The Benefits Of Counseling After Infidelity

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Extramarital affairs are often stressful events in a relationship. Resources are available that may help couples tend to their mental health after infidelity and find a path forward. One such resource, couples therapy, may have the potential to help couples process the infidelity, strengthen their relationship, improve their communication, rebuild trust, and respond to the challenges of an affair.

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What is infidelity? Sexual intimacy affair vs. Emotional intimacy affair

Because no two relationships are exactly alike, the behavior that constitutes infidelity can vary from couple to couple. Often, it is defined as a partner’s betrayal of trust, loyalty, or vows. It typically involves a partner’s romantic or physical connection with someone who is not their significant other. It may also be known as “cheating” or “having an affair.”

Infidelity can take a variety of forms in relationships. When affairs happen, they often fall into one of three broad categories: physical, emotional, or both.

Physical infidelity is a form of affair in which one partner has physical, sexual, or otherwise intimate contact with an affair partner, despite having made a commitment to only engage in intimate physical contact with their partner. This form may also be referred to as a “sexual affair.” However, it may be worth remembering that even a physical affair does not necessarily have to have a sexual component. Depending on a couple’s boundaries, it can include other forms of intimacy besides sex, like kissing or holding hands.

Emotional infidelity, also known as an emotional affair, occurs when one of the partners develops intense emotions with someone that crosses the boundaries of trust and loyalty in their primary romantic relationship. At times, it can be difficult to pinpoint what constitutes it, and the definition may vary quite a bit from relationship to relationship. Emotional affairs may include emotional intimacy, romance, or other non-physical displays or feelings of affection by one partner toward someone outside their relationship. Emotional infidelity can cause just as much if not more harm than physical infidelity, as feelings may be stronger in these situations.

Emotional and sexual infidelity can also occur simultaneously. In such cases, the combination of these actions could be in the form of a relationship with an outside partner that has both a physical and emotional component. 

What are the causes? 

A variety of factors may lead to an affair in a romantic relationship. These can include relationship problems, hurt feelings, low self-esteem, problems with sexual intimacy, life stressors, sex addiction, and various factors unique to each person and relationship. Because every person and every relationship is different, there may not always be a clear explanation for why the unfaithful partner engages in the affair. However, there are several common reasons that may be worth exploring. These may include, but they are not limited to:

  • Communication difficulties between partners
  • Major life events, such as the birth of a child, moving, career changes, and illness
  • Intimacy challenges
  • Compulsive sexual behavior disorder
  • Challenges with substance use

These are just a few examples of the factors that may contribute to an affair in a relationship. However, it could be helpful to remember that the presence of any one of these factors does not necessarily mean an affair will happen. Every person and relationship is different, after all. 

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Can marriages survive infidelity? 

For the injured party dealing with the aftermath, a common question that may arise is, “Can a marriage survive an affair?” or even multiple affairs?

Because these circumstances can vary from couple to couple, the answer to this question may depend on several factors, including: 

  • The level of commitment from both partners to address the unresolved issues or reasons the affair occurred
  • The level of commitment to the relationship from the spouse who had the affair
  • The communication practiced between the partners to facilitate healing and the recovery process
  • The willingness of the injured partner to extend forgiveness to their significant other 

Both of the partners must be willing to rebuild their relationship after they have experienced infidelity if they want to save their relationship. One of the partners may be more interested in rekindling their relationship than the other partner, which may mean affair counseling might not be enough to save the relationship.

Counseling as a path to affair recovery

Infidelity can be a challenging obstacle for couples to navigate. Still, when a couple decides their relationship is worth saving,it may be possible for a marriage to survive an affair through dedication, communication, rebuilding trust, and outside support such as assistance from a licensed marriage and family therapist who’s studied family psychology. Affair therapy can be a valuable resource for couples experiencing the effects and can be a useful tool to help couples get back to a healthy relationship.

These therapists can provide a variety of skills, techniques, and strategies for strengthening the relationship. Examples of these include providing the couple advice for improving communication, techniques for discussing emotions, recreating a safe space, insight into the possible causes, and recommendations for rebuilding intimacy.

Tools from marriage and family therapist, Dr. John Gottman

Therapists may use methods from the leading expert on relationships, Dr. John Gottman, and his Three-Step Trust Revival Technique. Gottman’s approach works in three phases:

Atone: Whether the relationship was strained to begin with, the partner cheated in their relationship history, or they were engaging in high-risk behaviors such as messaging women online, the unfaithful partner must atone for their behavior and how the affair negatively impacted the relationship. Dr. John Gottman views this phase as allowing for the mourning of what once was.

Attune: This phase is considered the beginning of a new relationship. The couple focuses on the other’s needs and begins working on a new foundation of trust, respect, empathy, and loyalty. This way, the couple can tune into the other’s emotional needs and stay connected.

Attach: In the final phase, the couple’s goal is to open up the discussion around sex and their needs. It may be difficult after the affair, but reopening the door to intimacy with honesty and vulnerability can help both of the partners understand their desires and preferences. The discussion the couple has can strengthen them by opening doors that may have been closed long before an affair happened and inviting new, more intimate sexual experiences for both of the partners.

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Infidelity counseling online

Attending traditional, in-person couples therapy may not always be feasible, though. For couples with conflicting schedules or those who are juggling work responsibilities, children, or other everyday life commitments, attending face-to-face counseling can be difficult. In these situations, online therapy through platforms like ReGain may be a helpful alternative. 

Online counseling has been thoroughly researched as an alternative to traditional counseling for both couples and individuals. One recent study found that couples therapy conducted via videoconferencing was as effective as in-person couples counseling. This remote couples counseling improved both the relationship satisfaction and mental health of the participants.

Takeaway

Infidelity can occur in relationships for a variety of reasons. The contributing factors may include underlying challenges with communication and intimacy, major life events, and other outside sources of stress. For couples navigating these challenges, relationship counseling with couples therapists or family therapists can be a helpful resource for improving communication, managing challenges, and gaining insight into underlying relationship dynamics. If you are interested in exploring online couples counseling, get matched with a licensed counselor at Regain in as little as 48 hours.

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