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Michael S. Broder, Ph.D. Headshot

Can An Affair Make Your Relationship Stronger?

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If you've recently found out your partner has had an affair (or perhaps you're the one who has), your first reaction might be to assume it's inevitable that the relationship will end. With the emotional roller coaster you might be experiencing, this can seem like the only logical outcome. And if you're someone who usually plays by the often black-and-white rules of society (or relationships), it may be difficult to see it any other way. In some cases, an affair will put the spotlight on certain differences that are irreconcilable. But on the other side of the pain lies the possibility that an act of infidelity can actually make your marriage or love relationship stronger. Step one is to get past the rage, the finger pointing and the blaming. Then, there might be something to learn that can reignite your relationship and remind you of the reasons you got together in the first place. Think of this as the wakeup call.

If you were the one who strayed -- as difficult as it may be -- don't lose sight of the reality that it's unfair to compare an affair and primary relationship. An affair is usually conducted under idealized circumstances: no financial issues and no kids to worry about. Obviously, none of the mundane aspects of life like income taxes and household chores are a part of the mix. If someone gets the flu, you simply don't get together that week. The frustrating or stressful elements of day-to-day life simply don't exist. In a way, it's like comparing normal life to a vacation.

Instead, ask yourself what it was that you needed or weren't getting in your primary relationship that may have led you to the choices you made. Whether it was emotional, physical or something else, identifying the aspect or aspects of your relationship that drove you to look elsewhere to meet this need can be invaluable information going forward. For example, in most relationships, in order for sex to be optimal, both partners need to work on it. This certainly doesn't mean the relationship is bad or has run its course. Maybe your drive to seek sex elsewhere can illuminate the fact that this is an area that needs attention. Perhaps you've not been feeling validated in the areas of love or sex and that drove you to seek a connection with someone else.

And if your partner was unfaithful, obsessing about that "other person" is only going to deepen your pain. Sure, you can blame and live in a state of victimhood, and you may get lots of support in the way of sympathy to reinforce your rage. But my best advice to you is to look at the affair as a symptom of some ongoing issue that is or was not being addressed. Now is the time to have a civil and thoughtful discussion about what needs to change and/or be worked on now. Chances are there was an elephant in the room you both knew about but tried to ignore. I can't tell you what it is but urge you to take this opportunity to address it. In my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, I offer many strategies for identifying and resolving these issues and making your relationship what it could be when you are able to get through a profoundly difficult crisis such as this -- together.

You can give your relationship a new life and even make it better than ever if you commit to doing just that, by either by yourselves or with the help of a couple's counselor. With some hard work and that commitment, it's absolutely possible to regain trust and have a fresh start.