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.
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 make 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. Gottman calls this Atonement, the first part of affair recovery.
Next, 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? If so, these will need to be tackled. This is what Gottman calls Attunement – tuning into each other again.
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.” They are devastated and all they thought they knew about their partner and their relationship is now questioned. While being punitive and rejecting amends may feel good, it ultimately prevents you from healing.
The person that was deceived will also need to explore all of their feelings surrounding the betrayal. They are experiencing a form of PTSD called Betrayal Trauma. Usually shock, rage, fear, sadness, and distrust are the main emotions a person will need to work through.
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. If so, then with Attunement, the third step of Gottman affair recovery is Attachment.
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.