My Spouse Cheated, Now What?
Couple’s Guide to Overcoming an Affair Part I
Your partner had an affair. You still can’t quite believe it. And you keep asking yourself “How could this have happened? How could s/he have done this to me, to us?” You start combing through your past together looking for clues of personality flaws, duplicity, and signs of the affair. You are angry, hurt, and flabbergasted. One minute you’re crying, the next you’re yelling, and later you find yourself shutdown and closed off. You’ve never been so exhausted.
Affairs rock the very foundation of a relationship. They are an act of betrayal. You now question everything you thought you knew about your partner, the relationship. And it makes moving on hard. You want to know “Can we move past this? Can we be happy again?”
Many well-meaning friends and family will encourage you to walk away. “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” But the truth is affairs are often a wake-up call that something needs fixing. And, if you’re both willing to do some hard work, couples can bounce back stronger than ever after an affair.
It isn’t quick and it isn’t easy. Expect it to take 9-12 months to rebound from the aftermath of an affair. If you’re reading this and still holding onto the anger and hurt a year (or more) later, you might want to seek out marriage counseling with a qualified couples therapist to help you with the process. In fact, I recommend this for most couples who are trying to move on after an affair because it does seem so daunting and there are a lot of complexities.
Expect to Ride an Emotional Roller Coaster for awhile
Right now you are going to be feeling all the feelings. That is completely normal. As much as you might want to turn them off and shut it down, feeling them is part of the healing process. However, I always caution clients to be careful about spiraling into the feelings. You want to feel them, yes, but you don’t want to suffer. Rumination and obsession lead to suffering. Feeling, acknowledging, and breathing into it lead to healing.
When you notice yourself feeling sad, hurt, angry, or overwhelmed, locate where that feeling is in your body. I want you to notice it and breathe into it. Take deep breaths and notice how that feeling changes as you breathe. It might get more intense or less intense. Stick with breathing into it and avoid making any judgments. You want to be sending the hurt parts of you a lot of love right now.
“But sometimes it’s not appropriate for me to sit and feel the feelings”
If you can’t deal with the emotions in the moment because you’re in a meeting at work or face to face with your kids, then I want you to ground yourself in the moment. I encourage clients to do this by taking deep breaths and using their senses to ground themselves in the moment. So notice 5 things that you are seeing (sense of sight), 5 things that you are physically feeling (sense of touch), and five things that you hear (sense of hearing).
Express your feelings and ask your questions
It is likely really hard for your partner to see you hurting. They are probably feeling a lot of guilt, shame, and remorse for the affair. But expressing your feelings can make room for your partner to comfort you. And right now, you two need moments of connection to start bringing you back to solid ground.
The trick is to avoid blame and criticism. This is hard because you’re hurting and angry. But I’m going to ask for you to focus on what you want most (fixing your marriage) instead of what you want right now (retribution). So take ownership of your feelings and express them in a non-blaming way.
“I feel insecure when you work late” instead of “Where were you? Was she there too?!”
“I feel so hurt that this happened” instead of “How could you have done this to us?!”
It is totally okay to ask questions about the affair if you think that is helpful. It’s part of making meaning of it. But I always caution clients to avoid asking for too many details about sex. Why? Because you really don’t need detailed visions of your partner having sex with another person. It ends up being more hurtful than helpful for most.
Already asked and can’t unsee it? I have a trick for you. When you have an intrusive thought about your spouse and their affair partner, I want you to imagine that image on a moving train or a boat floating away to sea. Just let it pass you by.
What do you need to feel better? Ask for it.
It’s important to know and ask for the things that would make you feel hopeful about repairing this relationship. What would reassure you that your partner is committed to you and this relationship? What do you need to see from your partner to know that you are a priority and that they are faithful? Get clear on these things and come up with clear, specific, and concrete things that your partner can do.
Make room for connection
Things are rocky right now. Connection is incredibly important to healing and repair. So make time for the two of you to have some fun, a date night, quality time. Take conversations about the affair off the table during these times. In these moments you want to focus on reconnecting and rekindling your relationship.
Figure out why the affair happened and work together to repair the relationship. You can rebuild this relationship so it meets both of your needs and it’s stronger and better than ever. Reach out if you’re ready to get started on the process!
Holding onto resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the person that you’re mad at to die. Forgiveness isn’t doing your partner a favor. It’s doing you one. In addition, it’s giving your relationship a chance to not only survive but to thrive. So if you want to move past this, you’ll need to learn how to forgive your partner.
This doesn’t mean that you approve of what happened or that it wasn’t hurtful. It means that you aren’t going to hold onto the resentment forever, you’re working towards healing, and ultimately you want to move on. I know it’s hard right now but it doesn’t have to stay this way. There’s hope and help out there.
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