For the unfaithful spouse: 3 steps
Stop the affair immediately
This might sound obvious, but it’s more complex than simply pretending they never existed. You might work with them, or otherwise see them on a regular basis. You cannot continue to do so. It’s imperative that you sever all contact- to the degree it’s possible. You may not be able to do this with immediate effect if for example you work together, however you will need to work on some plan to sever contact. Delete their number, their messages. No conversations, no phone calls, no communication whatsoever. If you are colleagues that do need to collaborate, take time off work for a couple of days while you and your partner work out a plan. Change your lifestyle in whatever way you can. Not only would it be outrageously unfair of you to continue to see them after admitting the infidelity to your partner, it would only hinder your own healing process.
If you chance upon the person in the future, or if you have to continue to see them because of your work circumstances, inform your partner immediately and keep absolutely nothing unsaid about every encounter. If the person contacts you, tell your partner. Show them the messages if they ask. You’re going to have to be a complete and utter open book.
Left no question unanswered
Relationship expert Peggy Vaughan pens in her excellent tome The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairsthat betrayed spouses feel more wholly healed and more completely reconciled with their partners when they feel they have been given every ounce of information about the affair. As she goes on to explain,
Plenty of people say with pride that they never discussed the affair. That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never discuss it, you cannot recover.
Being forthcoming with the barest minutiae of your infidelity signals to your partner that you genuinely desire a reconciliation and rebuilding of your relationship and trust. It’s not going to be pretty; there’s going to be a lot of rage and your words are going to cause an immense amount of hurt. But if you truly love your partner, this is the lesser of two evils. Once you have answered all of their questions to their satisfaction (and this could take a few days as they process the situation), ask them whether they have any further questions and ask them to agree to draw a line under the conversation and to not continuously bring up the incident months or years later.
You made the transgression, no-one else. Do not blame them, even if they may have conducted themselves in a way that made you feel infidelity was a solution. Allow yourself time to express sincere regret, and really feel the pain you’ve put them through. If you struggle to feel regretful, you may want to consider whether you truly want to reconcile the relationship (if you feel relief that the relationship is over for example). Otherwise, vow to never, ever do it again – but explain, specifically, how, and why, you won’t – because your partner may well believe you’re just saying the right words for their sake.
Be empathetic to their hurt. Listen to everything they have to say, even if it feels like a barrage of accusations and outrageous claims such as ‘you never loved me’, ‘I never meant anything to you’ and attempt to stay in their world-view. According to psychologist Dr. Shirley Glass in her book Not ‘Just Friends’: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, showing that you understand the pain you have caused themis a way of truly signalling that you mean what you’re saying, and plays a big part of the healing process.
Lastly – do not expect forgiveness right away. Don’t wait for it or put a timer on when they ‘should’ have forgiven you by. Expect that in some cases, they may never forgive you fully (although at some point they will need to draw a line under the topic, but this can be up to a couple of years depending on how well you work at the reconciliation and how much they feel they can trust you again). All you can do is be understanding and work as best you can towards reparation.
Having said that, because you are in the wrong, does not mean that you must suffer abuse and accept bad behaviour, for instance being refrained from having a normal life as punishment for what you have done. But for the purposes of this blog, the point is, while it is emotionally hard work, it will be worth it if you truly want the relationship to work.
For the betrayed spouse: 3 steps
Balance your rage with rational lines of questioning
You want to cry, scream, lash out, throw stuff around – understandably. But, if you can, try to channel your anger constructively so that you can also find exactly what has happened.
At first, you’ll probably experience an absolute need to know every single thing about the affair. How often did you meet? What happened in bed? Where? How many times? When did this start to happen? Who else knows? How much money did you spend on them?
Eventually, you may find that the questions becoming more introspective, more emotive, more fundamental. How could you do this to me?
Tell them how the affair has affected you. Don’t hold back. They need to know. Allow yourself time to express your feelings.
You’re in horrendous pain. You’re crippled with self-doubt and humiliation. Tell them this. Express your disappointment, the intense feeling of betrayal, your fury, the bottomless pit of sadness you can sense yourself slipping inexorably into.
There are two people in this relationship. Think about whether there is anything you have done that may have contributed to the situation. Or whether a particular situation has contributed to it, for example, you had just had a baby, or you have had to work long hours away from your partner. This can be a particularly difficult thing to do because you have been wronged.
But your partner will be feeling things too. In order to move forward you will have to listen to their side of the story and what is going on for them. Discuss with you partner what you can do differently to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Talk about your relationship, what was it like? what does it need?
Learn how to forgive
As your partner builds a wall between themselves and their former lover, open a window of complete and utter honesty with your partner. Eventually, see if you can spend time together about something other than the affair. Keep busy, go out, be active. Spend time with your friends and loved ones, and speak openly with them. Make time for your partner, too. Rebuilding was never going to be easy; it takes conscious effort.
Forgive if – and only if – you’re truly ready to do so.
You can feel love again
Time heals all wounds, or so goes the adage. No affair is unsurmountable, if both parties truly want to work on mending the relationship it is possible.
If you feel you would benefit from professional insight into how to survive infidelity, get in touch with The Vida Consultancy today. In my years as a dating coach and relationship psychologist, I know that, if you both commit to rebuilding the bridges between you, you might just be astounded at what you can achieve, and come out the other side even stronger for it.