Affairs are one of the most devastating events that can happen in a relationship. There is no other event that can lead one to question not only their relationship or their partner but also themselves- their perceptions, their beliefs, even their very identity.
There are many who believe that once a person cheats, the only appropriate recourse is for the betrayed partner to leave. I see this time and time again in the groups that I’m in on Facebook. One hurt soul seeks solace and advice among other men only to be told by hundreds that he needs to leave (or have an affair himself to even the score).
This rhetoric is not only harmful but it misses out on the potential growth and transformation that can occur when a couple experiences infidelity. Unfortunately, all this does is increase the amount of shame and hurt this person is dealing with.
But the truth is that less than a third of couples split up after an affair. Meaning that a vast majority of couples are able, not only to move past the hurt, but learn and grow as a result of it.
Couples I’ve worked with have told me that their relationship has never been better after they experienced infidelity. It’s not about anything that I did; it’s about the tremendous amount of work and energy that they poured into not only surviving infidelity, but thriving in its wake.
Let me be clear, I’m not romanticizing affair recovery nor am I condoning or would ever advise someone to have an affair. The truth is, however, that affair recovery can be a transformative experience.
It’s true that discovering your partner’s affair is one of the most life shattering events that will ever happen. However, there is something about this shattering that can bring about immense growth and transformation- like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It’s not easy, and it’s often painful, but it’s possible.
Keep reading to learn more about affair recovery so you can start rebuilding your relationship today.
What is Affair Recovery?
Affair recovery is a unique approach to therapy that directly addresses the issues of infidelity. Affairs are shrouded in secrecy. When they are greeted by the light of day, you need a safe place to talk about the affair- to acknowledge, process, and heal.
Many therapists lack the training or knowledge to directly address the issues raised by infidelity. Affair recovery is not only about acknowledging the pain caused by the affair- which is where many therapists stop- it’s about discovering the meaning behind the affair. It’s about taking this new knowledge and understanding and using it to create an integration of each partner and their desires into the relationship.
There are many reasons people cheat. (A quick Google search will show you that many people have strong opinions on the matter.) Affair recovery doesn’t stop at the surface but guides couples to dig deep into the context and meaning of the affair.
Only then can true healing occur.
How Does Affair Recovery Work?
Affair recovery isn’t a template or a paint-by-numbers therapy. It’s not formulaic; I don’t do text-based therapy. I think of myself as more of a tailor, and I do fittings.
Sometimes it means meeting with the couple together- sometimes individually. When I meet with each partner individually, they have the privilege of having confidential sessions with me. This isn’t done for infidelity; it’s just done. You can read more about why I work this way here.
From Shame to Guilt
While there is no set agenda for affair recovery; there is a path. It begins by helping the unfaithful partner move from a place of shame to guilt. The difference being that instead of simply saying, “I feel bad for my actions,” it becomes, “I feel bad for the way my actions have affected you.”
There may never be a time when the unfaithful partner feels bad for having the affair itself (it could have been a monumentally transformative experience for them), but they must acknowledge the hurt and pain that it has caused their partner.
Discovering the Why
Once this is accomplished, we move to the meaning-making stage. This is the part of the process in which we move from what the affair did to the deceived partner and what it did for the unfaithful partner.
This is where we take a deep dive into the why. And that why can come in many different forms. I don’t prescribe to the notion that affairs only happen when there is a troubled relationship, and that if it’s not a troubled relationship then it’s a troubled person.
This is too narrow a lense to look through. I know that affairs happen in good relationships and are acted out by good people. Affairs don’t necessarily mean that either the relationship or the individual is bad. Too many people- therapists included- view affairs in this way, and they miss the bigger picture.
Every individual enters my office with a story. It’s my job to help them tell their story in an authentic way that brings meaning to their lives and their relationships. I put my assumptions and judgments aside and allow my clients the freedom to explore.
The couple now enters the task of rebuilding. The benefit of this phase is that they can cast aside their preconceived notions about what a longstanding relationship must look like. They have never before had an opportunity to define what their relationship is and what it means to them.
Prior to affair recovery, most couples’ conversations about infidelity can be summed up in five words:
“I catch you, you’re dead.”
Now they are having conversations that they never before thought possible. They can more freely express their wants, their desires, their needs… They determine what is meaningful for them, no one else.
It’s truly transformative, and I have the privilege of bearing witness to it.
Who is Affair Recovery For?
Affair recovery works well for couples who are committed to their relationship and want to revitalize their relationship in the aftermath of an affair. It is also helpful for couples who come to therapy with an open mind.
Affair recovery can be painful at times, so it’s best suited to those who can weather the storm and have a sense of hopefulness. (This is not a prerequisite to my work, however, and I often help couples rediscover hope in their relationships.)
Who isn’t a Good Fit for Affair Recovery?
Not every couple is suited for affair recovery work. Those that come fully committed to the process and their relationship bear the greatest reward. Any ambivalence about the relationship must be addressed first.
I consider myself pretty open minded about the changing landscapes of modern relationships. I have yet to encounter a situation in which affair recovery was helpful if the affair was still ongoing. I believe that the affair behavior must stop in order for the process to be beneficial.
Affair recovery is also not helpful for couples in which there is an active drug or alcohol addiction or couples in which there is severe physical or emotional abuse. Those issues must be fully resolved prior to affair recovery.
What Can I Expect from Affair Recovery?
When you begin affair recovery, you can expect to be able to acknowledge and begin to heal from the pain of infidelity. There is a relief in sharing this pain and especially in having your partner bear witness and acknowledge it as well.
You can also expect to discover the underlying meaning of the affair as well as find hope that it may not be repeated. I say may because there are never any guarantees in life, and there will always be some uncertainty. You may not believe it now, but that uncertainty can actually increase the erotic energy in your relationship.
In addition, you will learn to integrate the new understanding of yourself and your partner into your relationship and future together. An affair can redefine a relationship, but it’s within your power to determine what legacy will be told.
Where Can I Learn More About Affair Recovery?
You can turn the devastation of the affair into an opportunity to revitalize your relationship. The best thing you can do if you’re interested in affair recovery is to schedule your free 30 minute phone consultation below.
Mark Cagle LPC
Mark Cagle is an affair recovery specialist in Dallas, TX. He helps couples turn the devastation of an affair into an opportunity to revitalize and reinvigorate their relationship.
When he's not helping couples, he enjoys playing with his three wonderful daughters and spending time with his wife of 11 years. He loves card, board, and video games and is still a kid at heart.