The topic of infidelity and cheating spouses is everywhere. We hear about it frequently in the media and have seen the marriages of friends or relatives that have been devastated by affairs.
It’s no surprise that many couples internally ask the question, “How would I cope?” with such a situation if it were to happen to you. It’s particularly common to also wonder if your own marriage could survive such a serious betrayal.
Popular psychologist and self-help book author, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes.
“Keep in mind that an affair is not a terrible aberration that only occurs in unhappy marriages. It’s a myth that the “real reason” behind an affair is a faulty spouse or bad marriage. A sexually and emotionally distant marriage will definitely make an affair more likely, but it’s also true that affairs happen in excellent marriages as well. Affairs have many sources, and opportunity and work context are among the predisposing factors.”
Discovering infidelity in your relationship
Learning that your partner has been cheating on you will be one of the most difficult moments in your life.
The days afterward are going to be extremely difficult and draining; likely, you will be on an emotional rollercoaster.
Many conflicting and confusing feelings will come to you, such as hating your partner, blaming yourself, wanting to beg for love, or wanting to tell the world what your disgusting cheating husband, cheating wife, or cheating partner has done.
Wait a few days until your strong and chaotic emotions settle down, and then you can more carefully plan your next moves.
It is essential that you take care of your health during this time, make sure you eat, sleep, and attend to your essential responsibilities such as childcare and work.
You need your strength in the coming days to survive your infidelity crisis.
Do not ignore your basic needs and responsibilities and thereby make your situation worse than it already is.
After the affair has ended
Recovery from infidelity is possible if all contact with the outside person has ended.
The betrayed partner needs to become like a detective to ensure that his or her partner has has severed every connection to the outsider person.
Checking social media, phone calls and text messages is required to confirm communication with the outside person has ceased.
The cheating partner may need to change their job if the illicit relationship was with a person at work.
Professional help with infidelity recovery is recommended.
The process of recovery from infidelity is long, difficult, and requires a very sophisticated type of professional intervention.
Not every mental health professional has the knowledge and skills to lead a couple on their infidelity recovery journey.
Find the right relationship qualified relationship therapist — don’t put your family at risk with the wrong person.
To get over cheating and infidelity, ‘knowing the truth’ is essential
Because lying was a big part of the cheating, the injured partner will not know the details about what happened.
Typically, the cheater does not want to talk about the affair.
Details about the illicit relationship such as the nature of the sex, gifts, promises to be together in the future, trips taken and planned, gossiping about the betrayed partner are avoided.
Typically, the betrayer does not want his or her partner to know these details as they are embarrassing, shameful, and hurtful.
Even though the truth may hurt… it is necessary if future healing is to occur.
Continued lying and denial will only make rebuilding trust impossible. And “trust” needs to be reestablished.
The only way to reconcile is to start telling the truth. If lies continue, then reconciliation will become impossible.
If you are the victim of a cheating partner, you are entitled to know the truth; to have your questions answered.
Immediately after the discovery of the cheating, it may not be possible to get the full truth — it is a process.
It is important to have realistic expectations regarding ‘the truth’ so you are not unnecessarily hurt again by your partner who has cheated.
Knowing the details of what actually occurred may take time before this part of the healing process can begin.
Often a formal plan to reconcile needs to begin before the guilty partner can start opening up regarding many of the details about the affair.
After you get through the initial infidelity shock, and truth-telling has been established, you and your partner must organize specific times to talk about the affair — your feelings, details about what happened, and what the options are for the future.
Even though infidelity is a major crisis, you cannot work on it all the time.
You need to have other times during the day and night where you can try to the best of your ability to normalize your life and take care of your needs and the needs of other family members.
How to get over cheating if you are the victim
Learning about your partner’s betrayal has caused deep emotional injuries.
Everything you believed to be real in your life has suddenly been shattered.
You wonder what will happen to you.
You wonder how the infidelity will affect your children.
You wonder if others will blame you for your partner’s cheating.
You wonder if you should love or hate your partner.
You don’t know how to approach your cheating husband, cheating wife, or partner. You don’t want to make things worse.
You are confused.
Should you cry or take revenge?
Dark feelings overwhelm you. They are so out of character… you no longer recognize yourself.
During such moments, cut yourself some slack and try not to be self-critical.
Know that all this ’emotional craziness’ is NOT your fault. Know that one way or another it will pass.
It was your partner’s decision to cheat.
If there have been relationship problems, there are many ways of resolving them without resorting to cheating, which in the end only makes problems in the legitimate relationship worse.
Know the way you feel is normal and natural.
This phenomenon of emotional pain and confusion that almost all infidelity victims experience is proof as to how destructive adultery is.
In fact, most betraying partners, had they known how the affair would impact on his or her legitimate partner, he or she would never have engaged in cheating.
One of the complications of getting over cheating and infidelity is that the person who strayed may still have feelings for their outside lover.
The fact that your partner who strayed is trying to figure out how to deal with his or her feelings regarding the outside person is not to his or her discredit.
You will ‘hate’ the outside person, but your partner won’t.
Don’t expect your partner to feel like you.
Expect your partner to end the relationship and sever all ties to the illegitimate person.
However, realize that your cheating partner is feeling confusion, guilt, and grieving over the loss of an important person in their life. Don’t fault him or her for this.
If you and your partner do the right things to recover, over time you should feel much better and hopefully recover fully.
