Couples Recovering From an Affair
Infidelity is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a marriage. An affair shatters trust and dismantles the most basic security we expect in a committed relationship. The fallout from spousal betrayal can be even worse than seemingly greater traumatic events such as a criminal assault by a stranger. After all, the safety of one’s most intimate relationship is the last place we expect to be harmed in such an unthinkable, confounding way.
“He already took away my dignity. That’s gone. If I walk away, I’m also losing my best friend.”
An affair does not necessarily mean the end of a marriage. Some who have been betrayed simply know they can’t continue with the relationship, while others feel that ending their marriage would only compound this already overwhelming loss. As one woman recounted to me, “He already took away my dignity. That’s gone. If I walk away from him, I’m also losing my best friend of twenty years.”
For most, this decision remains very unclear, and what happens in the days, weeks, and months after the affair will help determine the viability of the marriage. In any case, decision making after an affair should happen slowly with time to first establish safety and consider priorities.
Steps to Healing
- Establish Safety
- Set non-negotiable rules
- Allow for honest account of grievances
- Understand vulnerabilities in context
Whether you stay with your partner or end the marriage, recovery is possible. While your recovery path must be your own and must incorporate those elements unique to your situation, there are several common, well-established steps that most people find essential to healing.
Establishing safety, honesty, and a few rules to guide early recovery can go a long way toward setting the stage and making a difference in whether or not the relationship heals.
There are also several common tasks that are specific to each partner. For the betrayed partner these begin with developing skills to cope with distressing emotions in the wake of the affair. These skills have a well established track record of helping to manage emotions, thoughts, and flashbacks and working with a therapist to hone them can help to avoid derailing the recovery process.
Common Tasks for the Betrayed Partner
- Maintaining your own emotional and physical self-care
- Learning ways to manage overwhelming emotions, obsessive thoughts, and intrusive flashbacks
- Giving yourself permission to ask every question you feel you need to have answered
- Identifying your responsibility, however small, in the loneliness or isolation that may have led to the affair
- Avoiding pitfalls such as destructive outbursts or overcritical interpretations
For the person who committed the affair, there is also a set of common tasks that greatly determines whether healing will occur. This is often where the hard work of recovery begins. It is essential that these tasks are accomplished in such a way that the betrayed person feels confident their partner is sincere and diligent in trying to rebuild trust.
This is also where having a trained, professional therapist involved can greatly help keep things moving in a positive direction. Emotions are more likely to run high while confronting the issues and details surrounding the affair and, without structure and guidance, there is greater potential for inadvertently reopening wounds.
Perhaps the worst thing a couple can do after the disclosure of an affair is do nothing. For some, this may be tempting. But sweeping things under the rug is seldom, if ever, helpful.
However, working with a strengths-based therapist will help to provide a safe structure within which you can confront the reality of the affair and the problems related to it, while not losing sight of the equally real assets that exist in your relationship. Those positive resources within your relationship, long overshadowed by the presence of infidelity, are likely still there and can often be leveraged toward returning the relationship to an even stronger place than before the affair.
Tasks for Unfaithful Partner
- Sever contact with the third party
- Be completely honest with your partner
- Face and take responsibility for the pain your actions caused
- Answer all questions asked
- Prove that you hear and understand your partner at the deepest level
- Take actions to demonstrate you will not betray again in the future
- Vigilantly protect your partner’s emotions and avoid causing more pain
- Show care for your partner by meeting important emotional needs
- Practicing patience while your partner slowly heals
Don’t wait and hope things will somehow get better. Take control of your own healing. Our therapists have extensive experience working with couples in this very situation. We would be glad to help you navigate the difficult terrain of recovering from infidelity. Call us today.
Practical tips, therapeutic ideas, mental health information and news
Recommended readings on relevant topics straight from your therapist
Easy access to all our therapy materials to enhance your counseling experience
Our highly qualified, licensed therapists have over 20 years experience helping individuals and families.