Only you can decide how to get over an affair, but this article will help you organize your thoughts and be confident you’re making the right choice.
If your spouse has had an affair, your initial shock will eventually lead you to question how you can get over a cheating spouse.
While statistics vary wildly on the issue of extramarital affairs, one study conservatively estimates that “about 3-4% of currently married people have a sexual partner besides their spouse in a given year and about 15-18% of ever-married people have had a sexual partner other than their spouse while married.” (Details can be found here (*.pdf))
Not that you’ll be taking any comfort that you’re not alone in being cheated on. Like break-ups and other relationship tragedies, it’s always worst when it’s happening to you.
So is it possible to recover from an affair? And perhaps the question that should be asked first – should you want it to?
Saying YES to your marriage
Upon learning of a spouse’s infidelity, you’re likely to go through three distinct stages.
STAGE 1 – Shock
Whether you find out by physically discovering your partner with someone else, hearing from a mutual friend, or, as is more and more common, discovering incriminating texts or messages on Facebook, there’s a good chance you had no idea this was happening.
Pieces of a puzzle might start forming in your mind – strange behaviors start making sense, changing schedules or new interests suddenly fit with what’s happening.
While everyone reacts differently to a shock like this, it’s best to try and limit your actions. Don’t kick your spouse out, or storm out yourself, especially if kids are involved. Absorb the information and plan your next steps.
STAGE 2 – Joint Commitment (or not)
Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock, you’re going to have to make a big choice – do you try to fix your marriage or not?
That choice is the subject of a different article – for the purposes of this one we’ll assume that, although you’re incredibly hurt, you do in fact want to save this marriage.
We also have to assume that your cheating spouse does as well, and wasn’t using an affair to trigger you ending the marriage – an action that they perhaps were too weak to do on their own.
With both of you saying YES to your marriage, it’s time to begin the healing process.
STAGE 3 – HEALING AND RESTORING TRUST
Both parties of a broken marriage have a job to do. The cheating partner will have to take responsibility and do whatever is necessary to rebuild trust.
The cheated partner will also have to full accept the truth of what happened, communicate effectively, and truly forgive their spouse.
Only then can both parties rebuild the marriage.
Healing steps for the cheater
STOP THE AFFAIR – This goes without saying, and the cheating partner must not just stop the affair, but also cut ALL contact with the person involved.
None of this ‘we only talk on Facebook’ nonsense. This is your first step in committing to your marriage, so do it completely.
TALK AS MUCH AS YOUR PARTNER WANTS – Someone who’s just been cheated on is going to have a lot of questions. They’re going to want to know why, how, with who, for how long, in what way, how many times, etc. etc. etc.
You don’t get to avoid these questions. Although answering them may eventually drive your spouse to divorce you, you owe it to them to let them make the best decision possible, and they can only do that with whatever information they want.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY – You probably don’t think of yourself as a cheater (or at least you didn’t before the affair). People have a hard time adjusting their perception of themselves, and it’s common to issue any number of excuses to deny responsibility.
Their spouse never had time for them, it only happened once, they were drunk, they got caught up in the moment, or anything else.
Giving excuses shows a lack of accountability and a lack of remorse. The guilty partner must accept 100% responsibility for cheating.
BE PATIENT – Now that you got caught, you probably want to put this whole thing behind you as fast as possible. Too bad. You now have to live with this the same way your partner does – forever.
They’re the ones who get to decide when things are ‘ok’. Your job is to be patient and do whatever they need to make them rebuild the trust you broke.
Healing steps for the spouse of a cheater
ASK QUESTIONS – Only you get to decide how much you want to know, and some of the answers you get may be things you DON’T want to know, so be careful what you ask for.
That said, to rebuild your marriage you have to do so with all the information you need, so ask questions until you’re satisfied you can go forward with a clear mind.
If your spouse fights answering some of the questions, you’ll have to decide just how genuine they’re being about the recovery process.
DON’T HIDE YOUR EMOTIONS – Whatever the cause of the affair, don’t bottle up your emotions. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad. Now is not the time to suck it up or pretend you’re not hurt.
Some relationships are actually stronger after an affair because it triggers both people to come clean about their frustrations, so go crazy with it and be as open as possible.
EXPECT TO TAKE SOME OF THE BLAME – No one cheats on someone they’re completely in love with. If you’ve been married a while chances are your relationship has suffered downturns and disappointments. If you travel a lot and your spouse is lonely, you can expect to hear about that as one of the reasons they cheated.
This is NOT to say you should accept any blame. You didn’t choose to break your marriage vows.
But when you really get into the reasons things happen, you’re going to hear a lot about why your spouse was unhappy enough to cheat on you. You should take these to heart and know that you’ll have to address them when it comes to rebuilding.
DON’T FORGIVE QUICKLY – Resolving this affair is not about putting it behind you as fast as possible. Take all the time you need and when you finally do forgive your spouse, make sure it’s unconditional.
Don’t ‘mostly forgive’ them or your marriage will crumble under the lingering pieces.
Recovery for the marriage
By this point you’ve each taken individual steps to communicate, listen, take responsibility, and identify the causes and triggers. Now it’s time to build what’s hopefully a stronger marriage than the one that was broken. See how Relationship Rules can help you (free guide)
In some ways you’ve probably just learned a lot about your spouse that you didn’t know and have come a long way in recovering from the affair.
So go back to basics. Start dating again.
Go for walks, go to restaurants, take day-trips. You probably had a list of other activities you never made time for. Go to a play or a museum and talk about it after. Simple things that are self-contained.
Get to know each other again.
Now start some joint projects or activities. Take dancing lessons together or work together to renovate the bathroom. Shared tasks are a great way to rebuild trust and get back to enjoying each other’s company.
Lastly, make sure you’re always communicating. Don’t go back to bottling things up or looking for distractions to avoid issues.
You’ve come a long way and hopefully you’ve built a more loving, stronger marriage that will never have to face this type of trauma ever again.