Although an affair can disrupt your relationship in almost any area, there are three broad domains that frequently show negative impact from the affair. For some couples, one or more of these areas was already a source of difficulty before the affair. For such couples, the additional stress of an affair often leads to severe dysfunction in that particular domain.
Following a betrayal trauma, nearly all couples need to address the issue of how to regain some sense of equilibrium in one or more of the following areas, which vary on a continuum of vulnerability from instrumental, task-oriented activities to more emotional and intimate activities.
The three broad domain areas are:
Following a betrayal trauma, nearly all couples need to address the issue of how to regain some sense of equilibrium
Disruption of Daily Tasks
Often, after an affair there is a breakdown in daily routines, household chores, and patterns of interaction. This happens for a number of reasons:
Typically, both partners contribute to the relationship and complete various tasks for the wellbeing of the couple but after an affair many individuals, particularly the injured partner, no longer put forth the same effort they had previously. After an affair, motivation to expend extra effort to benefit the other partner is compromised. So, shopping for and preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house, putting gas in the car, along with many other activities are no longer taken care of as usual. If partners are so upset with one another that they can't even talk to each other about the issues, then their lives become more stressful and daily needs are not addressed.
It is important that the aspect of daily, household tasks and responsibilities are addressed.
Disruption of Companionship Activities
An important aspect of most intimate relationships is the partnerships that couples share, engaging in a wide variety of enjoyable activities together.
Every couple has routines for relaxation or play, such as going to the movies together, enjoying a play, exercising together, inviting friends over for the evening, or taking short weekend trips out of town; however these activities are frequently disrupted in the aftermath of an affair.
The injured partner might feel too upset and angry to propose that the couple go to a movie together. Likewise, the participating partner might believe it is too presumptuous to suggest that the couple continue with their previously planned vacation.
On the other hand, both partners may retain a strong wish for these activities. The participating partner might want to show how much he or she wants to be with the injured partner and suggest a lot of “togetherness” activities. Similarly, some injured partners seek reassurance from shared activities or fear that they have not been a “good enough” companion and now try to make up for it by suggesting lots of ways to spend time together.
Often, there is some confusion between partners about what is acceptable, so it’s important to raise the issue. Remember that the desire for companionship with the other person will likely change over the course of recovery and partners might have different desires at various times. Therefore, it’s important to be patient during these interactions and be mindful of the variety of emotional responses that might come up during these interactions. Make a good-faith effort to be positive during these interactions and tell the other person if an activity becomes unpleasant or aversive.
Disruption of Intimate Interactions
While companionship activities might be ones that someone does with a friend, other activities that couples enjoy involve more intimate interactions, typically reserved for a romantic, committed relationship. This category includes:
Moreover, given that the trauma of an affair involves sexual interactions with a third person, sexual interactions between the participating and injured partner may seem meaningless or aversive.
I make no single recommendation to couples regarding intimate or sexual interactions, but these issues need to be raised during therapy. Don’t engage in intimate behaviors that make either person highly uncomfortable. Instead, try to understand that after an affair, there are many decisions to make, including how to interact with each other while assessing whether to maintain the relationship longterm.
Guidelines for Decision-making Discussions
Couples regularly face a wide range of issues requiring joint decisions. For example, these decisions can range from management of couple- and family-focused daily responsibilities, engagement in companionship activities, and consideration about whether or not to engage in more intimate interactions. The general decision-making skills outlined below can be helpful for many couples facing difficult decisions after an affair.
State the issue clearly and specifically.
Clarify why the issue is important and what your needs are.
Discuss possible solutions.
Decide on a solution that is agreeable to both of you.
Decide on a trial period to implement the solution, if it is a situation that will occur more than once.
TJ Walsh, MA LPC NCC
TJ is a licensed professional counselor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and board certified by NBCC as a National Certified Counselor. His primary clinical focus is trauma, emotional abuse, affairs and betrayal traumas, existential crisis and restoration/deepening of the relationship one has with him/her/their self. He is also an artist and educator in Counseling Psychology at Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania.