3 Types of Couples Survive Infidelity

Couples who survive an affair can be generally divided into three groups, says Esther Perel, M.A., author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Perel is a marriage therapist who wondered just how “happily ever after” the couples who survived an affair lived after the reconciliation. She contacted couples whom she had successfully treated years prior for infidelity to determine how they looked back at the event and its impact on their marriage. Their retrospective views were telling.

After completing interviews with the couples, Perel found they fell into three general groups. She writes extensively about her findings along with pieces of case studies for Psychotherapy Networker Magazine in an article called “After the Storm”. It’s well worth the read, particularly if you or your partner has experienced an affair or other type of turmoil during your marriage. The couples were categorized as:

  1. Living in the Past—These couples stay married, but never successfully move past the affair. Forgiveness is not truly given. The offending couple may not take any responsibility for contributing to relationship problems. “The affair has become the narrative of their union,” says Perel, who adds, “It’s a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity.”
  2. The Survivors—These couples revert to a fairly peaceful marriage, similar to what they had before the affair. They stay in the marriage because they honor the values of commitment and loyalty, and they don’t want to break up their families. They may lack passion in their marriage, but they want to do the “right thing.” They see the affair as a painful mistake. They don’t transcend the affair, but they do move beyond it.
  3. The Explorers—These couples use the infidelity as a catalyst for change, transcending the experience to bring their relationship to new heights previously not experienced. They reinvent their relationship, learning from their failures and past hurts, and each take responsibility for their part in the marriage’s deterioration. The infidelity becomes an impetus for a transformative experience.

Perel explains that the most successful couples shifted from talking about “you” and “me” (what you did to me) to reflecting on “our life” or “our crisis”. (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships.)

Don’t’ just overcome adversity; be transformed by it. In an ideal world, we would all look for signs of relationship stress or difficulty before an emergency like infidelity takes hold in the marriage. For those who do experience a deep valley, such as an affair, use the opportunity to change yourself and your partnership for the better. Forgiveness may be a process. Moving on may be a process. But dwelling on past hurts for years afterward is a surefire path to long-term marital unhappiness.

Do these groups sound accurate to you? Why do you think it often takes something drastic to get our attention and bring about positive change in relationships?

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14 responses to “3 Types of Couples Survive Infidelity

  1. Happened in my relationship, and had definitely become a “living in the past” situation, and it happened three and a half years ago. It used to get brought up all the time, but now it doesn’t get brought up too often. I learned my lesson, but he will never fully trust me again.

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  4. While this is all well and good, what would really help is to provide a plan that allows a couple to survive infidelity when the wife won’t give up her affair and drop her divorce filing.

    Most folks never even get to this point since one or both spouses choose to end the marriage when infidelity occurs. The unfaithful spouse is often caught up in the fantasy of the affair, and even if the faithful spouse sees this as a catalyst, it is of little help if the wayward spouse has already decided the marriage is over, and is just now telling her husband.

  5. I think the 3 types sound pretty accurate. We are type 3. Our relationship is truly better than it ever was (it has been 6 years since, we were married 2 at the time) but it definitely takes both people, I don’t see any way a marriage could survive if only one party was on board.

  6. I think that sounds quite accurate too. The first time my husband had an affair, I took my time but decided to forgive him. It brought about a great change within me. The topic of the affair would crop up occasionally but I believed it helped to strengthen us. However, later I found out he had another affair! Since then, I threw him out! Even though he appears to have learnt his lesson, I am afraid to allow him back into my life. We are now living separately, neither of us has applied for a divorce. Where do we go from here? We feel stuck. We don’t want to divorce but we can’t live together either.

    • I’m sorry that I can’t offer professional advice, but see my resource page for many who are better able to do that. I wish you the very best and I’m sorry for the challenges you are facing.

  7. I discovered about a month ago that my wife of just over 12 years was having an affair since the beginning of the summer last year. She used her cell phone and her Facebook account to keep in regular communication with him and to coodinate when they would “meet up”. I was able to gain access to her Facebook account once I found out and found an extensive chat history that blew me away to say the least!! We are in the beginning stages of trying to work through this (both of us are seeing therapists) and I’d like to believe that one day we can move past this and, perhaps, this will make us stronger.

    • I’m so sorry about your situation and hope that you will be able to work through it and be stronger. There are a lot of resources out there, and many couples are able to get beyond infidelity. I’m sure it’s a painful time for you, and I wish you the very best.

    • You were blown away to say the least? And now you want to move past it and be stronger??? WTF?? If you never would have read her fb account she would still be finding places to “meet up” Love yourself Joe. You deserve better!

  8. My partner not only lived a secret life for the past year, but when I discovered a half long recording on his cell phone between him and the other woman, and I confronted him with he he got violent….no it wasn’t the first time he was physical with me, but it was the first time he did it with the children around, my youngest son called the police, as my older son fought to get my partner off of me. He was arrested and charged with domestic violence, he not suppose to have contact with me or my kids, he however has called my mother to ask her whether or not I would go to counselling to repair our relationship. |i feel like an idiot because I actually entertained the idea…..then I realized he was just trying to get me to have the conditions removed from him………some people are just have a sociopaths and even if you go to counselling that person will not change.

    • Kymberley, I’m very glad that you are in a safe situation away from this relationship. You are right to prioritize your safety and your children’s safety and not fall under the pretense that he may correct this major problem. There are far too many sociopaths in this world if you ask me. Stay safe!

  9. My wife cheated 36 years ago and it’s still haunting me. I love her to death and stayed because of the children at first and then my love for her second and to do the right thing third. Now it’s just my love for her but I’m tired of the constant memories and frustrations of it. I still love her but it just doesn’t feel the same anymore and our or I should say my feelings are more distant now and I just can’t seem to get on the right track anymore. Lost in a sea of love but feel like I’m drowning.

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