In fact, many couples, after having worked on infidelity recovery and relationship improvement, feel closer and more committed than they ever have in the past.
Cheating is not a way of fixing a relationship because of the great risks and pain that go along with it (as well as other reasons).
However, if you are a couple that ‘survives infidelity,’ it is entirely possible that your relationship will be better than it ever has been in the past.
How to get over infidelity if you are the one who cheated
Upon the discovery of your philandering, your partner’s reaction to your cheating is likely to be overwhelming; making this day one of the most difficult in your life.
When your partner confronts you or has a melt-down, do not react in a hostile or rejecting way.
Remember, it is your betrayal that caused your partner’s pain and created the current problems. Be calm, be reassuring, and be honest.
Reality check: There is no hope for your relationship or the healthy functioning of your family if you do not completely end your relationship with the outside person.
It makes no difference how attached you may or may not be to him or her. If you want a healthy and functioning family, your loyalty must be with your legitimate partner — no one else.
You may have a strong attachment to your outside lover. We are all capable of loving more than one person — just like we can easily love more than one child, so too, we can love more than one adult.
You should never have gotten involved with the outside person in the first place… and had you been careful about this, you would not have fallen into a ‘forbidden’ love!
If you try to juggle both relationships — your legitimate one and your illegitimate one — you will fail miserably at both.
This is true, not because I am saying so, or because it is a moral failing or anything like that. Rather, your family will fail because a committed relationship demands exclusivity.
Because you are trying to comfort your partner, while feeling a loss for the relationship with the outside person at the same time, dealing with the aftermath of infidelity is complicated and difficult.
The time it takes to recover varies greatly because of different reasons. These variables are far too many to list in this article.
However, know that it may take many months or even years to fully recover and rebuild the trust that was once there and your relationship.
If you intend to make things right with your legitimate partner, the first thing you need to do is take responsibility for what you have done.
You have to acknowledge that the affair was YOUR fault. You have to believe this in your heart, and you have to communicate this to your partner.
This may be hard to do, as your cheating can probably be justified in your mind by focusing on the inadequacies of your legitimate partner.
There may or may not be truth to this! However, if you are to survive infidelity, it is essential that you take responsibility for what you did. Otherwise, your partner will never truly believe you when you tell him or her that you will never do this again.
Think about it, if you blame your partner, or anyone else, or any circumstance for your philandering, how can you promise your partner it will never happen again?
If you assert that what happened was beyond your control, then your partner will forever feel insecure because what you are saying, in essence, is that you cannot control whether you cheat or not — meaning you may do it again in the future.
This possibility that you can, in the future, under certain circumstances, repeat your cheating will devastate your partner and make recovery impossible.
Your relationship may indeed have been far from perfect, but this is not the time to focus on those problems, and they cannot be legitimately used to justify your harmful behavior.
It was your choice, and no one else’s, to respond to your relationship problems by getting involved with a person outside of your marriage or committed relationship.
You and your partner can discuss and fix other problems in your relationship after you are well on the road to relationship recovery from the infidelity.
Once the initial infidelity discovery devastation has died down, you can try to offer explanations to your partner regarding how you came to cheat. However, don’t use these ‘explanations’ as excuses for your affair.
When you try to discuss details regarding what happened, or profess your guilt, or express remorse, or offer assurance that it will never happen again, you may not be believed.
Think of ‘not being believed’ as part of the damage you have created, that your partner can no longer trust or believe you. After all, cheating and lying go hand in hand. And nobody believes a liar!
It will take a long time and much hard relationship work before your partner will be able to trust you once again.
Take a proactive and systematic approach to recovering from infidelity. For example, get professional help, give your partner time as needed to recover, answer your partner’s questions honestly, be patient, and never get angry or blame your partner.
Tools for rebuilding Your Relationship
Couples who are experiencing the aftermath of infidelity need to have a map to guide them through the recovery process.
If you are the person who broke your commitment to be faithful, you are probably wondering how you can piece your relationship back together.
If you are the betrayed partner, you may be feeling that surviving infidelity is a burden too heavy to carry; you experience dealing with infidelity as confusing, painful, and overwhelming.
For each person caught up in surviving infidelity, receiving guidance from a trained relationship specialist can lighten your load, clarify how to survive infidelity, and provide the necessary tools and steps needed to to recover fully.
The seven steps necessary to recover from infidelity are:
- Cease all contact with the outside person
- Prove that the affair has ended
- The partner who strayed must feel genuine remorse
- The partner who strayed must accept 100% responsibility for the affair
- The couple must have candid conversations
- Couples must aim to resume a ‘normal’ relationship
- Couples must address their past relationship problems
When Not to Stay
Your marriage can survive this onslaught of feelings. However, some marriages are not meant to be saved. If infidelity is one of many symptoms of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse in your relationship you will never feel safe enough to work through your problems. These are very entrenched issues that are often not changeable.
It is challenging for the betrayed partner to know if they can give the spouse a “second chance.” If the infidelity was a one-time event, this is also quite different than someone with a pattern of ongoing cheating. If your spouse is a serial cheater, it may be time to throw in the towel.
Where to Get Help
See our licensed therapist who specializes in working with couples. Be sure to ask about our expertise in helping with infidelity in particular. A place to start if you are still unsure if you want to save the marriage, or the affair is still going on, is a process called “Discernment Counseling.”