If you have ever had a partner cheat on you then you will understand the emotional devastation that many people have suffered. What you may not understand is why it happened in the first place. If you refer back to my previous articles "Making the Perfect Marriage" and "The Language of Love", you will have some hint of how to prevent your partner from straying. For the sake of this article, I am talking about your average guy and girl, not crazed nymphomaniacs.

If a man or woman has all their needs met by the marriage partner, they won't dream of straying to get satisfaction elsewhere. Not unless they have serious problems in their heads!

His needs are sexual fulfillment, an attractive spouse, a recreational mate, domestic support and admiration.

Her needs are affection, honesty and integrity, conversation, financial support and fidelity / a good father for the children.

Most affairs are not about sex

People don't usually set out to deliberately have an affair guys don't just say out of the blue, "Today I'm going to screw the new secretary that's arriving this morning, I'd better make sure I've got clean jocks on." There's usually been some build up. The wife is always tired, busy with the kids, her libido has dropped, and she doesn't look after her appearance any more The secretary has been saying nice ego stroking comments, she always looks well groomed, she smiles a lot and gives a hint that she may be open to more than just casual flirting

Or another scenario the husband complains about the meals, criticises the state of the house, he's too busy to talk, gets mad at the kids, spends all evening watching the TV The guy next door chats and asks her how she is, he seems to notice when she gets her hair trimmed, he offers to fix the odd thing around the house that hubby promised to fix ages ago and then forgot, he is friendly to her kids She doesn't just wake up one morning and go up to a stranger with the deliberate intent to seduce him. (Remember, we are talking about the average guy and girl here)

Usually an affair is something unplanned, but drifted into, and then regretted. The trouble is, once the forbidden fruit has been tasted it can become addictive and your wandering partner may find that they are now in love with two people you and the other person.

Affairs are like cancer to a marriage

Relationships are like living organisms; infidelity has a similar effect on it as a major illness does on the individual. In many cases the illness' is terminal. However, it is not always incurable. Below are the stages that people go through, and just as in coping with a death; people can stop at any point along the path of the grieving process and suffer incomplete healing. The aim is to get through to the end. You will always be scarred by the experience, but you can still survive if you set your mind to it. Whether the relationship survives as well, is up to both of you.

The grieving process

Denial isn't just confined to the straying partner. Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful is like having a loved one die. At first you can't believe it. The shock numbs you and you pretend it isn't true.

"I don't believe it," is invariably the first thing I hear from the grieving spouse, followed quickly by - "I just didn't see it coming."

It is natural to avoid looking too closely at something if there is a possibility of pain. As a nurse, I saw many people in terminal stages of cancer that had spent years denying they had anything wrong with them. By the time they got to hospital it was often too late. Relationships can be the same.

"I was so sure it would never happen to me!"

"I was the perfect husband / wife "

"We had a good sex life I kept the house clean and cooked the meals"

"I worked so hard for the family and earned a good salary"

"I gave her everything she wanted." Or him' as the case may be.

Anger is the next natural response to the feeling of betrayal. It may be directed at your partner or at yourself, or both.

You will want to accuse the erring party, scream and go crazy at them, maybe even physically hurt them because your pain is so great. You just want to hurt them as much as you are hurting, or even more. Some people internalise their anger, others externalise it. However you deal with it, you do need to deal with it. Revenge is not helpful, even if it makes you feel better at the time.

Bargaining with your partner, using emotional blackmail, forever reminding them of their fall from grace these are not helpful resolutions to the problem either. Sadly, bargaining with God and making promises to be a better person or partner if they would only stop, doesn't make a lot of difference to the outcome either. Ultimately, you have to face that infidelity has occurred. What effect it has on your relationship is up to you and your partner.

Depression follows very swiftly after the first three stages. You have acknowledged your partner has done something terrible and now you are filling your mind with self-accusations as well as some for your partner. You are telling yourself that you are unlovable, not sexy enough, ugly, a bad spouse, hopeless, worthless, etc. If you have a belief in a deity, you may even be blaming your God as well. Suicidal thoughts are quite common.

Finally, acceptance. " Yes, it happened, but I am still alive. Now what?"

In life we make choices and as a result of those choices we are faced with outcomes and often further choices. This is the point where only you can decide the future. If you want the best chance of survival for your marriage, you will need to reach the point of acceptance before you start trying to fix things. And you both need to want to do this. There is no point trotting off to counselling together, or trying to discuss things rationally, if you are in the middle of the anger phase. Partners need to allow each other time to grieve before they can move forwards. This may even involve a time of separation and a renewed courtship. For the relationship to work with any success, THE ERRING PARTNER MUST CUT OFF ALL CONTACT WITH THE LOVER. This could even mean changing jobs and shifting town.

' What do I do next?'

The grieving process has taken place, you hurt, but you have reached the point of acceptance. Finally accepting what has happened doesn't mean you agree with or condone what your partner has done, but it does mean thinking about the problem as a joint one.

Some of the questions you may need to ask yourself.

Do I still want to be married to this person who has betrayed me?

Do I trust them anymore? What if they do it again?

Will I be able to forgive them?

Is life without them better than life with them, or vice versa?

What about our friends, families, kids?

If you decide you want to stay with your partner in spite of the infidelity, and your partner also wants this, then the following steps are very important to ensure the best chance of success with your relationship in the future. I repeat there should not be any further contact with the lover. Trust is at an all time low and extremely fragile at this point.

Confession: Both of you will need to sit down and talk things through. You may need to seek professional help for your marriage, or a mediator to help you talk to each other without recriminations and anger. If talking face to face about your emotions is difficult, try writing down how you feel about what has happened.

Repentance: True repentance from both sides for hurting each other. This step may need to be repeated several times for the other partner to really believe it.

Commitment to change: Both partners need to strive to meet the other's needs. If this means taking parenting lessons, relationship lessons, etc then do it wholeheartedly and avoid recriminations and blame shifting

Forgiveness: This is hard. A lot of people don't understand what true forgiveness is. They think that if they say sorry they will be, or should be, forgiven, but it involves a little more than that. In religious terms you have to turn away from the sin, as well as be heartily sorry, before you get forgiveness. So this step follows after the commitment to change.

Rebuilding trust: This may involve giving up or adapting activities that don't include the other partner. For example if the husband has had the affair and is involved in clubs or hobbies away from the home that don't include the wife, then they have to decide whether she now joins him or he gives them up. Vise versa applies. This step does not happen overnight and there are likely to be times when the trust is tested. Face it, no-one is perfect at controlling their tongue, and being late home when the spouse is having an off day may be enough to trigger a suspicious comment about where you have been.

I have met many couples that have survived infidelity in their relationships, but not many do it with total success unless they follow the above. If this article relates to your situation, then I wish you all the best. http://www.michellemackinnon.com

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Michelle MacKinnon was born in New Zealand, in 1957 and she lives with her husband in Palmerston North. In 2008 she published a double award winning novel called Escape from Eden and in 2009 she published an award winning children's picture book called Bluebell Mary. Michelle has seven children, three adopted and four by birth. Since her training as a General and Obstetric nurse, Michelle has been involved in many different vocations from beekeeping, alternative medicine, and hobby farming, to accounting, marketing, and voluntary counselling. Writing has been a lifelong passion and in 2008 she completed a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at the Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, New Zealand.