at the office with a co-worker and a couple of glasses of wine can lead to lack of impulse control. More commonly, it's a search for an emotional connection -- wanting someone to pay attention to you, flatter you, be attracted to you."
Whatever the reason for the affair, the effect infidelity has on a relationship is devastating.
"Nothing rocks a person's sense of self, trust, and marriage more than infidelity," says Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage. "Infidelity leaves people questioning their sanity, as well as everything they believe to be true about their spouse, and about the viability of their marriage. Infidelity is crippling."
People find themselves crying a lot, not being able to concentrate, being upset, and feeling depressed.
"These are all of the initial emotions that go with the discovery of the betrayal," Weiner-Davis tells WebMD. "However, emotions change over time."
When the initial shock of an affair is over, then it is time for both people in the relationship to examine what role they played in letting the relationship slide down such a slippery slope:
- "You have to stop the affair, first and foremost," says Jamie Turndorf, PhD, a couples therapist in New York. "You can't reinvest in the marriage if you have one foot out the door."
- Remember that there will be ups and downs after an affair. "The road to recovery after an affair is jagged, and that is completely normal," says Weiner-Davis.
- "The person who had the affair needs to be willing to discuss what happened openly if the betrayed spouse wants to do that," says Weiner-Davis.
- "The person who had an affair has to be willing to be accountable for his or her whereabouts, even though he or she thinks that may be unfair," says Weiner-Davis.
- "There needs to be a willingness to make promises and commitments about the future, that an affair will not happen again," says Weiner-Davis.
- The betrayed person should set the timetable for recovery. "So often the person who cheated is eager to put the past in the past, but he or she really has to honor the other person's timetable," says Weiner-Davis.
- "The person who had the affair should examine the personal reasons for straying and what needs to change to avoid the temptation in the future," says Weiner-Davis.
- As for moving forward, both people in the relationship should take responsibility for building a new foundation. "Both people in the relationship should ask the other what he or she can do to rebuild the connection and what actions should be avoided because they are breaking it," says Turndorf, author of Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First). "Even the person who was cheated on should say to herself, 'What role did I play in driving you away and what can I do to make you more connected to me in the future?'"
- Try marriage therapy or take a marriage education class. "You really need to find a counselor or therapist who is pro-marriage, and can help get your relationship back on track," say Weiner-Davis. "Steer clear of therapists who see infidelity as a marital death sentence -- it isn't."
What Is The Difference Between An Emotional Affair And A Physical Affair?
By Cathy Meyer
Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Question: What Is The Difference Between An Emotional Affair And A Physical Affair?
The traditional definition of cheating is that one person in a committed relationship is sexually involved with someone other than his/her spouse. In recent years, cheating has been reclassified to include not only the physical affair but, also, the emotional affair.
An emotional affair is defined as any infidelity that occurs through feeling or thought. With the technological development of cell phones and the internet, the definition of cheating has been expanded to include the traditional definition, plus the feelings and/or thoughts that compriseemotional infidelity. Cheating now includes having intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet and maintaining a close, personal relationship with someone other than your spouse.The difference between a physical affair and an emotional affair.
The primary difference between a physical affair and an emotional affair is actual, physical contact. Usually, cheating involves people meeting face – to - face, and then engaging in physical intimacy. With an emotional affair, there may be a meeting, but it can occur on a cell phone or a computer and there is no physical intimacy. Many of the people who are emotionally cheating don’t consider it to beinfidelity. Their thinking is that, because there is no actual physical contact, the behavior can’t be considered cheating.
The end result is that the unfaithful spouse is paying more emotional attention to someone other than their partner, and they are removing themselves from the commitment they made to their marriage.An emotional affair can lead to a physical affair.
An emotional affair begins with the exchange of personal information. As the people involved get acquainted, the information becomes more personal. Some argue that an emotional affair is harmless because it is more of a casual relationship than traditional cheating; however, the intimate nature of the communication, plus the emotional investment made by the people involved, places an emotional affair on the same level or worse as traditional cheating.
It is much more dangerous for a marriage should your spouse connect with someone emotionally than physically. Anyone who finds himself or herself drawn to another person on an emotional level should consider the possible consequences of such an affair. Emotional affairs are just as likely to lead to divorce and physical affairs.The danger of an emotional affair.
While it is healthy and normal for people to have friendships outside the marriage with men and women, an emotional affair threatens the emotional bond between spouses. Friendships are based on attraction, in that we are drawn to various qualities of our friends. Healthy friendships and attractions don't need to threaten a marriage at all, but add richness and enjoyment to life. When an attraction turns into an obsession or into an affair, it can become harmful to everyone involved and nothing is more harmful to a marriage than the breakdown of the emotional bond marital partners have for each other.