What makes affairs so troubling is that we see them as an ultimate betrayal of a relationship. An affair is a violation of trust that causes profound pain and can even trigger traumatic responses. Trust is fundamental in all our relationships. It’s essential to healthy connections and deeply affects us when broken by those significant to us. So, we usually approach affairs with blame and are quick to rush to judgment and label the partner involved in an affair as a wrongdoer. In contrast, the other partner is typically seen as the victim.
Still, affairs in marriages never happen out of nowhere. Couples therapy can provide a safe setting to unpack the truth about an affair in your relationship and understand that an affair could actually be a complex way to cope with deeper, unaddressed problems. This doesn’t mean that your therapist excuses or rationalizes affairs. The hurt affairs cause is profound and long-lasting. However, severe judgment often masks a deep, unacknowledged pain. So, diving into this topic is complex and sensitive, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
It might be tough to consider the reasons for your partner’s infidelity without casting judgment. You are heartbroken. Everything you thought you knew about your partner and relationship vanished momentarily. You question and doubt everything, feeling your self-esteem and faith in the world go down the drain. All you want to do is yell at your partner or shut down behind a locked door, never speaking a word to them again.
Many couples find it challenging to untangle infidelity wounds on their own. Working with a skilled couples counselor might help you better understand what might have caused infidelity in your relationship and either heal as a couple or amicably end the relationship.
How Do Unresolved Personal Issues Lead to Affairs?
When we feel trapped, unseen, or unheard, we might look for an outlet. Unfortunately, sometimes that outlet is an affair. Again, it’s not about justifying affairs. It’s more about understanding the conflicts and struggles beneath the surface.
Look deeper into your or your partner’s reasons for getting involved outside your relationship. You may discover that becoming involved with someone else can actually be an adaptive maneuver – a distraction from dealing with problems that are too painful to acknowledge. Our personal struggles, mental health issues, and traumas from the past can profoundly affect our relationships. But sometimes, we don’t have the tools to deal with unresolved issues from the past or mental health challenges in a healthy and constructive way.
A variety of factors might contribute to the hidden emotional turmoil behind having an affair. The therapy often unwraps deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, unmet emotional needs, or unresolved traumas that lead people towards infidelity.
For example, you might feel unseen in your relationship, longing for connection and intimacy with an emotionally distant and unavailable partner. According to Dr. John Gottman, turning toward each other’s emotional bids for connection provides the appreciation and validation we all seek. On the contrary, turning away or against opens the door to dissatisfaction, disappointment, and rejection. If one partner consistently turns away or against the other partner’s emotional bids, the receiving partner may seek validation, connection, and affection elsewhere.
Past Traumas and Insecure Attachment
Unresolved past trauma, whether from childhood experiences, past relationships, or significant life events, might unintentionally lead to adultery. Trauma is overpowering and can create deep wounds, leaving individuals feeling unworthy, ashamed, and unloved to the point where even a loving relationship cannot fill that deep-rooted void.
Insecure attachment styles learned in childhood, for example, can profoundly impact how we engage in adult relationships. Someone who experienced neglect or emotional abuse in childhood might crave attention and affirmation. But they may be unable to connect intimately with their partner. They may feel guilty, ashamed, and inadequate, seeking affirmation in fleeting but intensely gratifying connections outside their primary relationships. It is a misguided attempt to heal old wounds or numb the pain, much like someone else would reach for a drink, food, or substance.
While the affair may provide a temporary respite or a sense of escape, knowing that it is not a lasting solution is critical. Over time, it can lead to more complicated issues for the individual and their relationships. Understanding this can help address and heal past traumas for healthier relationships.
Healing with the Help of a Couples Counselor
Ignoring the root causes of an affair may push you into a vicious cycle of denial and repeated affairs. So, seeking a relationship or individual therapy may be critical for ending the cycle and developing healthy coping methods.
Open communication and self-reflection are good starting points for healing personal wounds and restoring trust in your relationship. Many couples find closure and healing in couples therapy after untying the complex underlying reasons that led to the affair.
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