FRENCH President Francois Hollande’s affair has made headlines the world over. He has recently separated from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, amid a frenzy of gossip in the media.
Does this signal an end to the traditional French tolerance of affairs, whereby wives or long-term partners averted their eyes while husbands met discreetly with their mistresses?
Or is it merely affirmation that the discovery of an affair always leaves a trail of destruction?
The likes of www.maritalaffair.ie would have you believe an affair has no consequences. An Irish website, describing itself as “a trusted brand of adult and affair dating since 2006”, it promises you’ll “discover more fun in your life”.
However, Trierweiler, who had to be hospitalised after hearing of Hollande’s affair, might not agree.
Nor would another former French first lady, Bernadette Chirac, who sent a letter of commiseration to Trierweiler and spoke about the pain caused by her husband Jacques’ infidelity.
The blind-eye doesn’t help the French when it comes to marriage durability. . According to Eurostat statistics, their divorce rate averages at two couples per 1,000 per year. This is only slightly lower than Britain (2.1) and Germany (2.3), but much higher than Ireland’s 0.7.
The discovery of an affair can be devastating, says Tony Moore, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland who specialises in infidelity.
“It is possible to get your relationship back on track, but it’s perhaps the most difficult challenge a couple can overcome,” he says.
This difficulty stems from broken trust. “People plan a future based on total trust when they commit to each other.
“Then, their partner betrays them. It seems that future has been taken away. Their life is turned upside down and everything seems to be at risk,” says Moore.
Relationships Ireland is seeing many more cases of infidelity, including more cases of women cheating on their husbands.
However, the numbers still imply that men betray women more often than the other way around.
“There’s more opportunity for everyone to cheat now,” says Moore.
“People are out and about, meeting others all day long. There’s sexting, webcams and opportunities online. But in the vast majority of cases we see, it’s still the man who cheats.”
Men don’t tend to admit to cheating, either. Like Trierweiler, the partner usually finds out by accident. “Only once in 20 years do I remember a man voluntarily admitting to an affair,” says Moore.
“By contrast, five women revealed they had been unfaithful.”
This isn’t the only difference between the sexes. “Men find the idea of their partners having sex with other men almost impossible to get over,” says Moore.
“Whereas, it’s having the intricacies of their home lives betrayed that makes women most unhappy. I’ve lost count of the amount of women who were distraught by the idea of their husband talking to the other woman about their children.”
Women are more likely to forgive, too, prioritising their families and making a home for their children.
But those aren’t the only reasons couples stay together.
“They may not want to disrupt their lives,” says Moore. “They may have spent years investing emotionally and financially in their relationship. They could lose money, their home, or contact with children. There are even some who still genuinely love each other.”
Whatever the reason for reviving their relationship, the first step for any couple is honesty.
“The person who cheated tends to want to put it behind them, but the other person usually wants to know what happened, how, when and where,” says Moore. “These questions need to be answered before the couple can move on.”
Neither partner should hold back. “I always say that the worst has happened and nothing you can say can be worse than what the other person is imagining,” says Moore. “Don’t cover anything up.”
Both partners must listen to each other and take responsibility for their role in the affair.
“It’s important to understand why it happened. Often, the person who had the affair will have been unhappy for a long time and they need understanding, too. After all, nobody gets married in order to have an affair,” says Moore.
He tells of a husband who had been lonely for years, because his wife devoted all her time to their children. “People who have been betrayed need to ask themselves if they were emotionally absent and, if so, are they surprised by what happened.”
Moore also urges compassion. We are all flawed, we can all be tempted, and admitting this could help us become more understanding and forgiving.
Finally, couples need to accept that reconciliation will be difficult. “It is possible to regain trust, although it will never be the same as before,” he says.
“Relationships can be restored. It’s just a long and painful road.”
It may be too painful a road for the French President and his partner, but their experience is universal.
“People are the same,” says Moore. “We all look for love and it’s heartbreaking when it doesn’t work out. Couples hoping to get back on track after an infidelity need to be ready for a complicated process with a massive amount of emotional turmoil.”
1. Be honest with each other. The betrayed partner will have questions and the cheating partner must answer them. Trust can only be regained with honesty and openness.
2. Listen. Anger can sometimes prevent people from hearing each other, but it’s vital that both people feel they are being heard.
3. Admit your part in the affair, if you had a part to play. People who are emotionally absent can cause their partners to feel lonely and seek companionship elsewhere.
4. Realise we are all vulnerable and capable of making mistakes. With this understanding comes compassion and, eventually, forgiveness.
5. Allow for anger, but allow it to pass, too. Don’t let it consume you and don’t continue to return to the same questions if they have already been answered. Once the truth has been acknowledged, prepare to move on.
6. In future, take your relation-ship seriously. Pay attention to your partner. Give them your love, time and energy.
No marriage or long-term commitment is easy, but the consequences of not working at your relationship can be dire.