Can a relationship survive an affair?

Can a relationship survive an affair?I think this is one of the first questions a couple will ask their therapist regarding infidelity. Research has shown that it can serve as a “wake-up call” and significantly improve a relationship or ultimately lead to the end of one.  However, there is hope and work that a couple can do if they wish to move forward.

My partner cheated, so now what?

Infidelity may be viewed as a traumatic event that dramatically changes a partner’s view about themselves and their relationship, causing both emotional and behavioral upheaval.  A partner may feel that they have no control over their future and that it is unpredictable. Therefore, it is important for a couple to conceptualize infidelity as an interpersonal trauma and focus on the stages and processes of forgiveness. A couple needs to understand why the injury or betrayal occurred and reconstruct a new meaning for the event.

Three Stages of Recovery

In the first stage, the couple and therapist will formulate a plan to develop boundaries and guidelines.  The couple will learn how to disengage when their level of emotion is too high and problem solve when they are in a calmer state.  During this stage, the couple will practice more effective communication skills such as appropriate emotional expressiveness and exchange their feelings in a more reflective manner.  If one of the partners is experiencing “flashbacks” of the infidelity, the couple will be helped to achieve a greater understanding of what flashbacks are and why they occur.

The second stage helps the couple find meaning and the underlying reasons that may have contributed to the infidelity.  Certain aspects of the relationship are explored and paired with interventions that are necessary for healing and growth.  For example, the couple may be experiencing high conflict and low emotional warmth.  Therefore, it would be important to help build intimacy and understanding in the couple’s relationship and learn the necessary skills to implement new behavior.  Additionally, another goal of stage two is to help the injured partner move beyond the hurt, anger, and anxiety caused by the affair.  It is important to reduce the injured partner’s emotional reactivity in order to facilitate a more cohesive partnership that is able to deal with emotions effectively.

The third stage helps the couple move on by addressing any remaining fears or concerns about the relationship.  Each partner examines their own beliefs regarding forgiveness and commitment.  The couple will learn to cultivate warmer and more positive feelings towards each other during the forgiveness process.

Work can be done and there is hope!

Although infidelity work can be challenging and difficult, it can possibly lead to a more fulfilling relationship with better communication.


-Katie McGrath, M.S.


Snyder, D. K., Balderrama-Durbin, C., & Fissette, C. L. (2012). Treating infidelity and comorbid

depression. Couple And Family Psychology:

Research And Practice, 1(3), 213-225. doi:10.1037/a0029919

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