Affairs are painful. When your partner has an affair, you might feel outraged, sad and repulsed at the same time. Infidelity can trigger intense emotions and can even cause PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is why you can’t just “recover” from an affair; you have to survive through it. If you are the betrayed spouse and you decided to stay in your relationship, you are already making a huge effort. But, to fully recover, you must be able to forgive your partner and find the strength to create a new relationship for both of you.
There are many reasons why someone might have an affair. Many times, affairs don’t happen because one person wants to be in a relationship with someone else, but because they wished their current relationship was different. When people don’t feel that some of their needs are satisfied, such as love, validation, connection etc., they can look for it in another place. Of course, this is no excuse for having an affair, especially because what breaks the relationship is not the affair itself, but the feeling of betrayal and all the secrets that come with it.
In average, it takes around two years to heal from an affair. But this, of course, is not a one size fits all. Healing doesn’t have a deadline and it’s not linear. Some days you’ll feel better, some others you’ll feel like the first day you’ve found about the affair. Nevertheless, finding external support from a counsellor from the beginning might help to make the healing process faster.
When you find out about an affair you might feel like your world is falling apart. Many emotions will emerge, such as anger, fear, shock and denial. You might question everything that you knew about the relationship. Also, you will feel grief, related to the vision that you had about your old relationship and everything that meant for the two of you, but also related to your partner and who you are as a person.
Only once you start to be comfortable with your feelings can you then start to focus on understanding how and why the affair happened. In this phase you are already over the initial trigger, you can sit down better with your discomfort and start to move the lenses from you to your partner. In this stage you can both start to focus on understanding how the affair happened. This part of the healing process can give both of you many insights about each other and your relationship. Remember, this is not about finding excuses or blaming each other, but rather deconstructing your relationship and the affair to gain more insights that will help you in the future. This can be a great moment for you to share how your experience has been, so be emphatic with each other and listen carefully.
Understanding what drove an affair is important to stage to see if you, as a couple, want to move forward. While it is one’s responsibility to have an affair or not, it is important to understand how the context of the relationship might have influenced that decision. When you decide to heal together from an affair, you must work first on letting go of the kind of relationship you had. You’ll have to learn new ways of communicating and new ways of sharing your commitment. To make the relationship work again, it requires the commitment and involvement of both.
First of all, it is crucial to ensure that the affair is over. Does the person that committed the affair show genuine regret and remorse? It is important for the betrayer to take full responsibility. Whatever the reason for the affair, it does not matter. Infidelity is less about the affair itself and more about the betrayal that it brings. Infidelity destroys the basis of trust and safety that is built in a romantic and committed relationship. It makes you question who you are, what you believe in and if everything that you had together was true or was based on a lie. It makes people feel as if they don’t know their partner at all anymore. So, healing after an affair takes a lot of self-work. It takes long discussions, individual therapy and couples counselling. It is hard for someone to forget about the affair, but they can learn to accept it, forgive, grow and learn together within the relationship.
Secondly, you must be both aligned if you genuinely want to fight for the relationship and not stay only because of convenience (e.g. having children together). If you have grown apart and the relationship is not meeting both individual needs, letting go might be a good idea. What is that it’s keeping you here? How do you currently feel about each other? What makes it worth it for the other to fight for? Take time to listen to each other; at many points it will be uncomfortable, but it will let you learn how to be vulnerable and authentic with the other. By doing this you can start assessing also what are the need that the relationship is not fulfilling from both sides and what can be done to improve it. It might be also useful to set up a time and space to talk about the affair, so it does not take over your whole daily routine and relationship.
Only once you move from the state of blame can you start to think of the future and what the affair mean for you and your relationship moving forward. Now you’re ready to look at a different type of future together. If you decide to stay together, you must be clear about what that means: How will the relationship work for you from now on?
Last but not least, forgiveness is crucial. Without forgiveness, you can keep going like everything is fine, while keeping resentment or sadness within yourself. This doesn’t mean that forgiveness comes easy. It takes time. You can make it clear to your partner that you’re trying to learn how to trust them again, so they know that their work is not hopeless. At the end, it takes some time to get over infidelity. If you have decided to stay in the relationship, don’t blame yourself if you can’t just “move on”. You and your partner will both have to deal with mixed feelings, grief, vulnerability and a lot of forgiveness and acceptance. As painful as it might be, this can also be the opportunity for you as a couple to learn about each other once again, learn new ways to communicate about your feelings and fears and build together a new relationship or marriage. Forgiving yourself and forgiving them is the first step, otherwise, you won’t be able to move on to the next stage.
The moment you can truly forgive and let go of the betrayal is the moment when you can begin to trust them once again and start a new and refreshed relationship.