Some relationships simply fade, allowed to wither from lack of nurturing. Others explode in emotionally charged fights, as a partnership sours into adversarial confrontation. But there is one total relationship annihilator that has become increasingly frequent in today’s world: adultery.
Few relationship challenges are more prone to utter devastation than to betray one of the most crucial, foundational elements of a relationship.
A small word. Trust. It belies the colossal tangle of feelings, religious beliefs, dreams, fears, hopes, and future plans that a marriage is built upon. It’s hard to believe that something that takes so long to build and nurture can be shaken to rubble in an instant.
For the partner who has been cheated upon, the corrosion begins as soon as he or she begins to suspect that a spouse is cheating. That corrosion eats away at trust, but it also eats away at self-worth, at core beliefs about lasting love, and leaves in that space anger, fear, feelings of rejection, profound sadness, and other tumultuous feelings. It’s extremely difficult to recover a relationship after an affair, but not impossible.
What few understand is there are multiple kinds of affairs. The most obvious is the physical affair. But even more insidious is the emotional affair. Even if never acted upon, emotional affairs drain away the emotional connection between two people, as a new connection is established between the adulterer and the object of affection.
The decision to love is placed elsewhere, and that loss is keenly felt by the wronged partner. A betrayal of the body can sometimes be easier to forgive than a betrayal of the heart.
So Now What? Did you catch that little tidbit there? “Decision to love”…not “feelings of love”? Those words, right there need to become your mantra, if you truly want to pull your marriage from the brink.
Most marriage and family counselors unanimously agree that truly healthy marriages are based upon a decision to love, rather than the more fleeting feelings of infatuation or “being in love.”
What do you do after an affair to recover your marriage? Well, first you have to decide if you truly want to save it. Because if you aren’t willing to take the actions listed below, then the likelihood of saving your marriage is slim. Even if you do all these things, it still might not work; your spouse also has a say in what happens next.
7 Strategies to Move Pass an Affair
Here are some things you can try, if you truly want to repair the damage caused by a physical or emotional affair. These are not the only strategies, but they are common sense steps to try to rebuild trust after an affair.
1. End the affair. Like, yesterday. You can’t still be friends. You can’t still talk. If you have to change jobs, start going to a different coffee shop or a different church, do it. Whatever it takes. If you can’t commit to this first step, then forget the rest.
2. Self-reflect. Why did this affair happen? If you can’t be honest with yourself about why you sought an outside relationship, then you cannot be honest with your spouse about it. You must be self-aware enough to know what you need from the marriage, and how you would like your marriage to grow.
3. Take Responsibility. Even though there may have been problems in your marriage before the affair, you MUST take responsibility for the decision to cheat. No matter what role your spouse may have played in the decay of your marriage, YOU made the decision to be unfaithful. You must own it, discover what you need to do to keep it from happening again, and take whatever action is necessary.
4. Apologize. And apologize some more. You know the old saying “it’s not what you say, it’s what you do”? In this case the words aren’t enough (but say them anyway, over and over). You need to show your partner, every single day, that you regret every, single tear shed over this situation. How do you do this? By being present. By keeping promises. By offering reassurances.
If you say you are going to be home at a certain time, be early. If you say you are going to call, call twice, once just to hear your spouse’s voice. Answer every question, provide every detail, Make your life an open book, and hide nothing. Recommit every single day that you choose to love your spouse, and you are sorry for causing pain.
5. Give it time. Your spouse has experienced some of the most profound pain of human existence. It won’t go away over night. Your spouse needs time to work through anger, to cry it out, to heal. Don’t expect too much, too soon, but don’t give up, either. Just because your spouse may exhibit anger or detachment, doesn’t mean your every word and deed isn’t being analyzed and re-analyzed. Don’t waiver in the other steps, while you give your spouse time to decide what comes next.
6. Listen. No judgment. No excuses. No justifications. Right now your spouse needs to know that you are listening and truly hear the pain, humiliation, and anger. Making excuses or trying to justify things devalues your spouse’s feelings, and that’s not what you need right now.
7. Build a shared vision of the future. Saving your marriage takes both of you, and a commitment to get through this trial stronger and better. It may take time, but having as shared vision will help make the rough patches and an occasional step backwards much easier to handle.
When things seem to take a turn for the worse (and it will happen), revisit your commitment, talk about your dreams for your marriage, and remind each other that you can and will get through it together.
If you need help getting past marital infidelity? Don’t try to resolve it on your own. Instead sign up for a free, no obligation consultation with a professional marriage counselor here.