In almost 15 years as a couples counselor dealing with affair recovery, there is probably one statement I’ve heard more than any other by my clients who’ve recently learned their spouse had an affair: “I just don’t think I will ever get over this.” Figuring out how to recover from an affair is undoubtably the most challenging thing one can do in a committed relationship.
The second most common phrase I hear is, “I just don’t think I can ever trust them again – or anyone.”
The initial shock of infidelity cuts deep. Knowing your partner has broken your trust in such a profound way can, and typically does, completely turn your world upside down. Suddenly you begin to question everything, most significantly – yourself. You question your judgment. How did you miss this? Why didn’t I see this coming? What does this say about me?
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? Not that any of these situations are more or less acceptable than the other, however the circumstances sometimes do determine the outcome.
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, through hard work and commitment, healing can happen.
How To REcover From An Affair
How to recover from an affair must begin with an absolute ending to the affair. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. All ties must be cut before the real work can begin. Should the affair continue (in any way) behind the scenes, in my experience, the relationship is very unlikely to succeed.
The second step to recovery is for the perpetrator to to move past any defensiveness and guilt. This is necessary so they can begin to talk openly and transparently about what happened. This is a time when the “guilty” needs to be humble, acknowledge their mistake, and answer their partner’s questions. All of them.
Once the person who cheated takes full accountability for their actions, there must be a shared understanding of what led to the affair in the first place. Were there issues in the marriage that led to the affair? Most likely so and these will need to be addressed and resolved if there’s any hope of resolution.
In order for the ‘victim’ to be able to begin healing, they need to feel genuine compassion from their partner for having caused them pain. Naturally, there is often a knee-jerk reaction to refuse the cheater’s apologies or compassion. This can be seen or viewed as a way to “get back” and maintain some false sense of empowerment in the situation.
But understand that doing so only holds you back from healing. Forgiveness isn’t about saying what the other person did was OK or acceptable. Forgiveness is about giving up your right to seek vengeance and justice for whatever wrong-doing has been done to you.
The victim will also need assistance and guidance exploring their feelings surrounding the betrayal. Typically shock, rage, fear, sadness, and distrust are the main culprits when one has been the victim of infidelity.
At some point however, if there is any chance for the relationship to heal, you both will need to decide whether you will stay together. If you choose to, you will need to work on rebuilding that trust.
While this article is brief in nature, you can clearly see the process of recovery is a complex one and will require that you work with a couples therapist to help you navigate the strong emotions involved. However, through commitment and work, many couples can stay together and even develop a stronger connection than they previously had before.
Marriage is perhaps the most challenging, rewarding, and infuriating relationship (sometimes all at once!) one can experience. When there’s a breach of trust so severe like infidelity, it often feels insurmountable. However, it doesn’t have to be this way – unless you want it to be. Find an awesome marriage counselor you like and trust to help you find your way back to each other.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.