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Infidelity: Mending your marriage after an affair
Infidelity causes intense emotional pain, but an affair doesn't have to mean the end of your marriage. Understand how a marriage can be rebuilt after an affair.By Mayo Clinic staff
Few marital problems cause as much heartache and devastation as infidelity. Money worries, health issues and disagreements about children can strain a relationship — but infidelity undermines the foundation of marriage itself.
Divorce isn't necessarily inevitable after infidelity, however. With time to heal and a mutual goal of rebuilding the relationship, some couples can emerge from infidelity with a stronger and more intimate relationship.
Infidelity isn't a single, clearly defined situation — and what's considered infidelity varies among couples and even between partners in a relationship. For example, is an emotional connection without physical intimacy considered infidelity? What about online relationships?
Keep in mind that affairs are largely fantasies. The person outside of the marriage is often idealized and seen as an escape from real problems.
Why affairs happen
Many factors can contribute to infidelity, some of which aren't fundamentally about sex. Some factors stem from individual problems, such as low self-esteem, alcoholism or sexual addiction. Marital problems that have been building for years can also fuel an affair. Generally, a person who's having an affair:
- Experiences sexual attraction to someone other than his or her partner and decides to act on this feeling rather than suppress it
- Keeps the affair going in secret by resorting to lies and deception
- Confides in someone other than his or her partner about his or her marital problems
- Feels a stronger emotional connection in a romantic way to someone other than his or her marital partner
- Develops unrealistic fantasies about someone other than his or her partner, and doesn't listen to information to the contrary
(1 of 2)
- Gordon KC, et al. Treating couples recovering from infidelity: An integrative approach. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2005;61:1393.
- Snyder DK, at al. Treating infidelity: Clinical and ethical directions. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2005;61:1453.
- Infidelity. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/imis15/Content/Consumer_Updates/Infidelity.aspx. Accessed Dec. 3, 2012.
- Hertlein KM, et al. Therapists' assessment and treatment of Internet infidelity cases. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2008;34:481.
- Whitty MT, et al. Emotional and sexual infidelity offline and in cyberspace. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2008;34:461.
- Atkins DC, et al. Infidelity and behavioral couple therapy: Optimism in the face of betrayal. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2005;73:144.
- Atkins DC, et al. Infidelity in couples seeking marital therapy. Journal of Family Psychology. 2005;19:470.
- Online infidelity. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/imis15/Content/Consumer_Updates/Online_Infidelity.aspx. Accessed Dec. 3, 2012.
- Nelson DT (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 18, 2012.