Infidelity is almost always a source of intense hurt and emotional distress, but an affair doesn’t have to mean your relationship is over.
While infidelity is rated as the most serious hurtful event a couple can face, many marriages and relationships can survive the storm and sometimes even make it through even stronger than before the affair occurred. Let’s face it though, it’s going to be a tough road ahead to overcome the damage of an affair and both partners need to be truly motivated to heal.
Discovering your spouse cheated or had an affair is one of the toughest things to go through in a marriage. If your partner has cheating on you, there will be a wide range of intense emotions you are bound to go through: sadness, anger, fear, confusion, embarrassment, hurt, and paranoia are just a few. Facing up to the reality of what they have done, and deciding how to move forward, takes a lot of strength. No matter which direction you go, you will have to learn how to heal.
These are some tips on how to heal for the hurt partner:
- Aim to stay Calm: Although your emotions and reactions make total sense, it will be important to express how this injury has impacted you in an organized way. Try to have some compassion for yourself; this is really hard. It may beneficial at this time to seek some support from an individual therapist or couples therapist in order to think and express yourself more clearly. When flashbacks or painful memories occur, don’t try to go through it alone- let your partner in on what’s going on, ask for reassurance, and let them know how they can help. It may seem hard to believe since they were the one who caused the pain, but your partner is going to have the biggest impact of helping you heal from the affair.
- Don’t ask about specific details: Ask for important details about the affair, but not microscopic ones. You may want to know every detail, but this likely won’t be helpful. Discuss what is necessary to restore the trust. You do need to know how long the affair went on, if your safety could be at risk, and how emotionally involved your spouse was in it. Try your best not to push for additional details that will only create more sting.
- Realistic expectations: During the aftermath of an affair, a marriage is in a very fragile state. Your emotions will be too. Your emotions may fluctuate uncontrollably from week to week, day to day, or from one hour to the next. This can be confusing to your partner so try to set realistic expectations about what you need to start to rebuild trust and feeling safe again. Although what you are intending to do is avoid this from happening again, try to avoid statements like “always” and “never” (“I want you to have your phone on and available 24/7” or “I never want you to come home even 5 minutes late”). Don’t set yourself up to fail when you know certain expectations are unrealistic. Research shows that it will take some time for a couple to fully recover from the negative effects of an affair. Don’t set yourselves up for disappointment by expecting your marriage to return to normal by a certain date.
- Acknowledge that your partner still has feelings: This may be very hard to do when you feel so hurt and betrayed, but the couples who are most successful in overcoming affairs are both able to consider each other’s views and feelings. You may be totally unaware that your partner is struggling with deep-seated feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Both of you need to empathize with each other’s feeling, and understand how those feelings affect the healing process. To create lasting recovery from an affair, the couple needs also to attend to what was going on in the relationship before the affair occurred. This doesn’t excuse the affair in any way, but it gives a picture to how space was made for a threat to enter in. High relationship quality acts as a protective factor to infidelity. When couples feel really close and secure in their relationship, there is far less room for a third party to get between them. Work to rebuild your sense of safety and connection.
Try your best not to abandon your marriage prematurely, without allowing sufficient time for the healing process to take place. Yes, this may take some time and there’s no telling how long. Variables like: the type or circumstances of the affair, the length of the marriage, the amount of lying or deceit that took place, whether injuries like this have occurred before, and other factors can further increase the length of time it takes to heal. If you really want to save your marriage, both of you need to hang in there long enough to see positive results.
Make sure you are both communicating and engaging in constructive discussion about how you both feel. This may be a helpful time to seek help from a skilled couples therapist who has experience working with infidelity and affairs. A trained couples therapist will help organize how the affair happened, help move past and heal from the injury, and come up with specific ways to strengthen and restore your relationship connection in addition to keeping it strong to face any challenges that may come your way moving forward.
Article by Alicia Roth MFT #90046.