- Have you recently discovered, or admitted to an affair?
- Are you afraid you will never regain the level of trust you had with your partner?
- Are you struggling to deal with the depth of feelings in affair recovery?
- Are you unable to talk with anyone for fear of being told to leave?
- Are you wondering how you can win your partner back after the affair?
- Do you feel unable to have a conversation without it getting out of control?
- Is this so traumatic you’re having a hard time getting through it?
I’m sorry, your life suddenly got a lot tougher! Affair recovery is hard. Aside from the death of a loved one, for the majority of couples healing after an affair is about as painful as life gets. Let me start where I always do and say I’m sorry for the pain you’re in. One of my colleagues talks about the shock of discovering that your partner has been having an affair being akin to the sense that a bomb has just gone off in your life and nothing is going to be the same as before. I’ve also heard it said that the experience of finding you’ve got a cheating spouse is very similar to leaning up against a wall and falling straight through it. Something that was solid and dependable no longer is. However there is good news – according to The Wall Street Journal 76% of couples do get through it. There is a very good chance you can heal this pain if you get the right kind of help for coping with infidelity.
Let me state that depending on whether you are the hurt partner or the offending partner, you’re probably wanting and needing two different things from your affair recovery. The hurt partner is going to be dealing with an almighty sense of betrayal and all the trauma this raises. It is absolutely essential that this is dealt with properly. I take your trauma very seriously. Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Can you concentrate? Are you able to get out of bed? Coping with infidelity is horribly painful and you are going to need to be able to talk about it.
Karina and John
The involved partner in my experience, after the affair, is looking to get past this as quickly as possible and will do whatever it takes to heal the rupture they’ve caused. For them there is often a sense of relief that the secret is out and they can finally come clean. All the running around and drama is finally over and they get to stop having an affair and being the ‘cheating spouse.’ Bizarrely this dynamic is a good thing if your affair recovery is handled correctly but it’s also the foundation for years of resentment and frustration if handled badly.
Discovering your partner has been having an affair is a truly shocking experience, it’s incredibly traumatic. Healing after an affair is painful. If you find yourself unable to function and really struggling to get through the days let me just tell you that your response it totally normal. Coping with infidelity slams straight into all of the most vulnerable and insecure parts within ourselves and our relationships.
Finding out that our partner has been unfaithful, unleashes an unfathomable pain in most people. It also creates a mountain of emotional uncertainty, distrust and sense of abandonment that is specific to the experience of being betrayed by a loved one. Fundamentally we must have a sense of trust and certainty about our relationships if we are to feel loved or loving. That sense of safety has been badly injured and it’s a lot more like a gaping wound than a gash. If you want to know how to get over an affair then this must be repaired but there’s a complication I’m sure you’re experiencing right now.
The mechanism for healing after the affair and repairing betrayal is trust. You’re probably wondering how you can trust what you don’t believe is true anymore? I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced an earthquake but it feels as if the ground that you’re used to being solid has suddenly turned to liquid. It’s shocking and it’s scary, again, something you assumed was solid and dependable no longer is.
Affair recovery: how to survive an affair.
The couples that come to me after the affair have sometimes spent months trying to get over the sense of abandonment on their own. Let’s face it, it’s not a conversation many people want to be having in public. I hate to say it but going it alone generally doesn’t end so well. There’s a predictable cycle of self healing where a couple will try to get through the effects of the adultery on their own. They do their absolute best to get past the huge amounts of pain and uncertainty but find themselves arguing and fighting in horrible ways.
In moments of calm they begin to reconnect emotionally and sexually only to have the whole cycle of pain and mistrust start over again. This is not how to get over an affair. It is wildly optimistic for a couple to think they can heal that level of trauma on their own but I wouldn’t blame you for trying. If you’re not careful though you can end up feeling like you’re riding a never ending emotional roller-coaster, maybe you’ve even begun to feel a little crazy. This is totally normal if you’re trying to fix it alone together, it’s just not easy, in truth it would be more accurate to say healing after an affair this way can be an absolute nightmare.
Let me just say that it’s important to realise that, despite how you may be feeling about it right now, your relationship can still be rebuilt and revitalised. This is only possible however when the work necessary for rebuilding trust is fully understood by both of you. Don’t become one of those couples that fall into a rigid, reactive attempt to resolve your heartache, there’s much more to your partner than the ‘cheating spouse’ lens you may be looking through. Without proper guidance there is a real chance of simply deepening the pain over time or worse, prematurely ending your relationship, which is often unnecessary. Affair recovery does not have to become an emotional whirlpool trapping you both in an endless round of resentment, retaliation, and self-pity. Do not become the couple that endlessly gnaw at the same bone, continually revisit the same grievances, reiterate the same mutual accusations, and then blame each other for their ongoing agony. I’ve helped people just like you and you can read about it here.
What if there is so much pain after the affair that our relationship just blows up?
This should be a very real concern for you. Affair recovery is very complicated. If the hurt partner is just encouraged to ‘vent’ at the involved partner it can very quickly get out of control. This is why you need to ensure you’ve got a very solid therapist who understands the difference between honesty and unbridled self expression. This is the reason you need ‘a grown-up’ in the room with you who can make space for the different views and experiences.
You need someone that understands the difference between an unhealthy curiosity for the sordid details, that will probably only hurt you, and investigative questions that help you build a way back to your partner. You also need to know there is a world of difference between being able to talk about a feeling and just becoming the feeling. It’s important to understand that ritual beatings for the involved partner really aren’t going to pay off, there is just no excuse for abuse. It is incredibly optimistic to think you can do this in a healthy way all on your own.
Aren’t you just going to encourage us to break up?
