A love affair is a wondrous thing unless one is presently married. Though it may be an enjoyable experience for the unfaithful spouse, it is usually a disillusioning experience for the betrayed spouse. Many very difficult questions arise if the couple decides to recover and live productively after the affair. Step one is to stop contact with the lover and begin the healing process at home. Healing can happen, but it involves teamwork and takes time. Ups and downs are normal and to be expected. Just as things are looking up, a reminder of the affair can happen and create a downward spiral.
The betrayed spouse typically experiences shock, rage, hurt, devastation, and intense sadness all of which may be accompanied by depression and/or anxiety and sleeplessness. The unfaithful spouse may experience tremendous remorse and guilt leading to a reluctance to talk about details and address negative feelings and lingering questions. Sincere regret, frequent apologies, and a change of behavior from the unfaithful spouse all help the path to recovery. Understanding and attention to the betrayed spouse helps soothe mistrust. Talking about the affair, answering questions, and spending time together to reconnect and nurture the friendship is critical. Using good listening skills allows each partner the opportunity to be heard and understood.
Progress is difficult until the couple grasps some understanding about the details of the affair, how it happened, and the relationship issues that contributed to it. The struggle about how much to tell can stifle advancement and is an issue that every couple trying to recover from infidelity faces. It is common for the betrayed partner to obsess over learning details, while the unfaithful partner tries to suppress descriptive information. Facts disclosed too early can be destructive, while total avoidance tends to breed alienation. Before revealing too much it helps to lessen emotional intensity and resolve ambivalence about the future of the marriage. Understanding the story of what happened is an essential part of the recovery from the trauma and allows the pieces to be put together into a meaningful whole. Research shows that individual recovery, survival of the marriage, and restored trust are contingent on honest communication about the infidelity. Who, where, when, and how long are helpful and can be requested calmly and nonconfrontationally. Though previous lies and deception may be exposed, it is crucial that the unfaithful partner’s current truthfulness be appreciated rather than attacked.
It is advisable to reserve sensitive and painful topics for discussion with an impartial third party like a minister or counselor while focusing on renewing positive aspects of the relationship at home. Most people find that there are aspects about themselves that they liked during the affair. Developing opportunities for those aspects to occur in the marriage brings more satisfaction at home. For example, if one liked his/her assertiveness and outspokenness, but at home is tightlipped and withholding; the spouse’s willingness to listen without criticism can provide hope that he/she can be free to be real in the marriage.
The best resolution of infidelity is achieved when both partners assume responsibility for improving the relationship and are able to co-construct a story of the affair that integrates their different perspectives. At the final stage of mutual understanding and responsibility, couples can have free-flowing and introspective discussions without accusations or defensiveness and allow forgiveness to occur. Misunderstanding about what partners need can be clarified with open and honest talks. For example, one husband discovered that his need to rescue was triggered by a woman he saw as a damsel in distress. His wife’s perception was that he had been attracted to her competence and strength, so she had not allowed her vulnerable self to show in the relationship. Addressing these misunderstandings and being able to speak one’s own truth including needs, feelings, and intolerances helps maintain the equilibrium to sustain lasting relationships.
We can increase the chance that there will be no more affairs when several factors exist. It is the first affair. The betrayed partner keeps hurt and anger under control. There is a full admission about the affair along with sincere remorse. There is a mutual decision to improve communication, the couple can see why the affair happened, and each is willing to change. Disputes about the third party are avoided, and likely suspicions are handled without defensiveness. These steps require skill and understanding, but lead to a healthier relationship well worth the sustained effort.