Marriage counseling can be helpful, even when reconciliation is not the goal.

Marriage Counseling After an Affair

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Despite the heartbreak and devastation that accompanies marital infidelity, many couples are able to successfully work through their trauma. Because an affair threatens the very foundation of marriage, both partners must be truly dedicated to this work. By enlisting the services of a marriage counselor, couples receive guidance with putting the affair into perspective, managing painful feelings and restoring faith and confidence in the relationship.

Choosing a Marriage Counselor

Couples must feel safe confident in their counselor's abilities. It is critical to research and locate a counselor with relevant training and experience. A qualified professional will refrain from judgment, teach clients to identify and share emotions and assign tasks for them to complete. The counselor is also likely to gather a through history of both parties, which his helpful for understanding context and coping mechanisms, according to Nadine M. Hasenecz in her article on surviving infidelity.

Ending the Affair

To undergo marriage counseling with honesty and commitment, the unfaithful spouse must completely end the adulterous relationship. This not only includes the sexual relationship, but also in-person contact and contact via telephone and social media, according to Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D., in her brochure for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The betrayed spouse must also be informed of any accidental meetings as well.

Contextualizing the Affair

As the couple works through the intensity of their emotions, the marriage counselor may help put the affair into perspective. This involves sorting through the relationship prior to the infidelity in order to identify unmet wants and needs. Figuring out what led to the affair can clarify how and why it happened. This process need not place blame on the betrayed spouse or excuse the adulterous spouse.

Meaningful Apology

A genuine apology is a reasonable expectation. The offending spouse should openly acknowledge the ways in which he hurt his partner, and how it affected her. He should learn what attitudes and behaviors led him to the infidelity, and then create and follow through with a plan to change them. He should "Overtly apologize and ask for forgiveness," states Brian Case, in his article entitled, "Healing the Wounds of Infidelity Through the Healing Power of Apology and Forgiveness. “ A meaningful apology is important, even when reconciliation is not the goal.


The process of forgiveness usually marks a turning point in the relationship. Forgiveness is a choice that the non-offending partner makes, which provides an avenue to begin restoring love and trust. Case reports that, now, couples might resume their sexual relationship or renew their vows. Signs of restoration may also be more subtle, such as when the betrayed spouse no longer feels the need to check her husband's pockets, cell phone or e-mails.

Effects on the Children

A parent’s infidelity can also affect children very deeply. Depending on how aware the children are of the affair, they may struggle with their own insecurities and ability to trust. Even if children are not aware of the infidelity, the friction between their parents or the tension in the home will likely affect them. Marriage counseling can also help maintain healthy co-parenting mechanisms.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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