Infidelity is one of the most painful betrayals a person can experience in their relationship. Unfortunately, it is something that is becoming more common in our society as couples find themselves tempted by easily accessible means such as Facebook, texting, and other technologies. It is also important to note that many people will engage in an emotional affair believing they aren’t doing anything wrong because they have not physically acted out. However, emotional affairs are just as damaging if not more so to a relationship. Affairs don’t always start out with the intent to progress to a full blown affair, but once one starts, it becomes a slippery slope and almost addictive to those involved. They have trouble seeing what the reality of their choices could do to their loved ones. Remember that any relationship could fall victim to infidelity if they don’t nurture it regularly and meet each other’s emotional needs.
There is HOPE!- The Initial Reconstruction Process
Even though infidelity is a deep wound, it is possible that a couple can recover and heal their relationship to a place that exceeds anything they could have imagined! If you have two people who are committed to the rebuilding process, it can happen. Anne Bercht writes about her journey in her book, “My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Just the title is telling that she and her husband were able to achieve a new level of intimacy that most would think was unexpected.
Once an affair has been found out in a relationship, it is vital to follow this reconstruction process.
- Step 1:Get professional help immediately to guide you- Things are extremely emotional for the couple. It is important to have an uninvolved unbiased party to coach you. Immediate professional intervention will also increase your chances of getting on the right track rather than doing more damage to the relationship once an affair has been exposed. Waiting too long to get help could lower your chances of recovery.
- Step 2: The Lover MUST be gone and contact must end- This can be hard for couples who have to consider moving, changing jobs, or restructuring their day to day lives in order to complete this step.
- Step 3: Both people have to be committed- The recovery process can be lengthy and difficult which means a strong commitment is necessary to be successful.
- Step 4: Look at the underlying issues which led to this- It is important for both partners to look at what was broken in the relationship before the affair. Even though there are usually underlying issues in a relationship, there is no license to have an affair. But trying to recover without looking at the relationship history and healing from it could cause you to walk down the same path again. Once underlying issues are uncovered, both people need to own their part and genuinely apologize for the pain that was caused.
- Step 5: Full disclosure of the affair is required- There are many details that should be shared about the affair. Be careful of too much information being shared that could be damaging. It is common to be overwhelmed with questions and feel the need to know everything; however, remember that you have to hold onto all the information you asked your partner to give. Too many details could haunt you. Answering the questions, “Who with, what happened, when, how long, where, and that it ended” is a good start. Once the disclosure has happened there should be no new details to pop up. If this happens it will prevent the trust building process, and take the betrayed spouse back to square one.
Now it’s Time To Rebuild!
Once you have cleared the rubble from the earthquake of infidelity as laid out above, you can rebuild the intimacy.
- Step 1: Rebuild Safety- Ways to do this include: meeting each others needs and speaking each others love language, becoming emotionally naked with your partner, and laying down your weapons through fighting fair.
- Step 2: Rebuild Trust- Time and consistency are key to this part. Trust is only built with long term evidence. At first the unfaithful partner will feel like they are on probation by sharing passwords and being accountable for their time. The biggest and easiest way to build trust is to do what you say you are going to- even with the little things.
- Step 3: Forgiveness and let go of resentments- Forgiveness is not a one time thing but a process that you do for yourself and not for the person who has betrayed you. This process is giving up hope of changing the past. If you choose not to forgive it can be destructive and threaten the relationship from recovering. There is a saying that “Not forgiving is like drinking a bottle of poison and hoping someone else to die.”
- Step 4: Trigger Management- Triggers are an unavoidable part of the rebuilding process. Even after forgiveness you will see and hear things that rip off the band-aid to your wounds. This can cause you to want to ask twenty questions, but remember a trigger is not usually needing more information- it is needing reassurance. Be sure to do an internal assessment of what it is you really need, and ask your partner for it rather than bring up all the details of the affair. Triggers can haunt you for years, but will fade over time as long as you have reconstructed and rebuilt your relationship in a healthy way.
If your relationship has been plagued by the pain of infidelity, we hope that you find this structure helpful to guide you on your recovery journey. Remember your relationship can be restored with dedication, support, and commitment. There is hope!
* This post was originally written for and posted on theconfidentmom.com as a guest blog post. It was so good, I had to post it here too!
Written by Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW
Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Teri enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, couples and relationship counseling. Teri also does family counseling, child counseling, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.