Relationship expert details the destructive cost of having an affair, and how to cope if it happens to you

A relationship expert says the cost of having an affair is far-reaching and emotionally damaging to more people than just you and your partner. 

After Newshub reported on a Wellington woman's lengthy guide to successfully having an affair on Monday, we turned to divorce coach and founder of Equal Exes Bridgette Jackson to discuss what the impact of such a betrayal might be.

She said if anyone reading the piece was considering having an affair, it was "imperative" they leave their relationship first. 

"The impact that it has on them personally, their current partners, their families and the wider community cannot be quantified - it is massive, negative and far-reaching," Jackson explained. 

"Research has found that, when the affair is revealed, both partners can experience mental health issues including anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. There can also be an increase in emotional and physical violence within the couple.

"A loss of trust can have repercussions, not only in that relationship but if they do break up or divorce, in subsequent relationships.

"Being unable to trust other people can be a big consequence of infidelity." 

In the original article, Kiwi woman Jessica* detailed how she became the "other woman" in an affair with a married co-worker several years ago. 

Her tips include how to hide expenses and communication, along with advice on where and how to have sex in a car. She also detailed that she and her "affair partner " would have sex in mornings and the afternoons, so he could pick his children up from school and sports practices. 

But Jackson said ramifications of cheating she's seen in her own work include damage and destruction to the family unit, "especially to children and the wider family". 

"Your relationship with your children can be significantly affected if they learn about the affair - even after the affair is over. Duplicity is something children instinctively understand, even at a young age," she explained.

"Children often lose respect for and trust in a parent who has an affair. They may feel betrayed themselves, especially if the affair results in a divorce, upending the family life they are used to.

"It can also give your child subconscious 'permission' to do the same thing once he or she is married, imitating an errant parent."

Relationship expert and founder of Equal Exes Bridgette Jackson.
Relationship expert and founder of Equal Exes Bridgette Jackson. Photo credit: Supplied.

The costs keep adding up 

Jackson said if you've cheated and your partner stays within the relationship, the costs are far further reaching than those of hotel bills and secret dinners. 

"If your spouse learns of the affair, even if you deny it, you have created a triangle, not a partnership, and the inherent instability will cause either your marriage or the affair to end," she said.

"If you and your spouse decide to stay married after an affair, both of you will need to do the emotional work of reconnecting, telling the truth about the details of the affair, acknowledging the hurt spouse's anger, forgiveness and more. Most couples go to marriage counselling, but one or both of you may need individual counselling as well.

"The cost of therapy (and possibly psychiatrists and medication) is another financial consequence of the affair. Other costs of 'affair recovery' could be lost income if either spouse lost a job due to the affair, legal fees spent consulting with divorce lawyers, counselling or extra help for your children, and date nights and expensive gifts to make up for the betrayal."

couple on couch in counselling
Jackson says both parties will need therapy after the trauma, both together and individually. Photo credit: Getty Images.

So you've just discovered they've cheated... 

If you have recently discovered your partner has been having an affair, it can raise powerful emotions for both parties including anger, betrayal, shame, depression, guilt or remorse. 

"It is usually difficult at this time to think clearly enough to make long-term decisions," said Jackson, adding you should consider the following:

  • Don't make rash decisions
  • Give each other space
  • Seek support
  • Take your time

Mending a broken relationship 

"Recovering from an affair will be one of the most challenging chapters in your life. This challenge will come with a lot of ambivalence and uncertainty. However, as you rebuild trust, admit guilt, learn how to forgive and reconcile struggles, it can deepen and strengthen the love and affection we all desire," Jackson said. 

Consider these steps to promote healing:

  • Take some time
  • Be accountable
  • Get help from different sources
  • Consult a marriage counsellor
  • Restore trust

"If both of you are committed to healing your relationship despite all the suffering and pain that might be present, the reward can be a new type of marriage that will continue to grow and likely exceed any of your previous expectations." 

If reading the original Newshub article triggered feelings of anxiety or trauma for you, here are some places where you can find help and support:

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584