When working with couples who are facing the devastating effects of an affair, one of the questions I hear most often is "Why?" Why did the affair occur? How could they have done this to me? The hurt partner often cannot imagine any reason that could justify cheating, especially when everything "seemed fine" in the relationship.
This is where I focus therapy; what seems fine for one partner is often not the case for the other. Affairs don't happen when there is nothing wrong in the relationship. Usually the unfaithful partner has some complaints, whether they have actually voiced them or not, which creates emotional space between the couple, allowing for another person to fit in-between the two. The companionship the unfaithful partner finds with someone else feels nice, especially when the hurt partner was unable (or unwilling) to fulfill their wants and desires.
The answer to "why" can be very difficult to hear. Although the hurt partner did not force their spouse to have an affair, in most cases they have contributed to their unhappiness in some way. At this point the couple needs to be completely honest with each other about their dissatisfactions in the relationship and each needs to be open to listening to their partner's needs, wants, and desires. This can be especially difficult for the hurt partner, who in dealing with their feelings of grief, sadness and anger, wants to see that justice has been served. They often think, "Why should I cater to you? My needs are more important right now".
The fact is, without acknowledging that there are problems in a relationship, couples are often doomed to repeat history. Hurt partners need to remember that forgiving their partner and working toward a resolution does not mean that they condone the affair, but rather that they are willing to accept that it happened and that their partner deserves happiness just as much as they do. Putting your hurt feelings aside in order to discover how you may have let your partner down in the relationship is difficult, but is neccessary for you to prevent problems in the future.
Being willing to acknowledge each person's part in creating the space that allowed the affair to occur is a very important step in recovering from an affair and repairing the relationship. Couples who can do this stand a greater chance of not only mending the relationship, but coming out of it a happier and healthier couple.