By Leandie Buys
Can an affair lead to a successful marriage? Is it possible for a couple who got together through an affair to build a long-lasting relationship?
Many of the clients that I see in my practice are couples who have been devastated by an affair. I help them to work through the fallout from the affair, and either repair their marriage and rebuild trust and stability, or work towards a ‘peaceful’ divorce.
Although there is really no such thing as a ‘peaceful’ divorce, I do believe in ensuring that each person in the relationship leaves the marriage with a greater understanding of themselves, what led to the divorce, and how they can rebuild their self-esteem and confidence in the future. I try to ensure that as little baggage as possible is taken with them into their future relationships.
Divorce is not always wrong
I believe that divorce can sometimes be the best option for a couple. If it means that they can be whole, healthy, self-confident individuals rather than a bitter, angry, frustrated married couple, then divorce is definitely the answer.
I believe that divorce can sometimes be the best option for a couple.
This is particularly true if there are children involved. Children should have healthy, happy parents as role-models and it is never good for children to witness their parents destroying each other.
Statistics are not very positive
Sometimes, I counsel couples who got together through an affair, and are struggling to build a successful relationship, despite their initial passionate feelings towards each other.
For couples who began a relationship through an affair, and later marry, the statistics aren’t positive. According to the studies that have been done, over 75% of those marriages will end in divorce after five years.
I have counseled such couples, that have gone on to have very happy, successful marriages. But it does take a lot of hard work, trust-building and understanding.
The beginning of the ‘affair’ relationship
This always begins with much passion, excitement and a taste of something ‘new’. Individuals might meet someone, and realise that they have been very unhappy in their marriage for many years. They will tell their affair partner that their marriage was already ‘over’ when they got together.
They will air all of their dirty marriage laundry – about how awful their spouse was, and how they never felt whole, or appreciated, or able to grow in their marriage.
They will believe that they are moral people, with high values, and would never have considered an affair, until they met ‘The One’. The one person who is so special and different and unique that they are willing to compromise all of their values to be with them.
However, frustration and disappointment quickly begins to creep into the relationship.
However, frustration and disappointment quickly begin to creep into the relationship. They may still share a bed with their spouse while the divorce is going through. They may place family commitments above commitments to their affair partner. For example, family functions with the soon-to-be ‘ex’ may take precedence over ‘date night’, or romantic getaways.
So, can such a relationship ever work out?
Although I always try to help couples heal their marriages first, sometimes a divorce is inevitable. And sometimes, affair partners do get married. My job as a relationship therapist is to help all couples build strong, functional relationships.
Here are some of the factors that will affect the marriage of couples who get together through an affair:
Ever heard that term ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’?
‘Once a cheater, always a cheater’
Building trust is one of the biggest priorities in this kind of relationship. If it started out in an affair, what’s to say it will not end that way too?
One of the biggest fears that I hear in my practice, is that individuals will return to their ex-spouse. If someone has made a huge sacrifice by giving up their family for the affair, their partner will carry around a lot of guilt and fear that they may change their mind, and return to their family.
Building loyalty and trust is one of the biggest challenges of this type of relationship, and seeking the advice of a professional relationship therapist is highly recommended.
I often hear people speaking very badly about their ex-spouses. Affair partners will assume that if their partner can speak so disrespectfully about their ex, then they may resort to that same behaviour when the new relationship hits a rocky place.
There will always be feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal when a relationship ends in an affair.
There will always be feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal when a relationship ends in an affair. These feelings come from both sides, as each partner tries to blame the other for the ultimate break-up of the relationship.
When I counsel couples like this, I ask them to refer to their exes by their first names. If you talk about your ‘ex-husband’ or ‘ex-wife’, it still makes them very much a part of you. However, you are no longer married to that person, so refer to them by their first name.
Respect for the ‘mother’ or ‘father’ of your children should be paramount. Whatever feelings you may have towards them should not take priority over the welfare of your kids, and that is where respect comes in.
During an affair, most of the communication between affair partners is around the problems with their spouses. When a divorce finally goes through, they may end up not having anything to talk about anymore!
Because the relationship started off amidst chaos, one of the partners may (intentionally or unintentionally) create chaos and drama, because that is the only way they know how to connect with their affair partner.
Learning how to talk to each other without the chaos will require the facilitation of a therapist.
Learning how to talk to each other without the chaos will require the facilitation of a therapist. Talking and listening are skills, and men and women both communicate differently. I have found in my practice that although couples think they know how to communicate, the reality is that they actually don’t.
4. Being a stepparent and having an extended family
This is often the most difficult part of an affair relationship. Children can cause a lot of conflict in this relationship because of ex-partners who were hurt by the affair.
I am always saddened when adults end up using the children as pawns. Children are naturally loyal to their parents, but they can be emotionally manipulated, and forced to choose between the two. This is completely unfair on the child, and creates emotional turmoil.
This is why, when a third party appears on the scene, children can often become very disrespectful or rebellious towards the affair partner. They fear losing their parent to the affair partner, just as they lost their family unit.
I always highlight how important it is that children should never feel like they are in competition with the affair partner for attention. Parents still need to have ‘alone’ time with their children without their new partners.
Parents still need to have ‘alone’ time with their children without their new partners.
On the other hand, it is also very important that children are able to build a relationship with the affair partner, particularly if they are going to end up being a step-parent. Often, step-parents also have children, so it is vital that the children feel part of the new family, and all the children are treated equally.
Another matter to consider is a new set of in-laws. Not only do affair partners have to deal with ex-in-laws, but they also need to include new in-laws in their new relationship.
5. Having healthy boundaries
It is very important that everyone respects each other’s boundaries. I often hear affair partners complain that ex-spouses phone at all hours of the day, over weekends, and constantly check up on the children.
It is important to set boundaries from the beginning. Individuals need to agree with their exes that they will only make contact over urgent matters, and to communicate about the kids (not about arbitrary things).
There are other boundary issues that can be worked out with a professional therapist to ensure mutual respect for everyone involved.