Can couples really recover from an affair?


Infidelity is not just about what you do, or don't do. It's the active turning away from a stance of trust and transparency with your committed, chosen partner. Your marriage does not necessarily have to end in divorce because you had an affair. Even though admitting the affair to your spouse will cause a lot of grief and heartache and anger, odds are that your marriage will survive if you both want it to.

Coming clean and being honest is powerful

However, it's not very common. When most spouses get caught cheating, their first instinct is damage control. This is a really destructive phase that adds one betrayal upon another. Not only were they involved with someone else, but they are now lying about the extent of the involvement. Keeping the affair a secret is the first lie. Minimizing the involvement, the commitment, or the significance of the affair is the continued collateral damage.

Attempts to contain the situation by lying isn't a winning strategy to rebuild trust.

  • The Involved Partner may totally deny the affair initially.
  • They may try to deny any technological contact.
  • Deleting texts, emails, and messages in a panic is a common step.
  • Dribbling out information in an agonizingly slow fashion (called “titrating”) can also be common. This can arguably be called emotionally abusive.
  • Other involved partners total shutdown and stone.
  • Others engage in Gaslighting.
  • Minimizing the affair emotionally “we’re just good friends..she’s going through a hard time” is also common
  • Minimizing the affair sexually – “We’re just co-workers. We just sext each other as a joke” never works. No spouse considers sex talk between co-workers "funny."
  • Some engage in total amnesia about when it began, how it began, and when it ended (if it ended at all). "I can't remember" is the reframe.

Containing who you disclose to is wise

It's hard to consider the long term when your trust and certainty in your marriage turns from concrete to shifting sand. Women often reach out to friends, family and even their own children. This has lasting effects. If the marriage does survive the affair, very often it does so with broken friendships or parental relationships when the news is broadcasted widely.

Who you tell is important. Running to a family member who has been vocal about their dislike for your partner creates a ripple effect, as most of us like to announce "I was right about him/her!" to whoever will listen.

Affairs are confusing to both partners

The first thing many Involved Partners ask us is "What happened? Why did I blow up my life?" They may tell themselves how they got involved, but not be clear on why they would do something so destructive to their marriages. Equally explosive is the reality that many of the involved partners may give up their affair partners reluctantly, or long for the feelings that the affair created in them of power, desirability, excitement, even danger. Some want to talk to the affair partner privately to process the necessity for a break up. This, in itself, can be volatile as promises might have been made and are now broken.

Hurt partners often ask "How could he/she do this to me?" It's a question that is seldom answered to the hurt partner's satisfaction. Rumination and obsession are common. Rumination is not an emotional process, it is a repetitive habit of mind. Many Hurt Partners say "they are trying to understand."  And many couples therapists uninformed by neuroscience miss the true significance of that statement.

The rumination and obsession of the Hurt Partner have predictable themes. They blame and attack, sometimes it appear to be out of nowhere. They ask questions about specific sexual activities with the affair partner as if they want to torment themselves with an ever-widening circle of toxic detail.

They can be loud, rageful, threaten divorce, or be utterly inconsolable. They are often no less restrained in the therapist's office. It's painful to watch. But neuroscience has provided some insight.

It's perfectly fine for the Hurt Partner to describe their emotions in vivid detail. But expressing them abusively is not.

There are all types of affairs 

There are also all types of affairs, sexual affairs being just one of them. In fact, for some couples, anonymous sexual liaisons may be much less damaging than longer-term emotional affairs with well-known people which involve financial infidelity and long-term secrecy.

Affairs have predictable phases

The first phase for the Hurt Partner is Shock. "How could he do this to me?" is a question that has probably existed in relationships from the beginning of love. I imagine that this question has been asked by Hurt Partners for thousands of years. Shock is held in the body and the mind. Numbness. Trance. Disbelief. And then...Rumination and Obsession. Science-base couples therapy directly works with this aspect of affair recovery.

“What happens next?”

Affairs are among the most destructive and disruptive forces in married life. For many couples, managing fear, rage and soul-shaking grief takes up all of their emotional energy for months or even years. We caution the Hurt Partner to focus on their own self care. Normal eating, sleeping, and exercise are important first steps. 

Most couples find it difficult to heal in an effective way from an affair. Of the three typical paths to healing, only one will help the couple move on and potentially end up in a stronger place than before.

At Couples Therapy Inc. helping couples heal and repair is all that we do. We are science-based specialists in affair recovery. One weekend helps couples jump-start their healing with a trained couples therapist.

Resources for healing affairs

Understanding affairs


Not all affairs are the same or have the same motivations or impact. Learn about these differences and why they matter.

5 Resources
  • Defining Infidelity
  • Defining Emotional Affairs
  • What Causes Infidelity
  • Why Married Men Cheat
  • Why Married Women Cheat
  • Affair discovery

    What you'll learn

    Much of the damage of the affair occurs AFTER they are discovered. Learn the most important things to do when you've just discovered the affair--and what not to do.

    5 resources
  • Defining Infidelity
  • 3 Strategies for Survival
  • Managing Rumination
  • Forgiveness...or not
  • Rebuild Trust in 9 Ways
  • What To Do If You're Caught
  • Emotional affairs at work


    Workplace affairs comprise the majority of affairs that occur today. Learn why they happen, how to avoid them, and how to end it.

    4 resources
  • Emotional Affairs at Work
  • Why Men Are Vulnerable
  • Avoiding Emotional Affairs at Work 
  • Ending An Emotional Affair
  • Affair recovery


    Affair recovery involves both partners and follows a predictable arc to rebuild trust. Learn how to begin on your own and when you need a professional's help.

    4 resources
  • The Arc of Recovery
  • 9 Signs You Are Recovering
  • Rebuilding Trust
  • When to Go to Couples Therapy
  • Internet infidelity

    What you'll learn

    As more affairs today are starting online, learn how they happen and learn more about sex texting, social networks and what fights about pornography really mean. 

    4 resources
  • Facebook Affairs
  • 11 Signs of Internet Infidelity
  • Texting & Emotional Affairs
  • Pornography Conflicts
  • book cover Infidelity: How you can heal and move on by Daniel Dashnaw Couples Therapy Inc.

    Infidelity: How You Can Heal and Move On

    A guide to help you both heal.

    Recover from the pain of infidelity and become stronger than before. Learn how an affair can be more than a marriage killer. It could be a crisis that transforms your marriage into a deeper, more honest bond. Including Ebook, Audio & Worksheets.

    Ready for a change in your relationship?

    It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

    Dr. Kathy McMahon

    Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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