When one partner has an affair, it causes damage to the primary relationship (the relationship that you’re in full-time with your partner). An affair can sometimes mean the end of this relationship, but often, these relationships do recover and become even stronger. In order for this to occur, it takes time and effort on both your parts.
The betrayed partner often experiences a range of reactions which may include being emotional, crying easily, hyper-vigilance, feeling angry/guilty/responsible, experiencing flashbacks, obsessing over the details, and behaving erratically.
This isn’t a comprehensive list and you may experience some or none of these responses. But it can be helpful to know that any of these reactions are perfectly normal given the circumstances.
How much compassion the unfaithful partner has towards the betrayed partner is an important factor in rebuilding a successful relationship. If your partner minimizes what s/he did, doesn’t take full responsibility for having the affair, or even blames you for their actions, there is a lot of work that will need to be done before you can contemplate resurrecting the relationship.
In order to begin rebuilding trust in the relationship, the following guidelines will help you start to think about how to approach this issue:
It is impossible to rebuild trust if the unfaithful partner is still having contact with the affair partner.
- The unfaithful partner must be willing to share their whereabouts.
- The unfaithful partner must be willing to answer their partner’s questions, even if it is difficult to do so.
- It is important that any encounters with the affair partner are shared before being asked. Talking about it with your partner won’t create as much upset as hiding it from them.
- And finally, it is important to invest in your relationship what you were investing in the affair.
Ingredients for Rebuilding a Relationship
- It is important to address feelings openly and honestly so together you can make some changes.
- It is important that the unfaithful partner is able to demonstrate sincere regret and remorse.
- It is important that both partners talk about the difficulties in their relationship.
- It is important to intentionally create opportunities to reconnect and nurture the relationship. This includes spending time together without discussing painful topics.
For the Unfaithful Partner:
Be aware that working diligently to repair the relationship doesn’t necessarily convince your partner of your intentions to be faithful from now on. It takes time and consistent effort to show your partner that you are serious about repairing your relationship. It takes time for your partner to be able to trust you again.
Questions to ask yourself about the affair:
What did I like about myself in that other relationship?
How was I different?
Of the way I was in that relationship, what would I like to bring back so that I can be the person I want to be in my primary relationship?
How can my partner help to foster that part of me in this relationship?
What was the attraction for me in the affair?
For the Partner:
The key to healing is forgiveness. This is usually the last step in the healing process and can take much time to get to. It often involves a conscious decision on your part to stop blaming your partner. This can then open the door to real intimacy and connection.
In my work with couples, I think about the affair as a catalyst to understand what hasn’t been working in your relationship. This is not to suggest that the unfaithful partner isn’t fully responsible for having the affair. S/he is responsible for his or her behavior and choices that they’ve made. But addressing it as a shared issue in the relationship can enable you both to move forward with greater understanding about why this occurred and provide an opportunity to create an improved relationship.