How to Heal From Infidelity

Although future posts will include a step-by-step guide for healing from infidelity, I want to jump start you on the process in case you just discovered the betrayal and you’re eager to improve things between you and your spouse. Healing from infidelity involves teamwork; both partners must be fully committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on track. The unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair and do whatever it takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse. The betrayed spouse must be willing to find ways to manage overwhelming emotions so, as a couple, they can begin to sort out how the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to change so that it never happens again. Although no two people, marriages or paths to recovery are identical, it’s helpful to know that healing typically happens in stages.

If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you will undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions- shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have difficulty sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the affair. If you are an emotional person, you may cry a lot. You may want to be alone, or conversely, feel at your worst when you are. While unpleasant, these reactions are perfectly normal.

Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never improve, it will, but not immediately. Healing from infidelity takes a long time. Just when you think things are looking up, something reminds you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. It’s easy to feel discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and downs are the norm. Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far between.

Although some people are more curious than others, it’s very common to have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially. If you have little interest in the facts, so be it. However, if you need to know what happened, ask. Although the details may be uncomfortable to hear, just knowing your spouse is willing to “come clean” helps people recover. As the unfaithful spouse, you might feel tremendous remorse and guilt, and prefer avoiding the details entirely, but experience shows that this is a formula for disaster. Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions under the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.

Once there is closure on what actually happened, there is typically a need to know why it happened. Betrayed spouses often believe that unless they get to the bottom of things, it could happen again. Unfortunately, since the reasons people stray can be quite complex, the “whys” aren’t always crystal clear.

No one “forces” anyone to be unfaithful. Infidelity is a decision, even if doesn’t feel that way. If you were unfaithful, it’s important to examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could threaten your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel attractive? Are you having a mid-life crisis? Did you grow up in a family where infidelity was a way of life? Do you have a sexual addiction?

It’s equally important to explore whether your marriage is significantly lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes people feel so unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional or physical connection. They complain of feeling taken for granted, unloved, resentful, or ignored. Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy or sexuality in the marriage.

If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to have an affair, you need to address your feelings openly and honestly so that together you can make some changes. If open communication is a problem, consider seeking help from a qualified marital therapist or taking a communication skill-building class. There are many available through religious organizations, community colleges and mental health settings.

Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and remorse. You can’t apologize often enough. You need to tell your spouse that you will never commit adultery again. Although, since you are working diligently to repair your relationship, you might think your intentions to be monogamous are obvious, they aren’t. Tell your spouse of your plans to take your commitment to your marriage to heart. This will be particularly important during the early stages of recovery when mistrust is rampant.

Conversely, talking about the affair can’t be the only thing you do. Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the importance of both talking about their difficulties and spending time together without discussing painful topics. They intentionally create opportunities to reconnect and nurture their friendship. They take walks, go out to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual interests and so on. Betrayed spouses will be more interested in spending discussion-free time after the initial shock of the affair has dissipated.

Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which is frequently the last step in the healing process. The unfaithful spouse can do everything right- be forthcoming, express remorse, listen lovingly and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage won’t mend unless the betrayed person forgives his or her spouse and the unfaithful spouse forgives him or herself. Forgiveness opens the door to real intimacy and connection.

But forgiveness doesn’t just happen. It is a conscious decision to stop blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If the past has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to having more love in your life? Decide to forgive today.

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2009 Copyright – Michele Weiner-Davis. All rights reserved.


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Reeling From Infidelity

Every once in a while I step back and think about the messages I give to couples in my practice, seminars, keynotes and in my writing. To be sure, I have been a psychotic optimist about people’s ability to survive whatever comes their way in terms of marital challenges. And still, as a Divorce Buster Supreme, I think this is a valid and helpful message. For example, my mantra when interviewed by media about the impact of infidelity is that it is by no means a marital deal breaker. In fact, I say, that when a couple is willing to do the hard work of healing from infidelity, their marriage can be stronger than ever before. True? Well, yes, but not, I now believe, without considerable hardship and devastation along the way. Suffice it to say, infidelity is not for sissies.

