15/11/2017 12:15 SAST | Updated 15/11/2017 12:16 SAST

'An Affair Does Not Have To End Your Relationship' -- Guide

"An affair can be catastrophic to a relationship, but it doesn't have to end it."

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People cheat for many reasons: tainted love, revenge, unfulfilled longing, lust... or just because they can.

An affair can be catastrophic to a relationship, but it doesn't have to end it.

That's the view of US psychologist and couple therapist Esther Perel, who recently released the "Infidelity Resource Guide" to help couples get through an affair –– or at least to get started on a conversation about what to do next.

Perel has discovered three different models of couples that have gone through affairs:

1. The couple that can never get past the affair

"When infidelity becomes the hallmark of a couple's life." For these couples, it's hard to look back, because they never went forward. Something has been broken that can't be made whole again. The relationship is permanently crippled.

2. The couple that pulls itself up by the bootstraps and lets the affair go

For these partners, sexual excitement and what they regard as self-centred desires for more romantic fulfillment aren't powerful enough incentives to turn them away from the more meaningful, long-term rewards and vital obligations of family.

3. The couple that leaves it far behind

Such couples tend to identify the affair as one, but not the definitive, event in their lives together. Rather than seeing it as an act of failure and betrayal, they transform it into a catalyst for change. Such partners see the affair as less a statement about their relationship, than a statement about themselves.

READ: Here's Why You Shouldn't Judge Couples Who Choose To Work Through Infidelity

Perel believes the guide can help couples discover in which category they fall -- and this starts with what she calls the post-affair investigation. This requires both partners to ask themselves important and hard questions:

  • Meanings and Motives

Questions that must be explored here include: What did the affair mean to you? Were you looking for it? Did you feel entitled to it? Did you feel guilty? Was your lover someone you thought you could build a life with? How important was sex? Did your affair have to do with something missing in our sex life? Did you discover new parts of yourself or recover lost ones in that relationship?

  • Dynamics of secrecy and revelation

Do you think I have a say in your affair? Did you want me to know, and were you hoping to tell me? Would you have ended it if I hadn't found out? Did you tell anyone else about the affair? What was it like for you when you came forward?

  • Reflections on the primary relationship

Do you think the affair was a symptom of flaws in our relationship? Did you think of leaving me and/or the children? Do you think it could happen again?

  • Integration of affair into primary relationship

Are you sure you want to be with me? Do you think your affair may have been good for our relationship, or do you think it created permanent damage? Do you think this will hang forever over us? What is it about us that you value the most? Do you think you've changed your values with regards to monogamy?

  • Focus on the hurt partner

Can you understand my anger? Are you open to further conversation if I have questions about the affair? Do you realise that I can leave too? What would it be like if I had an affair? Do you want me to stay?

"Straying can sound an alarm for the marriage, signalling an urgent need to pay attention to what ails it, or it can be the death knell that follows a relationship's last gasping breath," said Perel.

*Perel notes that the guide is only a conversation-starter, and cannot replace professional help that may be necessary to work through infidelity.