What % of relationships succeed from an affair?
That was the question I got from Anette Burgers when we recently recorded a podcast. Anette is a relationship therapist and very involved in the theme infidelity.
I don't know the official numbers, but I do know that it's damn hard to make a relationship work that stems from an affair. Why? Because there are so many forces and dynamics playing in the background. An emotional roller coaster and a vicious cycle of pulling and pushing between your ex-partner and your new boyfriend or girlfriend you're madly in love with. On the one hand, you mourn your family and ex-partner, your buddy with whom you have shared joys and sorrows for years. On the other hand, you want to build a future with someone else. Complex emotions of duty, responsibility, shame, and guilt overshadow the happy, hopeful, and passionate feelings that made you leave in the first place. Judgments and pressure from family and friends also play a big role in the situation.
Remember that this also happens on the other side. The new partner may also leave a marriage and go up and down a rollercoaster of their own. He or she is also stuck between old and new.
That puts a lot of extra pressure on a new relationship.
Last summer I had a session with Niels. He had left his wife and 2 children for an extra-marital affair. His ex-wife couldn't let go of him, and Niels couldn't let her go either. Hurt and angry, she did everything she could to make things difficult between him and his new love. Niels was stuck in the well-known vicious circle that he couldn't get out of.
His new girlfriend and her ex-husband were already legally divorced. But emotions were still high and her ex-husband frustrated the agreements made in every possible way. there was no way to cut him out of her life.
The relationship between Niels and his girlfriend got stuck; they couldn't move forward.
During our session I asked Niels how he felt in the situation he was in. He told me he wasn't sleeping well and couldn't concentrate on his work. He was aware that he was leading everyone on and knew he was hurting his ex-partner, his girlfriend, and himself. When asked why he chose to stay on this roller coaster, his answer was, “Pure fear of loss. I don't want to lose my ex-partner, but neither do I want to lose my new girlfriend.”
It's a complicated situation, but one that happens often. Not wanting to let go of what you have nor wanting to let go of what you want now. And that's why relationships that start with affairs have such a slim chance of success.
The good news is that it doesn't always have to be that way. In my collaboration with Niels over the past few months, he learned that his feelings were not unique and that he was not alone. I'm happy to say that not only did he survive his new relationship, but he and his ex-partner are now getting along just fine.