Infidelity causes intense emotional
pain - anger, disbelief, fear, guilt, shame. But an affair
doesn't have to mean the end of your marriage. Understand
how a marriage can be rebuilt after an affair.
When an affair is first discovered, both partners feel as
if the world has collapsed - you're left wondering whether
your marriage can survive.
Few marital problems cause as much heartache and devastation
as infidelity. Money worries, disagreements about children
or a serious illness can strain a relationship. But because
of the deep sense of betrayal, infidelity undermines the foundation
of marriage itself.
Divorce doesn't have to be the inevitable resolution to infidelity.
With counseling, time to heal and the mutual goal of rebuilding
the relationship, some couples emerge from infidelity with
a stronger and more honest relationship than before.
When an affair is discovered
The initial discovery of an extramarital affair can trigger
a range of powerful emotions for both partners - shock, rage,
shame, depression, guilt, remorse. Both members of the couple
may cycle through all of these emotions many times in a single
day - one minute vowing to end the marriage and the next wanting
desperately to save it. At this point, it's important to take
one step at a time:
- Get support. For your own well-being, seek support
from family, friends, a pastor or counselor - people you
trust and feel comfortable with. Talking about your feelings
with those you love can help you cope with the intensity
of the situation. Objective support can help you clarify
what you're feeling and put the affair into perspective.
However, avoid confiding in people who you know will take
sides - this tends to increase the emotional intensity of
- Give each other some space. Both partners need
a break from the emotional stress generated by the discovery
of an affair. Although difficult, experts advise taking
a timeout" when emotions are running high.
- Take time. Avoid delving into the intimate details
of the affair with your partner at first. Postpone such
discussions until you can talk without being overly accusatory
or destructive. Take time to absorb the situation. You may
need to air out your feelings with someone who is a good
listener before you can have a constructive conversation
with your spouse.
What is infidelity to you?
Infidelity isn't a single, clearly defined situation. There
are different kinds of situations that some may consider infidelity.
What's considered infidelity varies among couples and even
between partners in a relationship. What may be acceptable
for some couples may be unacceptable for others. Similarly,
what is tolerable for one partner in a relationship may be
intolerable for the other partner. For instance, is it infidelity
if your partner is attracted to someone outside the marriage
- but never acts on it? Is an emotional connection without
physical intimacy infidelity? What about online relationships?
If your partner is regularly chatting intimately with another
person online, is that infidelity?
As a general rule, a person who is having an affair:
- Feels a strong sexual attraction to someone other than
his or her partner
- Feels the need to keep the relationship a secret, and
uses lies and deception to do so
- Feels emotionally closer to this person than to his or
Recovering from an affair is a difficult and ongoing process.
But it's possible to survive an affair. Marriage counseling
can help you put the affair into perspective, explore underlying
marital problems, learn how to rebuild and strengthen your
relationship, and avoid divorce - if that's the mutual goal.
Understanding why an affair happened is crucial to recovering
your marriage. Affairs can happen in happy relationships as
well as troubled ones. The reasons vary:
- The involved partner not getting enough from the marriage
relationship or, conversely, not contributing enough to
- Low self-esteem
- An addiction to sex, love or romance
- Fear of intimacy
- A life transition, such as the birth of a child or an
- Acting on impulse while under the influence of alcohol
or other drugs
- A means of ending an unhappy marriage
Moving on: Steps to help recover your
Although every relationship is different, often these steps
are necessary to help mend a broken marriage:
- End the affair. First, the affair must end. This
includes any and all interaction and communication with
the lover. True reinvestment in your marriage can't happen
- Be accountable. If you've had an affair, take
responsibility for your actions. If you were cheated on,
consider the role you may have played in your spouse's unhappiness
and reasons for straying.
- Determine your shared goal. Be sure you both agree
that you want to mend your marriage - but don't make this
decision in the heat of powerful emotions. It may take some
time to sort out what's happened and to see if your relationship
can heal. If you both arrive at the goal of reconciliation,
it's important to realize that recovering the marriage will
take time, energy and commitment.
- See a marriage counselor. Find a marriage counselor
who will help you restore your marriage if that is the mutual
goal. Seek help from a licensed counselor who's trained
in marital therapy and experienced in dealing with infidelity.
Avoid therapists who see an affair as the end of marriage.
- Identify the issues. Infidelity often points to
underlying problems in your marriage. Examine your relationship
to understand what has contributed to the affair, and what
you need to do to prevent it from happening again.
- Restore the trust. Make a serious commitment to
rebuilding your marriage. Go to counseling together to help
visibly confirm the commitment and to prevent secrecy from
continuing to erode your relationship.
- Talk about it. Once the initial shock is over,
discuss what happened openly and honestly - no matter how
difficult talking or hearing about this may be. Know that
you might need the help of a marital therapist to be able
to talk constructively about it.
- Give it time. If you were the one cheated on,
you can set the timetable for recovery. Often the person
who's been unfaithful is anxious to "put all of this
behind us" to help cope with his or her guilt. Allow
each other enough time to understand and heal.
- Forgive. For many people, this is the hardest
part of recovering from an affair. Forgiveness isn't likely
to come quickly or easily - it may be a lifelong process.
Talk to a counselor or spiritual advisor about what forgiveness
really means. Don't use forgiveness to cover uncomfortable
issues that you think are too hard to face. If you're committed
to your partner and your marriage, forgiveness tends to
become easier over time.
- Recommit to your future. What you're going through
is emotionally devastating. But times like this can make
people and marriages stronger than ever before.
The end - or not
Not every marriage touched by infidelity can or should be
saved. Sometimes too much damage has been done, or both partners
aren't committed. Painful as it is, it's important to acknowledge
when this is the case. But if both of you are committed to
rebuilding your relationship and you have the strength and
determination for the task, the rewards can be great - a partnership
that grows in depth, honesty and intimacy.