Surviving an affair. It’s what so many shocked and disappointed spouses want to know.

  • Am I a fool if I’m WANTING to survive an affair, instead of ending the marriage right away?
  • Does an extramarital affair mean our marriage is fatally flawed?

Paradoxically, the culture both looks down on those who have had extramarital affairs, while blatantly encouraging them to engage in one.

  • There are over 8000 Google searches for “Having an Affair” but 500 for “stop an affair.”
  • “How to End an Affair” does better with 3000 searches a month in the USA.  But then again, the damage is done.

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?”

Follow these 12 Guidelines if your Goal is Surviving an Affair:

1. Is your Spouse’s Behavior a Reflection on You?

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.

  • Do you believe that you somehow created emotional distance, causing him or her to seek comfort and solace in another person?  Or was this mutually created?
  • Was sex between you non-existent?  Do you blame yourself for that?
  • Was hostility a frequent interactional pattern?

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:

2. Realize You’re In Shock

  • This is not the time to decide whether or not to leave.
  • It’s the time to grieve for a marriage you thought you had, but didn’t.
  • Emotions are high, so makes sure you keep eating, drinking, and sleeping, hard as that is.
  • Keep breathing.  Learn deep breathing techniques that will help you calm down.
  • Your nervous system is on overdrive.  You won’t be thinking clearly.  Accept this.

3.  If You’re the Partner Who’s Had the Affair

  • The WORST thing you can do right now is lie.
  • Recognize that your spouse is pained not just by what you did, but what he/she has lost:  trust in you.  If you can’t accept that you’ve lost their trust, you’ve not going to be surviving an affair.
  • The only one who hopes this will pass quickly is YOU.  It will not.  If your goal is surviving an affair, patience and tolerance are your watchwords.

Honestly is your most powerful weapon.

4. Why is Honesty So Important In Surviving an Affair?

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.

5.  Surviving an Affair Takes Time

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!”

6. This is NOT the Time to Listen to Friend/family.

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?

7. Seek out a Neutral Third Party.

Notice the person you’ve chosen to confide in.

  • Is this someone who is not only supportive of you, but of your marriage as well?
  • Is this a friend or relative who has always warned you about marrying “that person”?
  • Is this a forgiving person who may move on in their relationship with you and your spouse when you’ve survived the affair? Or will they hold a grudge against the offending party?

Consider the answers to these questions and just know, consciously, what you’ve getting yourself into.

8. Why Can She/He Just Accept My Apology?

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.

9. Consider The Seven Year Rule

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.

10. Trust Goes Both Ways

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.

11. Forget What You See On TV

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.

12.  Is the Damage Is Done? Or Is It Ongoing?

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.

You May Be Pessimistic Because You Don’t Know the Couples Who Have Survived an Affair.

We do.

We work with them every day.

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?

Few do.

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.

  • Hurt.
  • Betrayed.
  • Confused.
  • Lonely.
  • One minute turning to him or her for comfort, the next minute being furious at them.

All this is normal. If you doubt it, ask a couples therapist.