How to Heal Your Relationship After an Affair
On her new HBO series, Sarah Jessica Parker plays a married woman who has been having an extramarital affair. When her husband finds out, he is angry, and devastated. The name of the show, “Divorce,” does not hold out much hope for this couple. But, in real life, can a relationship heal following an affair? Is it really possible for the relationship to survive cheating, or is a divorce inevitable?
The news is better than you might think. It is possible to heal your relationship after an affair, but only if you are willing and committed to doing the work necessary to fix the damage: both the damage that the affair caused, as well as the damage which caused the affair. According to “Surprised by Love” by Jay Kent-Ferraro Ph.D., MBA, “Marriages don’t end because of infidelity; they end because of how infidelity is dealt with.” Is your love and commitment strong enough to overcome the profound failure of cheating? Here are ten critical steps couples must take to survive the damage of an affair and emerge with a stronger relationship.
When cheating is brought to light, it is important that the wronged member of the relationship talks openly and honestly to their partner. Overcome with feelings of grief and distrust, this member must put their pain and hurt into words to let their partner know what they are feeling. By the same token, the partner who had the affair must respond to questions truthfully; attempting to minimize your partner’s pain by understating the facts will only lead to more distrust when they inevitably learn the truth.
- Bear Witness
Just as significantly, if not more so, the cheating partner must prepare to face the pain and heartache that their behavior has brought on. In many situations, the unfaithful party can feel paralyzed with guilt, and see the affair as damage that cannot be repaired. This causes them to push their partner to put the pain behind them rather than take the time to grieve to help heal. Dr. Janis A. Spring, clinical psychologist and author, insists that the offender “bear witness” to the pain they have brought on instead of trying to defend or deflect. Taking responsibility of this wrongdoing is vital to rebuilding trust in the relationship.
After bearing witness to the hurt and pain they have caused, the unfaithful partner must express remorse. This is key to rebuilding a relationship after an affair, and without this step there is no way the relationship can be repaired.
- Get it in Writing
After the person who had the affair has listened and understood the pain they caused their spouse or partner, Spring suggests that they write out their apology in their own words. This detailed letter to their loved one can help prove to their partner that they understand the pain that they have caused. Spring explains, “Verbal reassurances, promising you won’t do it again, that means nothing after cheating. They have to prove they’ve heard and understood their partner on the deepest level, and that means citing very specific examples of how they’ve hurt them and then taking actions to prove they will not do so in the future.”
- Forgiveness Isn’t Cheap
Sometimes, the offended partner—desperate to salvage the relationship or too scared to be alone–will forgive before they have had any chance to grieve. This “cheap forgiveness” actually can hurt the relationship by interrupting the healthy grieving process. Avoid this “cheap forgiveness” as it can set you up in a place where you do not deal with the hurt, your partner does not come to understand your pain, and in turn they can continue to be unfaithful in the future.
- Who’s Responsible?
In relationships where one person has strayed, both parties may bear some measure of responsibility for the problems which led to the affair. While the unfaithful person must own up to 100% of the guilt, the wronged member of the relationship must accept some responsibility for cultivating an unhappy relationship. Not only the cheater, but the hurt person has to see how their role played a part that made their significant other decide to have an affair, and take progressive steps to provide more emotional intimacy in the future. That being said, no matter what the couples’ problems were, only one partner cheated, and this step cannot be used to deflect responsibility for that conscious and deliberate decision.
- Full Disclosure
After the cheater understands their significant other’s feelings and owns up to their 100% of the guilt for cheating without being defensive, the cheater must fully disclose everything. While uncovering all secrets may be painful, this allows for a blank slate where both parties have been transparent and vulnerable.
Couples that are healing after an affair need to get insight in what went wrong without just blaming each other. During this step, some partners will feel anger, hurt, pain, and betrayal when they learn what their lover has done, but full disclosure and honesty is the best way to get back trust and intimacy.
- No “Second Chance”
Not only does the person who is responsible for the affair need to end the affair, they need to end all contact at all with his or her lover. This “no second chance” rule may seem over-the-top, but it will discourage cheating.
- Gain Support
Once both partners have forgiven and are ready to rebuild their relationship, they both must make the relationship a top priority. As part of this new obligation to value each other, the couple should go public with the state of their relationship and gain support from the people closest to them. Let these people know that, despite the affair, they are recommitted and are rebuilding trust.
- Get Physical
The last step is about being able to reconnect with your partner physically. If the couple wants to stay together, the rebuilding must reach the bedroom, too. According to Dr. John Gottman, “Without the presence of sexual intimacy that is pleasurable to both, the relationship can’t begin again.”
Healing your relationship after an affair is a difficult process, but it can be done. The process can be helped along with an experienced therapist to help you repair and strengthen your relationship. Call 973-902-8700 if you are a couple needing help in Essex County, New Jersey.
Maplewood Counseling provides relationship counseling for couples who are struggling with communication problems, an affair, a crisis or other issues. Marriage counseling and couples therapy is provided to help for all types couples with relationship issues.
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