When an affair happens it can be difficult to sort out what to do next in your relationship. Both the partner who has the affair and the partner who doesn’t can get lost in confusing cultural messages, advice from friends, and strong rolling emotions. It is a difficult time for both parties, but not an impossible one. I know it is really hard for both of you, but you will get through this heartache and you can get through it together.
I work with couples who are working through the aftermath of an affair. You may find the following stages helpful in moving through the process of coming back together during this difficult time.
Stage 1: Emotion Overload
It is common in the weeks (and often months) after an affair is uncovered for both partners to be caught up in a tidal wave of emotions. It is not unusual for both of you to feel anger, sadness, fear, shock and a whole range of other emotions during this time. Conflicting choices, new questions, and loss may visit unexpectedly. It can seem pretty overwhelming.
Taking time to notice, experience, and name the feelings you are going through can be very helpful in the healing process. You are not alone in the extreme feelings you are experiencing
Stage 2: Do I Stay or Do I Go?
Both of you may be unsure if you want to stay or leave, and you may have received mixed messages from your friends and families. Unfortunately, even in this confusing and overwhelming time, no one can choose for you. Take time to explore the following questions, individually, to help clarify what you want:
1. What commitment expectations do you have for your partner? How can you communicate those clearly?
2. What draws you to your partner, how are they unique, how is your relationship special?
3. What could have been improved before the affair?
4. What history do you have rebuilding trust with partners, friends, and family?
5. Are you willing to change the ways you interact with your partner?
I recommend working through these questions individually to become clear on your own: is this relationship a good fit for you right now?
Stage 3: Rebuilding
If you two do decide to stay together and recommit, you are committing not only to each other, but to a trust building process that will take weeks, months (maybe years). I recommend focusing on the following to help guide your relationship recovery (in no particular order):
1. Say goodbye to the person you had an affair with. Reassure the partner who didn’t have the affair it is no longer occurring.
2. Take action to increase open communication in your relationship. Share your pain and be open to hearing your partner’s pain. Talk through differences of opinion, and dis-satisfactions so you can stay connected.
3. Take specific steps to earn back trust and stay committed to the process.
4. Develop a new shared vision of your future and create new ways to connect going forward.
5. Forgive your partner and yourself.