Infidelity: Mending your marriage after an affair

Infidelity causes intense emotional pain, but an affair doesn't have to mean the end of your marriage. Understand how a marriage can be rebuilt after an affair. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Few marital problems cause as much heartache and devastation as infidelity. Money worries, health issues and disagreements about children can strain a relationship — but infidelity undermines the foundation of marriage itself.

Divorce isn't necessarily inevitable after infidelity, however. With time to heal and a mutual goal of rebuilding the relationship, some couples can emerge from infidelity with a stronger and more intimate relationship.

Defining infidelity

Infidelity isn't a single, clearly defined situation — and what's considered infidelity varies among couples and even between partners in a relationship. For example, is an emotional connection without physical intimacy considered infidelity? What about online relationships?

Keep in mind that affairs are largely fantasies. The person outside of the marriage is often idealized and seen as an escape from real problems.

Why affairs happen

Many factors can contribute to infidelity, some of which aren't fundamentally about sex. Some factors stem from individual problems, such as low self-esteem, alcoholism or sexual addiction. Marital problems that have been building for years can also fuel an affair. Generally, a person who's having an affair:

  • Experiences sexual attraction to someone other than his or her partner and decides to act on this feeling rather than suppress it
  • Keeps the affair going in secret by resorting to lies and deception
  • Confides in someone other than his or her partner about his or her marital problems
  • Feels a stronger emotional connection in a romantic way to someone other than his or her marital partner
  • Develops unrealistic fantasies about someone other than his or her partner, and doesn't listen to information to the contrary
Feb. 23, 2013 See more In-depth