How to Recover from Infidelity
In my time as a marriage counselor, there is probably one statement I have heard more than any other, and that is, “I just don’t think I will ever get over this.” This statement is often said by my clients who have recently learned their spouse has had an affair. The second most common phrase I hear is, “I just don’t think I can ever trust them again.”
The initial shock of infidelity cuts deep. Knowing your partner has broken your trust in such a profound way can completely turn your world upside down. The grief that comes with the emotional death and loss of what the betrayed partner thought the relationship meant can feel overwhelming.
Whether or not a couple can recover from infidelity depends on the two individuals and the bond they have already built. It also depends on the exact circumstances of the affair. Was it a drunken one-night stand on a business trip or an affair that lasted for years? Were love and intimacy involved, or was it merely a physical occurrence?
What I can tell you is that for those couples who want to try and stay together, it will take work on both of their parts. But healing can happen.
The Recovery Process
Recovery must begin with an absolute ending to the affair. All ties must be cut before the work can begin. Should the affair continue behind the scenes, in my experience, the relationship is very unlikely to succeed.
The second step to recovery is for the deceiver to be able to move past defensiveness and guilt so they may talk openly and transparently about what happened. This is a time when the “guilty” party will have to be humble, acknowledge their wrong-doings, and answer their partner’s questions.
Next, there must be a shared understanding of what led to the affair in the first place. What were the issues in the marriage that led to the affair? These will need to be acknowledged, clearly understood by both partners, and worked through to find a new path and healthier ways of interacting.
In order for the deceived spouse or partner to be able to begin healing, they will need to feel genuine compassion from their partner for having caused them pain. There is typically a knee-jerk reaction to not want to accept the cheater’s apologies or compassion. This can be seen as a way to “get back.” But understand that doing so only holds you back from healing. The Gottman Method emphasizes validation and empathy as a part of truly hearing one another’s perspective to deepen understanding of what has occurred and how it feels for both people.
The person that was deceived will also need to explore all of their feelings surrounding the betrayal. Usually shock, rage, fear, sadness, and distrust are the main emotions a person will need to work through. Gottman’s structured discussion Aftermath of a Fight or Regrettable Incident provides a road map to exploring, expressing, and determining what can be changed in the relationship to strengthen it.
At a certain point, you both will need to decide whether you will stay together. If you choose to, you will need to work on rebuilding that trust.
As you can see, the process of recovery is a complex one and will require that you work with a marriage counselor to help you navigate the strong emotions involved. But, through commitment and work, many couples can stay together and even have a stronger bond than they did before.
If you would like to seek counseling for infidelity, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.