What to do after an affair

Not all committed relationships today follow the traditional idea of monogamy, according to sex expert Ian Kerner.

Story highlights

  • Infidelity is much more complicated than our culture admits, expert says
  • Couples can find their way to a deeper and more intimate bond after an affair
  • You can't heal from infidelity overnight -- take time to rebuild the relationship slowly
We've all heard the adage: "Once a cheater, always a cheater." If your partner has been unfaithful, you're likely getting all sorts of advice from well-meaning friends and family.
Much of that advice may involve ending your relationship. Yet it's possible -- and perhaps even beneficial -- to stay in a marriage or long-term relationship when one partner cheats. That's the idea of two new books from noted experts on the topic: a newly revised edition of the best-selling "After the Affair" by Janis Abrahms Spring and "The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity" by Tammy Nelson.
But should you really forgive and move on after infidelity?
"Most of us are totally unprepared for what lies ahead in a relationship, and ignorant of what's required to last the course," Spring writes. "An affair shocks us into reality. Fortunately, it also invites us to try again."
Adds Nelson, "Many couples instinctively know that infidelity is much more complicated than our culture sometimes admits."
Ian Kerner
Couples can, and do, often find their way to an ultimately deeper, more intimate bond -- but it can take time and effort.
"In the wake of infidelity, most betrayed partners feel surprised and caught off guard," says marriage and family therapist James Walkup. "But even though the hurt person may have assumed they would not stay married to a straying spouse, they may realize they still love their partner and want to work on the relationship."
Today, not all committed relationships follow the traditional definition of monogamy. For example, both partners may decide together what constitutes cheating going forward -- whether that means flirting with a particular friend, visiting a strip club or even having sex outside the relationship.
"I have seen a growing number (of) straight and same-sex couples thrive on the infamous 'monogamish' agreement," psychotherapist Jean Malpas says. "They realize that long-term relationships might need to include the reality of attractions to other people. They carefully define trust and craft guidelines for acceptable behavior based on their level of comfort with risk and fluidity."
Such a "monogamish" approach tends to be more common among gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, notes sex therapist Margie Nichols.
"The issue is commonly on the table for consideration or discussion when LGBTQ partners get together, and when a transgression is purely sexual (as opposed to emotional), it may be less likely to end the relationship," she says.
That's not to say that monogamish couples are safe from infidelity, however.
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