Definitely not. I’m pretty liberal in this area and just not that excitable. The method I’m trained in allows me to approach this from a very different angle which you can read about here. Initially the hurt partner is going to be in an incredible amount of pain and this has to be worked with very sensitively. Pretty much everyone that comes through my door for help coping with infidelity is in an emotional tornado. The first phase of work we do together is called containment. This is where I do my best to assist you to reconnect and figure out what has actually happened. Ideally we form a contract together that no one is going anywhere, at least for a while, which gives you the space and time to figure out what actually occurred. Getting over infidelity takes time.
Gordon and Jenny
How could this infidelity have happened?
Here’s something you might not know. There are actually 3 main categories of infidelity.
- Existential Affairs. Here it’s possible that you two have a great relationship, love each other very much and have a great sex life. Yet, somehow it just kind of happened. Sometimes people can get restless or bored and an opportunity just presented itself. The assumption that affairs only happen in relationships that lack intimacy or excitement is so fundamentally flawed that it’s dangerous.
- Protest Affairs. This is generally seen as a reaction to a difficult or deficient relationship. The primary driver is often the degeneration of the relationship. This kind of affair is guaranteed to redefine your relationship and that’s not necessarily bad regardless of how you feel about it right now.
- Entitlement Affairs. Here the individual involved has managed to avoid noticing that he or she is no longer an adolescent.These can be seen anywhere on a spectrum anywhere from infidelities based in narcissism and personal immaturity all the way across to a compulsive sexual addiction. ( Yes, sex addiction is a thing and it’s treatable.)
In not one of the above categories do I think that leaving the relationship is the answer. The idea is that you contain the initial trauma well enough that we can heal it but the model I was trained in says that this is not enough. We believe there are design flaws in that approach with is discussed in the video on this page. This is not something you just live through, ideally this trauma is transformational. It is not enough to just weather it. With the right kind of help you will be able to gain a deep understanding of what really happened that will hopefully move you out of the victim – persecutor positions.
Seriously you don’t think he/ she should just leave me?
If you are the hurt partner I suggest you skip over this section. It’s potentially not going to be palatable given the level of pain you’re dealing with right now.
Ok involved partner. This section is for you. You have potentially destroyed your marriage or maybe just consigned yourself to years of misery. Above I outlined the different types of infidelities. The one I need you to pay very close attention to is the ‘protest affair’. Whilst I would never recommend an affair as a way of jump starting a failing marriage it can be helpful. You know how sometimes someone gets cancer and turns their whole life around, well this is a bit like that. No one in their right mind would want cancer, it’s a stupidly high risk strategy for changing a life but here we are together trying to figure out how to get over an affair.
Let me draw you a little picture. Let’s pretend your partner was always critical, jealous and untrusting of you or even that you felt they never really gave you enough space. Well you having an affair has just confirmed and justified all that controlling behaviour. If all you do is get through the trauma phase by begging for and getting forgiveness you will be living in an amplified version of what you fought against for so many years. If the two of you don’t eventually get to a place where a whole new conversation can take place you’re just creating a new version of misery. Yes, 2/3rds of couples will get through an infidelity without any help at all but your life in particular will be miserable after the affair.
Initially your part after the affair, and healing the betrayal, will be all about remorse and regaining the trust of your partner. This stage is absolutely essential. Your partner will in no way be interested your feelings for a while and that is healthy and normal. Your job for a little while is to work on cleaning up whatever in you managed to justify your behaviour as acceptable. I am no way interested in getting your partner to forgive you, I do not like the concept of forgiveness in response to an infidelity. It’s stuck in an old model of relationship recovery that can look a lot like it’s the hurt partners inability to forgive that is the issue. That’s dangerously close to blaming the victim. Just so all parties are clear, the infidelity wasn’t ok, isn’t ok and never will be ok. At some point you could both get past it but trying to do it on the basis of huge amounts of guilt and forgiveness isn’t a winning strategy.
The one thing every hurt partner is looking for is a sense of actual recovery in you. If you do the work properly your whole approach to life and your relationship should radically change. This change in you will be obvious to your partner and that’s when the affair recovery begins. You can make all the promises you like but unless your partner sees some actual change in you and the relationship they’re going to be stuck in the thoughts like; ‘the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour’ or ‘once a cheating spouse always a cheating spouse.’ I know coming in for help for this could be very alarming for you in terms of the shame and public exposure but bizarrely you in particular have so much to gain from getting this right.
Hurt partner, I did say look away but if you’re reading this. Good people do bad things for complicated reasons, it is way too simplistic and demeaning to both of you to decide that the person you decided to commit to is suddenly fundamentally bad or dangerous. Try not to listen to those people who would shame you tell you to ‘just leave.’
Here’s to a future different from your past.
The fantastic news about affair recovery, should you both do the work, is that a whole new conversation becomes possible. This is especially true for the hurt partner as now they/ you are free to ask for more as the status quo no longer needs to be upheld. It’s possible that the relationship wasn’t truly working for both parties and now you can bring that all out into the light and move forward together.
If this episode of your life is handled correctly there is the very real chance of not only surviving an affair but thriving as a result of it. A near death experience is a high risk strategy for life change but you’d be amazed at how often it works. If handled correctly you may one day look back on the affair as a transformational crisis. One of the most reassuring quotes about this comes from one of my favourite teachers, Esther Perel ‘Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?’
I know that might be a bit of a leap for you to think about right now but try to keep hold of that thought. Your trauma will not last forever and with the right help you will rebuild the trust you are missing so badly right now.
If you’d like to get in touch I’d be happy to help you do it right.
Author of ‘The New Rules of Marriage’ says…
Founder of ‘The Relational Life Institute’