For most of us, infidelity isn’t just a rough patch in a relationship – it’s usually the end of it entirely. In a recent study done in the UK, 33% of people surveyed actually think a relationship can survive and thrive after an affair. Yet when the same question was asked to UK relationship counselors, 94% thought redemption was possible. While each relationship is unique and different to the next, it’s rather relieving to hear that so many professionals are optimistic about post-affair relationships. Unfortunately and realistically, affairs do happen. So what are the necessary steps to take in surviving an affair?
As the Betrayer
End the Affair
This may seem a bit obvious, but the affair needs to end. The first step to getting a torn relationship back on the path of healing is to end the affair and ceasing all contact with the lover. It’s not uncommon for the cheating partner and lover to want to maintain a casual social friendship, however doing so is ill-advised. There needs to be a forceful break so that the affair can remain in the past. Keeping the lover around, even if only platonic, will only keep the affair alive in the mind of the betrayed.
Affairs are known as the most hurtful and selfish act that one partner can wreak upon his/her partner. The sooner it ends, the sooner the couple can begin anew. Holding off on breaking contact only speeds up the demise of the relationship. For the couples ready to work on their relationship, it ends in the right way. A letter, approved by the betrayed partner, gets sent and proclaims the betrayer’s love and desire to rebuild their marriage and all communication and contact thereafter will cease. Unfortunately, most affairs don’t end this way but rather die a “natural death”. Instead of cutting it off, the unfaithful continue the relationship for as long as possible – which rarely lasts long. So even if the affair doesn’t end right away, it will.
An affair will always end – even if it ends the wrong way.
Create Transparency and Truly Hear Your Partner
Most marriage experts agree that couples who are completely open about the affair have a higher chance of finding trust and healing in the forgiveness process. Without openness and vulnerability, there is no chance for healing. Affairs expert Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs, explains, “I’ve talked with plenty of people who say with pride that they never talked about the affair,” she says. “That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover. My own husband had 12 affairs over the course of seven years. I’m convinced the main reason I recovered was his willingness to answer all of my questions.” Ask the questions you need to ask and listen to your partner. It’s crucial for the betrayer to listen to reactions without anger or blame.
Many think that continuing to talk about the affair only rehashes the negative emotions associated with the affair and further upset the betrayed partner. But the truth is that the willingness to talk actually rebuilds trust. That means no more secrets and no more holding back. Any secrets exposed later down the road will only cause a new sense of betrayal and starts the healing process all over again.
Take Responsibility and Don’t Expect Quick Forgiveness
It is crucial to discuss the causes of the relationship failing, however, solely blaming your partner won’t heal anything. Only genuine regret and remorse will start that journey. Sincerely apologize and vow to never stray again. While you may have seen the light and know it will never happen again, there will be doubts in your partner’s mind. Do your best to reestablish and restore your commitment to your significant other as the only one for you.
Remember that it will take time for your partner to get there. They will be hurt. They will be in pain. Expect a whirlwind of negative emotion before your partner can start responding more calmly in finding forgiveness. It will take time, but do your best to be patient with them. They have every right to be upset and angry. Do not try and force this process. Your partner should only forgive you when they are ready to forgive you.
As the Betrayed
Balance Emotion with Need for Information
This is going to hurt – perhaps even be the most emotional pain you ever feel. You’re going to want to cry, yell, and punch a wall. Which is validated and understandable. However, so many grand emotions may keep your partner from telling you everything (and remember, full disclosure is ultimately what will help you recover the most). Now is the most crucial time to develop and improve communication skills with your partner.
Set a time limit on affair talk. There are going to be hundreds of conversations coming up and not each and everyone needs to be hours of downward spiraling. As much as it seems like it will be, the affair doesn’t need to take over your lives. Ask the questions you need to ask and even keep a list of them and other mental notes as you begin to sort out your thoughts so you can refer to them later if you are too drained to continue talking. Remember it is okay to need a break and some alone time, but make sure to find a balance between the two.
Get everything out. All of it. Share your doubts and fears, feelings of disappointment and abandonment. Discuss your anger, sadness, resentment, and anything else you are feeling. Be open and vulnerable. It is the most important thing you can do to rebuild this relationship. You may want to only put up walls and find distance, but you must resist. In order to survive this, you need to open yourself up as your partner closes off with the former lover. This can revive intimacy and lay the groundwork for rebuilding trust as you go through this together.
Spend Time Together without Affair Talk and Find Your Support Group
Right now, this may seem like one of the last things you want to do. You may be thinking, “How can things ever be normal after what happened?” If you truly want your relationship to survive this, then going back to ground zero is exactly what you need. It’s understandable if now isn’t the right time or you aren’t quite ready yet, but once you have the facts and can start to move forward, this is one of the best things you can do. Reconnect first as friends. Go on real dates. Do the things you have always enjoyed doing together. The pain will fade over time and you may fall in love all over again.
Reconnect with your support group as well. Let friends and family into what happened. You are going to feel alone and isolated, but surrounding yourself with people who love you and support your efforts in surviving the affair is crucial. Look into finding an infidelity support group to meet people who are going through the same things and can fully understand where your thoughts lie.
Don’t Forgive Too Quickly, Forgive When You’re Ready
This is time to be a little selfish in the relationship. You have to experience all the negative emotions and pain before there is any chance of forgiveness and a rebuilding of trust. You’ll most likely never forget this happened, but it is true that time heals all wounds. When you’re ready to let go of the negative feelings, forgiveness will help you move past the hurt and enable reconciliation. Do your best to let go of any guilt or pressure for the amount of time it takes you to get there.
Check out Dr. Wayne Dyer’s 15 Steps to Forgiveness here.
We Want to Help
Surviving an affair is possible, but it will take time, a lot of tears, patience, redemption, renewal, and forgiveness. You both may want to fall into victim/villain roles, which is why it’s extremely important to have someone on your side who can guide you through this process. Connect with us in either of our locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you through this difficult time.
* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.