When Carissa found out about her husband’s lying — by searching through his phone bill — she got on her knees and, through her tears, begged him to tell her everything. Dumbfounded by her pain, he told her, “I had no idea you felt that way”; he thought she only valued him as a provider and father. Carissa tells me in awe, “He really didn’t, he didn’t know how much I cared.”
Throughout a year of emotional excavation in couples’ therapy, Dan revealed trauma in his past that he had never told anyone about. Now Carissa feels like she understands her husband better than ever and, actually, Dan feels like he understands himself better, too: Before the affair, he never quite believed that his wife loved him — or understood his own tendency to feel unworthy of love.
The experience was personally transformational for Carissa, too: Now that her biggest fear has happened, and she survived, she has more confidence in her own strength. “I told him last night, ‘I don’t need you, but I want you,” she says. “I don’t need anyone’s validation anymore. I’m more aware and less angry at the world.”
Of course, things aren’t perfect. Dan still struggles with communicating his feelings, and the affair happened too recently to be entirely left in the past. “We’re not 20 years in,” says Carissa. “But the point we’re at now? It’s way better than it ever was before this.”
Theirs is a happy antidote to the scores of relationships destroyed by infidelity — it’s one of the leading causes of divorce — but the sad truth is that even when couples do manage to stay together, they often have trouble moving beyond the indiscretion. Either they go back to their pre-affair ways, simply happy to have survived it, or “their whole relationship fossilizes around this one event and there is no core anymore,” says Perel. “And it’s often a living hell.”
But it isn’t always, and it doesn’t have to be.