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Can Counselling Salvage our Broken Marriage?

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As John and Jane sat before the counsellor and shared the reason for coming to seek help, they both had the same question in mind, “Can counselling really salvage their broken marriage?” Jane thought to herself, “This is not the first time that John has an affair!  What is going to change this time around? Can I trust him again?” John, on the other hand, is determined to make the changes needed for Jane to trust him again. This is the first time John and Jane are seeking help for their marital relationship.

Marriage Counsellor, Emily Brown (2014) puts it simply that the “affair is a symptom of problems in the marital relationship.” When an affair happens, it “indicates that an important emotional element is missing (in the relationship), such as the ability to sustain intimacy or to resolve conflicts”.  Unfortunately, many couples avoid talking about the missing element and affairs are used to fill the gap.  The role of the counsellor is to help couples address the missing elements and work through the problems in their marital relationship.  In counselling sessions, couples learn to do the following:

  1. Share their feelings openly.

Before the affair, couples may have felt disappointed, hurt, lonely, or dissatisfied in their marital relationship. However, these feelings are not expressed in ways that their spouses pick up. Over time, couples become detached and lose their connection with one another. With guidance from the counsellor, couples are invited to share how they feel about one another and their relationship in an open manner without causing hurt to each other.  By doing so, couples rebuild trust and emotional connectedness with one another, and opens up conversations on how to have their needs met in the relationship.

  1. Listen to one another.

Poor communication and unresolved marital problems are often linked to affairs (Brown, 2014). The counsellor facilitates conversations about difficult or uncomfortable issues they have been avoiding or are unable to have an open and honest dialogue. More importantly, the counsellor helps them acquire skills to listen to one another to better understand each other. When couples achieve a deeper understanding of one another, they are more willing to compromise and reach an agreement about their differences.

  1. See their own part in the marital breakdown.

When a marriage breaks down, both parties have a part to play. Counselling helps both spouses see how they have contributed to the state of the relationship and how they can “affair-proof” their marriage together. The counsellor helps couples derive a shared definition of the marital problem, guiding the focus of the counselling. For example, if they have been sweeping their problems aside and allowing resentments to pile, being conflict-avoidant is the problem that led to the marital breakdown.

  1. Share their vision for the marriage.

When an affair happens in a marriage, it is likened to a house that is burnt down and needs rebuilding. The counsellor invites couples to think about the kind of marriage they would like to have, and what they are willing to do together to build that marriage they envision. This exercise allows them to relook at previous unhealthy or unhelpful behaviours or attitudes they once held and how they want to do it differently. This helps both spouses own the new vision and take responsibility for it.

After almost one year of counselling, John and Jane have started talking about their shared vision of their marriage.  Both have taken steps to “affair-proof” their marriage and feel more hopeful about their relationship.  Counselling can salvage a broken marriage although the time taken differs from couple to couple.  What is needful is for both to be willing to come forward for help and commit to make a change to restore and rebuild their marriage.


Contact us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and programmes for families.

Written by: Eileen Chua, Senior Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are you doing to affair-proof your marriage?

  2. Are there unresolved issues you are sweeping under the carpet?


Brown, E. 2014. Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge.