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Infidelity / Affair Recovery

Infidelity in a committed relationship can obviously be a great strain on both partners and on the relationship itself. Often, an affair ends a relationship, and sometimes it may take the other partner completely by surprise, leaving that person feeling devastated, alone, betrayed, jealous, confused, and aggrieved. Some people seek therapy at such a time to help recover and move on. Extramarital affairs are a frequent occurrence; for better or worse, long-term, exclusive relationships are the exception to the rule in human behavior. We vow to do be faithful, and we often fail to keep our word. This fact may be of small comfort, but perhaps it can remove a bit of the shame that sometimes accompanies the experience of infidelity: affairs are common.

Therapy for Infidelity

Many couples choose to continue their relationship after one or more affairs. In therapy, the choice of the couple will be respected and the therapist will serve the couple’s goal to remain united. Therapy can help each partner express their emotions and needs in a safe space and can guide the couple to through the process of healing the betrayal. Therapy can also help each partner uncover and verbalize their level of commitment to the relationship. And therapy can teach the partners skills for repairing trust, as well as help them to foresee potential pitfalls in the future, and improve the chance of avoiding those habits, temptations, and behaviors.


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A therapist can also help each person see more clearly the true nature of the relationship. While the couple’s initial goal of staying united must be respected, there may arise some exceptions – and different therapists may have different philosophies about this, depending on the couple, and on the therapeutic approach practiced. A therapist may point out inconsistencies in the relationship, encourage an open evaluation of the relationship’s strengths, and, if the therapist recognizes a clearly unhealthful pattern, such as codependency or emotional abuse, in repeated affairs, she may even encourage one or both of the partners to reconsider staying together. Many people perceive infidelity by a partner as a personal failure on their own part. Therapy can help work through those feelings, make sense of this unfortunately common experience, and obtain a new perspective.

Timeline for Recovering From an Affair

Although there is no steadfast rule for determining how quickly or slowly a couple will recover from an affair, experts agree that full healing can take place in two years, with some couples taking longer and others recovering sooner. The length of time it takes is directly related to what happens immediately after the affair is discovered.

  • Trauma – Discovery to 6 months: During this phase, the betrayed partner will be in shock and experience significant emotional trauma as a result of finding out about the affair. People feel angry, vengeful, and hopeless. This phase is often a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from loss and grief, to rage and frustration, and can be accompanied by bouts of tears. Both the perpetrator and the betrayed cannot think clearly during this phase, and both may experience physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight or concentration. 
  • Issues Clarification – 3 to 6 months. It is during this time that couples begin to examine what led to the affair. Although there is still a great deal of emotional instability, partners want to understand why the affair happened. The sooner couples can begin this process, the sooner they can reap the rewards of closure. Enlisting the help of a divorce recovery therapist is vital during this extremely psychologically stressful time.
  • Addressing the Problem – 6 months to 1 year. This is when the real work begins. As the emotions become more manageable, spouses can tackle the difficult task of working on the issues that led to the affair. There will be highs and lows, as guilt and anger become mixed with longing for the relationship, but couples who persevere through this phase will be able to finally address the issues that are at the root of much of their discontent.

With the roughest patches in the past, this is a time to a couple can embrace the new relationship they have created. Hopefully, by working with a therapist, couples will have stronger, more genuine bonds. Trust may still be difficult for the betrayed partner, and each will have difficult days accepting that the previous life they knew has been changed forever. There will be days where both partners still struggle to understand why the affair happened. But by practicing techniques learned in therapy, couples can continue to develop an open, honest and new relationship, free of the encumbrances of the affair.

Repeated Affairs

When a relationship experiences adultery, it can have devastating consequences. But when there are repeated affairs, it raises several questions. First, what issues led to the first affair? If there were problems that were never addressed, and were clearly things that led to the first infidelity, they must be dealt with in order to prevent future transgressions. Secondly, how was the first affair handled? Was the offender genuinely remorseful? Did he or she take responsibility for their actions? And did the other spouse acknowledge their role in the infidelity, whether it was jealousy, dependency, anger, or even denial? Partners experiencing multiple infidelities must explore both the pre and post affair factors. They must identify the behavior, communication and emotion that they exhibited and their role in the relationship before and after. And each partner must be honest with their feelings of hurt, guilt and shame. In order to protect the relationship from future infidelities, the foundation must be solid after the affair, not riddled with doubt and insecurity. 


But even taking into account all of these recommendations, some people will still cheat. They may stray because they continually find themselves with the wrong partner, someone who does not meet their emotional needs. They may be facing intimacy issues with an abusive partner or have internal blocks as a result of a previous life trauma. For people who have found themselves cheated on more than once, by more than one partner, they must look at their own commitment to the relationship. If they are not making themselves emotionally and physically available to their partner, they should explore their own internal feelings and experiences to determine how they may be contributing to the behavior.

Medical Conditions Associated with Infidelity

People who repeatedly have affairs may suffer from a compulsive disorder and/or may be masking depression, anxiety, and self-worth and self-love issues. Also, a diagnosis of an adjustment disorder is quite possible in the aftermath of an affair. More difficult transitions may lead to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety disorder, sleep disorders, or, in some cases, when people use chemicals to deal with the stress and sadness, an addiction or dependency issue. People who have a dependent personality disorder may have great difficulty adjusting to an affair by a partner, as may those diagnosed with narcissistic personality. Codependent relationships may actually revolve around repeated affairs.

Telling Husband About Long-Term Affair - Case Example

Trudy, 27, seeks therapy because she is feeling very guilty for cheating on her partner, an affair she recently ended. Trudy has not yet revealed her infidelity to her partner and is terrified of doing so, as she does not want this relationship to end, and does not want to hurt her partner’s feelings. Trudy feels she “ought” to tell her partner but isn’t sure it’s the best course. The therapist helps Trudy clarify what her motivations for telling or not telling might be, and what the possible consequences of each path are. Once Trudy has decided that her commitment to honesty requires her to tell her partner, the therapist helps her prepare for this task, and afterwards, to manage her anxiety. Couple’s work with a different therapist is recommended to help the pair recover further.

Trial Separation After an Affair - Case Example

Don and Felicia, in their 40’s, enter couple’s counseling after Don reveals he has a mistress, and isn’t sure he is ready to stop seeing her. Felicia is angry and depressed, feeling she should leave the marriage but “still in love with Don.” The therapist forms an agreement with the couple that they will decide whether to continue the marriage or dissolve it within one month. Don breaks off his affair, but is still very ambivalent. The therapist helps the couple uncover long-standing problems with intimacy in their marriage, and Don admits to other, previous affairs. Don and Felicia are both recommended to simultaneous, separate individual therapy – Don, to work on his compulsions, and Felicia to work through feelings of inadequacy and anger. After several months, Felicia decides she needs a trial separation, and Don admits he is still having an affair; however, they continue therapy together. Don finally ends his affair. A year later, the couple reunites and begins picking up the pieces with help from the therapist.


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Last updated: 04-01-2014


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