What Can Be
Learned From the Affair?
By Susie and Otto Collins
As you pick up the pieces of your life after an affair
happened in your love relationship or marriage, you might
feel confused, hurt and even lost. Life itself might feel
overwhelming to you as you are pulled by a desire to move on
and start rebuilding your relationship or your new way of
At the same time, you might also feel pulled
back into the past grieving the enjoyable times you had that
have now been marred and possibly also reliving the painful
moments associated with the affair.
Whether or not you were the one who had the affair, you can
heal and let go of the past. And whether or not you are
continuing your marriage or relationship, you can rebuild
and restore trust while moving toward the future you want.
One way to point yourself toward renewed trust and healing
is to learn from the infidelity.
Let's say you are calculating a complicated math problem
and, when you get to your final answer, you discover that it
is incorrect. You're not sure where you made your mistake
and the only way to fix the problem is to discover your
error and start re-calculating from that point.
There are many methods you can use to get a correct answer
in a math problem, but there is really only one way to
correct the error-- that is to go back and figure out your
mistake. In retracing your steps, you undoubtedly learn
something new that you can use to not only end up with the
correct answer but also to help with later math problems.
This is so true for relationships as well! When you adopt
the attitude that you are going to learn from the cheating,
you can open up to rebuilding trust and letting go of the
painful past. You might wonder why we're encouraging you to
look back at the what happened when one goal here is to
release the past and move toward the future.
We'll be clear here: We aren't recommending that you re-
live the judgments and blaming or even the sense of betrayal
and hurt that you probably went through (and may still be
dealing with). After all, you don't blame the math problem
for the mistake occurring and if you do judge yourself
negatively for making the error it probably doesn't get you
closer to fixing it.
What we are suggesting is that you look at what was going on
in your relationship that may have contributed to the affair
If you can step outside of blame-even for only a short
period of time-- and explore how you both felt, how
disconnected you might have been from one another, and the
relationship habits you had at the time leading up to and
during the infidelity you can learn valuable information.
What can you learn if your partner had the affair?
Even if it is absolutely certain to you that your partner--
who is the one who cheated-- is to blame, you can still
benefit from learning from the infidelity. We are in no way
saying that the affair was your fault or condoning that it
happened in the first place.
Again, we encourage you to set aside blame for the purposes
of better understanding what happened and so that you can
finally move on.
When you feel like you can, try to adopt an observer's point
of view and think back to your relationship before the
affair happened and even during it. Can you remember what
your primary focus was at that time? Do you have a sense of
what your needs were at that time? Were they
being met in your relationship? If not, were there other
people or activities that helped you meet these needs?
What we want you to do is to recognize if you were tuned in
to your needs and desires at this time in the past.
Many people simply do not take the time or give themselves
permission to notice what they truly want. Others may be
aware of their needs but not allow themselves to share that
information with a partner.
The effect is almost always disconnection from yourself and
from your partner. Knowing information like this about
yourself can help you to make changes. You could decide to
create time to go within and be clearer about your needs and
then find the courage to communicate them to your partner.
And this almost always helps rebuild trust and improves
What can you learn if you had the affair?
If you are the one who cheated, you might want to look at
anything but the past and the choices you made that involved
infidelity. But one powerful way to release the past is to
learn from it, forgive yourself and turn toward the future
You can follow the very same advice we offered to those who
were cheated on as you try to learn from what happened.
First of all, set aside blame and judgments. If you are
carrying around a load of guilt and regret, lay it down for
From the vantage point of an observer, start
to think back to the needs and desires you had before and
during the affair.
How connected in did you feel with yourself and your mate?
What do you think contributed to your decision to have the
affair? Again, try to stay focused on how you felt and the
unmet needs that you might have had at the time.
Learning from infidelity can be tricky business. We want you
to remember that having a better understanding of your own
needs as well as those of your partner is probably most
beneficial. You can spend hours and hours rehashing the
details of what you each recall was said and done. This
won't really get you any closer to healing and rebuilt
But when you open up to learning, you can make better
informed choices about your next step in this present
moment. If you are staying in this relationship, how can you
and your partner begin to move closer to one another and
support each other in having your needs met?
If you are ending your relationship, what practices would
help you stay connected with yourself as well as a future
Learn from the past and let it go. With this deeper
understanding, point yourself toward the future you want.