First there's the shock. "Oh my God! It's happened!" Your worst fear is realized; your partner is having an affair.
Anger, despair, shock, and fear all swirl around seemingly at once and cloud your thinking until it feels like there is no way out. Eventually, you and your partner decide to seek help. Calls are made, appointments are set, and with the help of a qualified therapist, you both begin the process of healing.
My clients often ask "Is it possible to heal from such a deep betrayal?" My answer is yes. A qualified couple's therapist knows the processes that help couples heal from infidelity and rebuild the deeper disconnections that led to the affair.
If you or your partner had an affair, here's what you need to do:
1. Seek support. Get professional help as soon as the affair is discovered or revealed. Don't wait. Healing doesn't magically happen and the longer you wait, the longer you suffer alone and the harder it is to heal.
Choose a professional couple's counselor experienced in dealing with affairs. Don't be afraid to ask the counselor about their experience and training in this area.
Get support from family and friends, but limit the number of people who are told to those you are sure will not be judgmental. Know who to tell and who not to tell.
Individual therapy in addition to the couples work can accelerate the healing process.
2. End the affair. If you're the person having the affair, confess before you are "busted." End the affair completely and finally.
If it is a workplace affair, either limit the contact to strictly business or, in some cases, you may need to change jobs. Get rid of all mementos and reminders of the affair.
If there are any other secrets, reveal them now. This includes use of porn, going to strip clubs, sexting, spending without the partner's awareness, drinking, etc. Don't try to "protect" your partner by selective disclosure. This goes for both partners.
3. Honor the hurt and pain you've caused. Apologize sincerely and often — from the heart. Don't do it if it is not sincere; an insincere apology can cause more damage than being silent. Let your partner see you are truly remorseful and want to make it right between you two.
4. Create a healing mindset. Remind yourself that repair and healing takes time and patience. Authentic healing is slow and there's no magic cure that leads to someone genuinely forgiving; it simply takes time.
Make the relationship top priority. I like to think of it as putting the relationship in "couples ICU." If you're the person who cheated, you must make an explicit commitment to fix the relationship even in the face of ambivalence, anger, blame, and hurt expressed by the other partner.
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