Infidelity is emotionally devastating, with serious negative consequences to both parties, both personally and professionally.  Yet many couples decide to weather the storm.  That decision, while challenging, can have positive consequences.  

People have affairs for a wide variety of reasons including sexual addiction, retaliation, exploration, and sense of entitlement, among many others.[i] Yet regardless of the reason, the innocent spouse always suffers from significant feelings of betrayal. 

While unlikely to provide consolation in the immediate aftermath, motivations for straying often impact a couple’s decision regarding how to move forward.  In addition, motivation for staying together often predicts how successful a couple will be in repairing their relationship.

One of the most interesting and heartening findings for couples seeking to reconcile, is the healing power of acts of grace and kindness demonstrated by the innocent spouse.

Reasons Couples Decide to Rebuild the Relationship

Many couples choose to stay together and attempt to rebuild their relationship after trust has been broken through unfaithfulness.  Reasons for maintaining a relationship include social support, acts of kindness, and motivation to stay together.[ii]

Couples who are motivated to stay together are prepared to put in the effort to repair the relationship. [iii] Motivation is fueled by owning property, having children, or having already invested a significant amount of time in the relationship.[iv]

Couples motivated to stay together often head straight to counseling (if they were not already receiving professional help).  Yet there are ways to recover from an affair separate and apart from professional intervention.  One of them involves proactive, positive, behavior not by the betrayer, but by the innocent partner.

Innocent Partners Repair Relationships by Choosing Grace Over Justice

One of the reasons couples decide to stay together appears somewhat counterintuitive at first blush: acts of kindness by the non-straying partner.[v]  It is widely recognized that one of the most powerful factors in rebuilding a marriage after an affair is forgiveness.[vi]  Individuals who are willing to forgive a partner´s betrayal can rebuild intimacy through grace. 

Acts of grace by the non-straying partner are benevolent acts of blessing, and are emotionally powerful.  Treasured acts of mercy reported by the straying partner include the exclusive partner avoiding mention of the affair, exhibiting increased kindness, and demonstrating forgiveness and love by buying flowers.[vii] 

Unfaithful partners report that receiving mercy from the betrayed partner is unexpected, and has a profound impact on healing the relationship.[viii] The decision to choose kindness over revenge or retribution contributes to relational healing.[ix]

Proactive Relationship Repair

Active reconciliation post-affair includes practicing forgiveness, managing painful memories, and counseling.[x]  Although couples dealing with infidelity begin counseling with a higher level of distress than couples who seek counseling for other reasons, the good news is that they improve faster in therapy.[xi]

Some couples work through infidelity by exploring the meaning behind the moves.[xii] This includes talking about what led to the affair, and how their relational dynamics might have contributed to the process.[xiii]  This type of open communication facilitates an understanding of the bigger picture and the underlying circumstances that contributed to the betrayal.

Many couples that move on after infidelity change their relational dynamics to improve communication and adopt more constructive methods of interacting. [xiv] Couples who successfully moved on spoke of “weathering the storm,” appreciating each other more, “growing up,” and feeling like a “survivor, not a victim.” [xv]

Among couples that decide to stay together, there is often an expressed desire to view their decision as a second chance at marriage.  Couples surviving affairs may even decide to renew wedding vows to celebrate forgiveness and a new beginning.[xvi]

Choosing to Stay is a Personal Choice

The choice of whether to stay with an unfaithful partner is up close and personal. The aggrieved party in particular should give careful consideration to that very important decision.  Yet if a couple decides to reconcile, both partners have to commit to the process of rebuilding trust and reconciliation. 

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD

References

[i] Iona Abrahamson, Rafat Hussain, Adeel Khan, and Margot J. Schofield, ”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” Journal of Family Issues Vol. 33, No. 11 (2012): 1494-1519 (1495).

[ii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?”

[iii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1503.

[iv] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1503.

[v] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1504-1505.

[vi] James Cordova, Joseph Cautilli, Corrina Simon, and Robin Axelrod Sabag, ”Behavior Analysis of Forgiveness in Couples Therapy,” International Journal of Behavioral Cosultation and Therapy 2, no. 2 (2006): 192-214.

[vii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1504-1505.

[viii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1514.

[ix] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1514.

[x] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1506.

[xi] David Atkins, Kathleen A. Eldridge, Donald H. Baucom, and Andrew Christensen, “Infidelity and Behavioral Couple Therapy: Optimism in the Face of Betrayal,” Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology 73, no. 1 (2005): 144-150 (148).

[xii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1505.

[xiii] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1505.

[xiv] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1509.

[xv] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1509.

[xvi] Abrahamson et al.,”What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?” 1510.

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