After an affair, if the couple decides to stay together, they have to approach the relationship as if they are starting afresh; they have to rebuild their relationship. Like a bridge that has collapsed, the relationship has to be constructed on a solid foundation—or it may falter again. Below are the tasks of rebuilding relationship that need to be addressed in order to create a stronger and more resilient partnership and connection.
1. Commit to the new relationship.
The affair has to be finished and both partners have to make a full and honest commitment to work on the new relationship. Both have to reinvest in the relationship for at least a designated period of time—4-6 months minimum. During that period, there has to be agreements to continue working together, even if one or both slip back into bad habits.
2. Agree on the ground rules.
Certain behaviors are unacceptable: emotional/physical abuse, addictive behaviors, unfaithfulness, critical attacks, secretiveness, unexplained absences, etc. Ingrained patterns of behavior do not transform over-night but there must be an enduring intention for change.
3. Understand what went wrong.
The burning question is: why did one partner look for sex, love, comfort and intimacy outside of the marriage? The factors are complex but they can be divided into:
- Issues arising from dysfunctional patterns within the relationship—unmet needs, patterns of criticism, and defensiveness, aggressive conflicts, disrespect and lack of connection
- Unresolved emotional issues in one or both of the partners—problematic attachment in childhood, unrealistic relationship expectations, issues arising from past love relationships.
Both partners have to do painful soul-searching in order to accept their portion of responsibility. In particular, the unfaithful partner has to face the reality that they damaged the relationship and caused suffering in their partner and family.
4. Rebuild trust.
Promises and agreements have to be kept to the best of each person’s ability. Any breach of trust should be openly acknowledged and repaired by asking for forgiveness and actively forgiving without conditions. While the unfaithful partner may need to be accountable for his or her whereabouts and contacts, it is important that this does not turn into interrogation, manipulation or close monitoring by the injured party. Trust cannot be built on control.
5. Create realistic expectations.
It is not realistic to:
- Expect yourself or your partner to change overnight
- Think that love or sex will fix all problems or change the other person
- Try and force the other person to become who you think he/she should be
- Believe that your partner should intuitively know what you need or want
- Assume everything is fine if you are not actively fighting
- Think that you have to agree to work together effectively
- Spend lots of time away from the other person and still have a relationship
6. Avoid negative patterns.
The essential behaviors and attitudes to avoid are: blaming, critical attacks, disrespect or condescension, defensiveness and failure to listen, walking away or ignoring the other person, shouting and screaming. The most common negative relational pattern is one of withdrawal/nagging or nagging/withdrawal.
7. Reinforce positive patterns.
A fulfilling relationship is based on a few basic elements:
- Presence—partners have to be with each other not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and energetically.
- Connection—partners need to reconnect every time they are apart through touch and conscious greeting. Sex and physical closeness tend to create energetic resonance and deeper connection.
- Tolerance and Respect—partners have to tolerate the irritating faults of their partner and respect their right to be who they are. Being open to and accepting (not condoning) flaws helps the other person change.
- Kindness—relationship is built on small everyday acts of loving attention, appreciation and kindness. Showing gratitude and appreciation for all your partner does for you and the family, strengthens the bonds of love.
- Deepening—relationships become more intimate as each partner shares their vulnerabilities, inner world, essential beliefs and aspirations. Letting down the inner and outer barriers to connection allows the relationship to become more profound and spiritual.
With some relationship tools and a strong intention to be together, it is possible to rebuild and renew your falter relationship on a solid and enduring foundation of love and respect.