As I have observed the fallout from infidelity from the discovery throughout the lengthy process of healing, I have noticed that, even when couples are devoted to rising above adversity, facing their demons, keeping their hearts open, working through pain, grief, anxiety and loss, the process is incredibly difficult. There are predictable twists and turns. Roller coaster-like days, months and even years take their toll emotionally, spiritually and physically. Forgiveness may come eventually, but forgetting never does. The marriage is changed forever, innocence and dreams lost.

So, although I was right when I said that people can survive infidelity and emerge more empathetic, skilled, loving and determined to affair-proof their relationships in the future, I think I will spend more time letting people know what it is really like being in the trenches. If in “telling it like it is,” I”m able to help people considering straying avoid even one act of indiscretion, that will be a good thing.

“I Didn’t Mean to Have An Affair, It Just Happened.”

Having been a therapist for a very long time has afforded me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life with varied opinions, personalities, strengths and idiosyncratic quirks. I’m never bored, rarely shocked and almost never angered. But take note, the operative word here is “almost.”

I have lost count of the number of times when a spouse who’s been unfaithful says, “I wasn’t looking for an affair, it just happened.” It’s as if these people were simply going about their day, minding their own business and alas, they suddenly find themselves stark naked in hotel rooms having breathless, passionate sex as if there’s no tomorrow. It just happens? Uh, I don’t think so.

Affairs aren’t spontaneous; they require careful planning and decision-making. Often, the choices people make that pave the way for an affair- dinner with a co-worker, meeting an old boyfriend or girlfriend for a drink after work just to catch up, having lunch with an attractive, single neighbor on a regular basis or sending a lengthy Christmas update to a long lost heart throb- can seem relatively innocent. But one dinner date or late night conversation often leads to another and another and another. The talk becomes more personal. Confessions of marital dissatisfaction bubble to the surface prompting empathy and support. People tell themselves, “I just needed someone to talk to. I wanted input from someone of the opposite sex.” But you don’t need a degree in psychology to know that the implicit message in these conversations is, “I’m unhappily married. Want to fool around?” You can tell yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong, but the truth is, it’s a sheer, slippery slope.

Then there is alcohol, the inhibition-buster that “made me do it.” And while it’s true that many a bad decision has been made while under the influence, unless like teenagers in Cancun on spring break, people’s mouths are forced open and alcohol poured down their throats, having a drink is a decision. Having two drinks is two decisions. You can do the math on the rest of the story.

What about bad marriages? Don’t they justify being unfaithful? After all, life is short. We only have one go around, right? What’s always amazed me is how differently people react to similar circumstances. I’ve met people whose spouses refused to have sex for years and although that made them miserable, they simply could not cheat. I’ve met other people who, when their relationships hit predictable bumps in the road, rather than work things out, they sought comfort in the arms of strangers. Unhappy marriages don’t cause infidelity. Being unfaithful causes infidelity.

Nevertheless, life is short and feeling lonely in marriage is no way to live. But dulling one’s pain through the instant gratification of hot sex or emotional closeness with someone who doesn’t argue with you about bills, children or the in-laws isn’t an effective or lasting way to fix what’s wrong. In fact, infidelity complicates life enormously for everyone involved, a fact that should not be minimized when planning the next “just friends” Starbucks break.

People who say their affairs just happened aren’t necessarily intentionally trying to cover their asses or justify their behavior; they often truly believe what they’re saying. They simply lack insight or awareness of the ways in which their actions, however subtle, have created their current predicaments. But in the same way that affairs don’t just happen, neither does healing from betrayal. Unless those who have strayed look inward and take personal responsible for the paths their lives have taken, they will not be able to get back on track when they’ve gotten derailed. In my view, being unconscious just doesn’t cut it.


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