Surviving Affairs

Sadly, lately the theme in my office seems to be affairs. I’m always sad when a couple comes in to my office after an affair, and I know I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, if a couple is in my office it usually means they have a fighting chance to save their relationship; they’ve both made a statement that they want to repair it and stay together.

What possesses people to have affairs?

There are many possibilities. The simplest combines opportunity with poor judgment. Bad decisions made without truly considering or understanding the consequences. I call this the “plain vanilla” affair. A variant on this is when two friends of the opposite sex find themselves drawn closer and closer together until they find they have crossed a line. Another happens when a person is not happy with their relationship for some reason, and turns to another for comfort, attention, and sex. What they should have done is talk to their partner and try to figure out what would help make it better and more satisfying, not look elsewhere. The most difficult is when someone has the belief, instilled by family or culture, that it’s really okay. “It’s just how men are.” When this is the case, change is unlikely. So the woman (usually) has a decision to make about whether they can live with this or not.

Can a marriage be saved after an affair?

It can go either way. I’ve seen many relationships destroyed by an affair. Either the damage is too great or the remorse too little, and the relationship never recovers. Or the one who has been cheated on draws a very clear line in the sand and decides they are not willing to forgive the transgressor and try to salvage the relationship.

On the other hand, I’ve seen many marriages that have recovered, and sometimes actually even been stronger, after doing the very hard work of repairing the damage from this trauma to the relationship. A great deal depends on the circumstances, and especially the willingness of the “cheater” to do the right thing. Couples with children, a long history, and many other strengths are more likely to be motivated enough to do the work involved.

What can be done to repair the damage after an affair?

The biggest factor is the response of the person who cheated. He/she will need to take full responsibility, apologize profusely and sincerely, and promise honestly that it will never happen again. And they will have to do this repeatedly, for quite some time. As more than one victim of an affair has said, “he needs to grovel!”. And he really does. Statements like “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I did that”, “I’m an idiot, I hope you can eventually forgive me,” and “You did not deserve that, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it right again” are needed.

Can we ever rebuild our trust again?

So many times, I’ve heard the person who had the affair say, “I had no idea how truly devastating this would be to my partner, to my marriage, and to my family.” It is possible to rebuild if you do the work of taking responsibility, repairing the damage, and rebuilding. It will take longer than you expect, but it can be done. If you’re the one who cheated, you’ll have to listen to your partner expressing his/her feelings repeatedly before they can begin to put it behind them. You will have to work hard to regain their trust and respect.

Is it my fault he/she cheated?

No. Nobody’s perfect, and no relationship is perfect. But an affair is never the answer. If there is a problem in the relationship, the honorable and right thing to do is to let the other person know how you feel and work to improve the situation. If it truly is irreparable and you need to end the relationship, then you can. But having an affair while still in the relationship is never the answer.

Dr. Catherine Aisner is a Psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, helping individuals and couples improve the quality of their lives. She can be reached at 530-541-6696 or online at

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