Surviving an affair. It’s what so many shocked and disappointed spouses want to know.
Paradoxically, the culture both looks down on those who have had extramarital affairs, while blatantly encouraging them to engage in one.
Surviving an affair takes guts. Commitment.
Dedication to work through it and genuine remorse. The marriage you had before the affair has ended. The question you both must ask is: “Are we willing to rebuild a new one with new rules?”
Your state of mind is your most valuable and fragile ally. Check in with your self-esteem, if you’re the partner’s the one who’s cheated.
Surprisingly, many husbands and wives don’t believe any of it was their fault, and they are right. Sometimes this recognition helps. Sometimes it makes the betrayal all the more senseless and painful.
Surviving an affair requires first and foremost the capacity to face into the conflict, but in a particular way:
Honestly is your most powerful weapon.
The answer is simple: At this point, there is no reason to trust someone who has had an extramarital affair in secret.
If you are asking: “Why can’t you just trust me?” the answer should be obvious. You lied. Repeatedly. If not directly, implicitly. Here we define lying as: “Withholding information you know your partner would want to know.”
Accept that you lied. Now the question is: “Will you stop?” “Will you justify further lies with the excuse: ‘He/She wouldn’t be able to take it…They would leave me…I don’t want to upset them any more…” Holding on to these justifications for lying are only going to lead to more lies. If you want to survive this affair, the time for lies is over.
The first rule is the honesty one.
From this point forward, anything you say CAN and WILL be held against you.
You have put yourself into an “untrustworthy” category. You can sink deeper, or you can open up, share from your heart, and explain what happened to the best of your abilities. Demonstrating your honesty, regardless of how costly, earns back trust, little by little.
Sometimes more time than either spouse is willing to give it. But getting through the pain of an affair also takes flexibility and openness, when those around you may be shouting: “Off With Their Heads!”
Try to imagine yourself 5 years into the future, when you’ve both done the hard work of surviving this affair. Can you imagine the negative things you’re hearing now from those you wanted support from? Someone who was quick to make your spouse the villain and you the innocent party?
Notice the person you’ve chosen to confide in.
Consider the answers to these questions and just know, consciously, what you’ve getting yourself into.
If you are sincerely asking that, you haven’t done the hard work of looking at your own actions.
Your spouse is in shock.
The person they thought they knew is dead to them.
They are unlikely to be able to fully grasp what happened, and are unlikely to hear much of what you say, as you start to explain it. Saying: “I’m sorry.” is one thing. Saying: “I’m sorry, so why don’t you just get over it?” is another.
It may take months for them to pull themselves together and calm down.
The “Seven Year Rule in Marriage” says that any violation, no matter how severe, has to be forgiven, or at least not talked about anymore after seven years. If you and your spouse embrace the Seven Year Rule, you can set your calendar to that day, starting when you stopped lying.
Any lie resets the calendar for another seven years.
Trust starts building or deteriorating further from the day the affair is discovered.
Surviving an affair needs both partner’s full commitment and involvement. One betrayal doesn’t justify another. How the betrayed spouse acts from here on out also must be trustworthy and honorable.
This is not a time for drama. If you need a break to calm down and get perspective, take a weekend vacation. Don’t announce: “I’m moving out!”
I know how tough this is, but maintaining your dignity right now is vital. Don’t let it turn into a mud-slinging fest, or something your friends tune into, to get the latest news on.
The emotional connection should be finished, if you’ll both be surviving an affair.
If you think you need to “just finish things between us” with your affair partner, by talking or visiting one more time, ask where your loyalties lie. If you’re planning to do it in secret, you’re digging that betrayal hole deeper. See #4.
Many partners grief the loss of intimacy they had with their affair partner, but distance from them is the order of the day. Be upfront about any contact you have with your affair partner. Even if they contact you without your encouragement. If you must contact them, tell your spouse you’ll be writing an email, and let your spouse see it before you email it.
If you aren’t ready to end your affair, at least put it on hold until you can reach a decision about whether your marriage is over. Be upfront with your spouse that you aren’t sure you can stay in the marriage. Your honesty is vital.
It is a fact, according to one research study, that 33% of the general public believe their marriage could survive an affair, while 94% of marriage counselors believe that. 33% vs. 94%!
Because every day marriage counselors see that turn around.
You’re most likely to hear about the divorces. Right? The ones that didn’t work out?
Would you imagine your friends sharing the good news that while their spouse was unfaithful, they’ve worked through it?
But many couples survive an affair with the help of a trained marriage counselor. Choose your marriage counselor carefully.
Don’t go to an All-Purpose Therapist who does marriage counseling part-time, over a 50 minute hour.
No, seek out an expert. Be aware that if your partner has had the affair, you’ve going to be beside yourself for quite a while.
All this is normal. If you doubt it, ask a couples therapist.
Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her online couples therapy and sex therapy practice for couples in Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and California. She is a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and has been a AASECT board-certified sex therapist from 1982-2017. She continues to work as a sex therapist.