Learn how your relationship can pass even the toughest test.
When someone you love betrays your trust, it can feel like an insurmountable hurdle. Our experts beg to differ. With a little TLC, it's completely possible for your relationship to survive infidelity. Here's how:
1. Practice gratitude. No matter what happened in your marriage, returning to gratitude will set the groundwork for positive transformation. If you feel consumed by betrayal and despair, take a moment to focus on appreciation. Think about everything you appreciate about your mate. After a few minutes of refocusing in this way, notice what changes inside you.
2. Fully face your feelings. When you are hurt, you may tend to blame, run, fight, judge or explain. If you can stop and fully feel the heartache tenderly, you will be surprised at what is possible. When you step fully into the sensation in your heart, beyond thought and explanation, the feeling begins to shift. Note: If you are suffering from a mental illness or severe emotional disturbance, use this practice only with the facilitation of a licensed therapist.
3. Clarify your purpose. When hurt, you may tend to think about the problem. Recycling the problem can escalate the pain. If you can focus on the solution you seek, you will naturally head toward answers.
4. Develop a deeper level of emotional intimacy in the relationship. Infidelity is almost never about sex. Rather, it is about intimacy and unmet needs. To recover or heal a relationship following infidelity, you must learn how to become more emotionally intimate. This emotional intimacy comes from spending time together, communicating and sharing your lives together. In other words, you must take a risk and be vulnerable. Give your partner a chance to draw close to you.
5. Do things together. Couples that spend time together and have shared interests recover from infidelity much more quickly and effectively. Discover or rediscover things that you can do together that you both enjoy. Keep in mind that not all hobbies or activities are expensive; there are plenty of things you can do together that do not cost money.
6. Form a vision of the past and the future. One of the ways that couples can heal from infidelity is to think back to when they first met or got married. How did you fall in love? Why did you get married? What did the relationship look like back then? Now, think about the future you wanted together... enjoying your golden years of retirement, traveling, playing with the grandchildren, enjoying family activities. What does that look like? Develop an image of these things and how nice it can be to share this with the person you love most — the person you married.
7. Normalize your feelings. You are mad at your partner, but you're also experiencing painful thoughts about yourself. You wonder who you are and what you meant to your partner, or if you did anything to cause this, possibly doubting your attractiveness or self-worth. Reading books or blogs on the subject might help you see what is normal in reaction to discovering betrayal.
8. Ask about the things you need to know. How long did this relationship last? Was it physical/sexual? What was the extent of the lies that were told in order to conceal it, and how much money was spent? Is there a risk of an STD or pregnancy?
9. Don't ask about the details you don't need to know. You may have the urge to push to learn the x-rated details of the sexual encounters or ask your partner to compare you to the person they had the affair with. My advice is: don't! Keep the focus on your relationship, not the affair partner.
10. Postpone final decisions. It might take a long time to figure out what led to this crisis and where to go from here. Your first impulse is probably not the wisest. Try to postpone permanent decisions until you can think more clearly.
11. Ride the initial shock wave. Allow an initial wave of shock, pain, fear and grief to build and then break, like a wave at the beach. Wait for this initial phase to pass before you attempt to figure out what to do in response to your new reality. Impulsive angry actions are likely to make a bad situation worse.
12. Immunize yourselves. As a couple, use the infidelity to immunize yourselves against repeat episodes. Looking back at what happened, identify and write a list of each step down the path to its occurrence. Then, write out what each of you wish you had done differently at each step, so that you will stay safe in similar future circumstances.
13. Launch a better-than-ever relationship. Take a relationship education course that starts by helping you identify the weak areas in your relationship and then strengthens them for future happiness together. The stronger your skills for talking together about sensitive issues are, the less likely you will be to drift apart or to let anger rifts lead to resentment or fights.
14. Take turns listening even when it hurts. Make appointments for each of you to just listen to the other. The speaker should speak briefly and let the listener paraphrase what he or she heard. Often, the listener will hear only part of what is said. Repeat what was missed, and check before going on to the next point.
15. Tell the truth, as completely as you can. The unfaithful spouse can share the thoughts and feelings that led to the choices that were made. Doing this helps you both understand the underlying problems you face. The injured spouse can also acknowledge his or her contribution to creating the circumstances that led to the infidelity.
16. Grieve together. Even if you choose to stay together, something has been irretrievably lost: your innocent belief that you would be true to each other and all that implied. Whatever you create from here will be different, hopefully better, but definitely different. Grieving helps you give up your past dreams to make room for your future.
17. Recommit yourself to the relationship. Healing together is difficult, if not impossible, when one person has their foot out the door. If you want to stay together, act like you mean it. The betrayed partner is going to feel hurt, angry and emotional. The partner who strayed should allow this emotionality and validate it as being real by saying things like, "Of course you are feeling hurt, I messed up." The emotional fallout from infidelity can take years to heal.
18. Seek professional help. Look for a therapist who specializes in infidelity. There is a reason why the infidelity happened. Both of you need help to understand the underlying unmet needs, and how to heal from the breach in the relationship. If you knew how to fix your problems, you would have already done it. Instead, allow a professional to help you build a more mutually satisfying relationship.
19. Build trust. You can do this by having your actions match up with your words. If you say, "I love you," back it up with loving actions. If you say, "I want our couple-ship to work," stop all contact with the affair partner, and stick with it. There is nothing worse for your partner than to find out you are not being honest.
20. Get out of denial. The person who committed infidelity has to openly admit their wrong doings. Be truthful, honest and willing to cooperate with everything your mate requests from you. Decide to fight for your family and be willing to do whatever is necessary to save your marriage. This is crucial in trying to rebuild the trust that has been so badly broken.
21. Get help. Each partner must commit to couple and individual counseling. Look for a counselor who administers both practical and spiritual guidance. Without both aspects, it's impossible to heal and restore your marriage. Seek God's help and allow His standard of what is right and wrong to direct you and your mate during the healing process.
22. Start fresh. Pray together, forgive one another and allow each other time to heal in your own individual time. Let go of old thoughts, behaviors and anything that triggers a thirst for infidelity. Replace them with anything and anyone that encourages you to be committed, honorable and faithful in your marriage. Seek new couple relationships with those who have been married for a long period of time and can share what makes their marriage work successfully.