Affair Repair

By: Cynthia FrazierWhile many incidents of infidelity go unreported, our best estimate is that 37 percent of married men and 20 percent of married women have been unfaithful at least once during their lifetimes (Laumann, et. al., 1994). Simply put, one in every 2.7 marriages in the U.S. experiences the traumatizing effects of an affair (Spring & Spring, 1996). So how, then, do men and women stay happily married given these odds? Statistics indicate that couples who attempt to reconcile after an affair have a 70 percent chance of staying together, while there is only a 30 percent likelihood of staying with the paramour from the affair (Brown, 1999). Given these odds, it may be more plausible to reconcile after an affair-to stay married, but is it possible to stay happily married?
The chances of repairing a relationship after an affair are increased whenever:

  1. Both the betrayed and the betrayer have a genuine interest, perhaps not at the same level, in restoring the trust which has been breached;
  2. The lover has been given up completely;
  3. Both are willing to accept an appropriate share of responsibility for one’s contribution to the affair;
  4. Both are willing to try new behaviors which build trust;
  5. Both are willing to try new behaviors which build intimacy;
  6. Both are willing to honestly recommit, characterized by a sense of connectedness despite differences, dissatisfaction, and ambivalence;
  7. Both are willing to design a better future by sharing the responsibility for feeling satisfied and loved on a daily basis

Falling in love is effortless. Ending a marriage after an affair has been revealed is understandable. However, learning to love maturely requires time and effort. Most people need to be taught that love naturally moves through phases of romantic love, disillusionment, toward mature love. Remember the exhilaration of first meeting, courting, and falling in love? The novelty, the excitement, the increased vitality, and the stimulation of sexual desire are unlike any other human experience. Unfortunately, this phase of romantic love is fueled by body chemicals, which may also produce idealization of the new love interest (e.g., “I’ve never felt like this before!), and devaluation of your current love (“Everything (s)he does gets on my nerves”). Is there any wonder, then, why we are all at risk for infidelity? As the hormones produced by romance dissipate with time, the vicissitudes of our ordinary lives further weaken the intensity of new love. Studies have shown that marital discord generally surfaces during the first seven years, after the first child arrives, and/or when the first child turns 14 years of age (Shellenbarger, 2004). Other studies suggest that periods of disenchantment occur every four years (Dyn and Glenn, 1993). When disillusioned, dissatisfaction grows, criticism increases, and level of sexual excitement declines. While all may appear “perfect” during the romantic phase, one resumes, in time, one’s idiosyncratic patterns, which may be less than ideal. Complaints mount, such as “You’ve changed. You aren’t the person I married. I don’t like who you have become or how you are acting.” It is during these states of disenchantment that infidelity is more likely to occur. In human relationships, we all tend to grow dissatisfied and to distance, but affection does return and closeness is strengthened. In every sustained relationship, individual needs and differences will eventually conflict and will produce annoyance, disappointment, frustration, etc. Betrayal, however, impedes the development of mature love. Mature love is characterized by compromise, reciprocity, tolerance of the other’s idiosyncrasies, acceptance of the other’s limitations, and the ability to stay connected even during difficult times. Ultimately, one derives the security, permanence, and closeness that love is hoped to be. Passion will be replaced with compassion. Understanding will be augmented with acceptance. Tolerance will be reinforced with patience and respect for differences. Commitment will be redefined by the determination to communicate and compromise rather than to leave. Couples begin to find that they can be their natural selves within the relationship, while still becoming a better person. Can you imagine being so open with another person where all your foibles are exposed and yet feel safe and satisfied? This is not romantic love. It is lasting love.However, it is unrealistic for love to last unless it is reinforced by DAILY acts of loving behavior. It is not enough to think you are behaving in a loving way, you must ask your partner how (s)he perceives you and your behaviors. It is often helpful for couples to make separate lists of the specific ways that they would like the other person to show love. Then, they swap their lists. This gives the other a listing from which one can chose the caring behaviors that (s)he feels comfortable doing. In this way, one can be assured that his or her efforts will be perceived as loving. After an affair, one must continue to work at understanding oneself and one’s partner so that a better future can be constructed together. By “acting in the service of your life together,” you will develop the wisdom to act lovingly even when you don’t feel loving. This is much like the way we act with our children. We may feel particularly angry, annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, etc. with a child, but we somehow are able to continue feeling attached and committed. That’s my kid. I love him (or her) no matter what. Deep within, we know that more loving feelings are apt to return when we act in loving ways. To stay happily married, then, both partners must share the daily responsibility for feeling satisfied, loved, and meaningfully connected. AFFAIR REPAIR© is a psychoeducational program designed by Dr. Cynthia Frazier, Clinical Psychologist for couples, whether married/unmarried, heterosexual/homosexual, who are both motivated to reconcile after an affair and to reinvent their life together. The purpose of the program is to provide couples with a systematic way of approaching reconciliation by providing guidelines to prevent unnecessary turmoil, to reduce the pain associated with the trauma, and to expedite the arduous process. The program will accepting new couples in Spring, 2004. For more information, please contact Dr. Frazier directly.

ReferencesBrown, E. (1999). Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Dyn, B. & Glenn, M. ( 1993, July/August). “Forecast for couples.” Psychology Today, 54-56, 78-86.Laumann, E., Gagnon, J, Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Shellenbarger, S. (January 8, 2004). “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” The Wall Street Journal Online/ Work & Family.Spring, J. A. (1996). After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding the Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


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