4 Tips for Healing Your Relationship after Your Affair

unhappy couple in a bedroomInfidelity is an issue in many relationships, and the causes are many. What started out as an innocent friendship may have became something more. Perhaps you had no intention of falling for the other person, you weren’t actively looking, and you just started talking to a colleague, neighbor, person in your book club, or classmate with whom you reconnected online.

While there are a variety of ways in which affairs begin, this article will focus on how an unfaithful partner should behave once the affair is exposed. Here are four things you should or should not do in the aftermath of exposure if you want your relationship to survive.

1. Don’t Try to Hide Incriminating Evidence

Once an affair is discovered, your partner will start to second guess and question your past conversations, statements, trips, absences, late nights, strange explanations, etc. I understand that you may have gotten into the habit of lying, being illusive and noncommittal with your partner, but for your relationship to have a chance at recovering, the lying behavior must stop immediately.

All of us have a self-protective instinct that has evolved to keep us safe, and after the affair has come to light, this instinct may shift into overdrive. However, you should fight off the impulse to continue to be dishonest; after all, your partner is likely to be going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. I have seen many couples in the aftermath of an exposed affair experience the hurt partner asking questions about events that took place days, months, or even years before. If your partner’s instinct leads her or him to feel that your explanation of an event doesn’t make sense or is inconsistent, he or she may look further.

Part of what may be driving your partner’s decision to look deeper is the pent-up feeling that for many months something in your relationship felt “off.” Time and again, I have seen unfaithful partners try to cover up or lie after the affair is discovered, only for the truth to come out later (often due to the sleuthing of the partner). Once the truth comes out, whatever new trust may have been created is once again destroyed. The more frequently previously withheld information gets discovered by the hurt partner, the more difficult it will be to rebuild trust. Trust is much harder to rebuild after a relationship breach than it ever was to build initially. If and when your hurt partner asks questions and wants to know details of the affair, it is best if you tell the truth.

2. Take Full Responsibility

Another mistake that many people make when an affair becomes exposed is to blame their partner. In a desperate attempt to explain or project blame, a partner might declare that the reason for the infidelity is because the partner didn’t pay them enough attention, wasn’t interested in having sex, worked too much, was always angry, drank too much, or wasn’t meeting their needs. Any and all of these may be true, but it still doesn’t excuse infidelity.

An unfaithful partner should never take the approach of blaming the partner for their decision. Even in a very unhappy relationship, there are many options available to both partners to make things better. Cheating is never a good one. The only person responsible for the infidelity is the unfaithful partner. There were likely many factors that created an unhappy relationship, and both partners probably played a role. However, in the aftermath of the exposure of any affair, the only one who should take responsibility is the unfaithful partner.

I understand how one may be tempted to project blame onto the spouse—feelings of shame and guilt need an outlet. The unfaithful partner is attempting to explain the unexplainable, and it can feel emotionally overwhelming to admit to themselves and their partner the size of their error in judgment. I know it is difficult to accept, but the decision to cheat falls completely on the shoulders of the unfaithful partner, and admitting this can be a step toward gaining forgiveness.

3. Avoid Becoming Defensive or Angry

Another position that you should avoid when facing the aftermath of affair exposure is to become defensive and angry with your partner. When a partner learns of an infidelity, it can feel like the person they love and trust the most has, literally and figuratively, knocked the wind out of them. The hurt partner will be angry, scared, and sad. The anger you feel from them may come in waves; emotions can and do turn very quickly. Your partner’s life has been turned upside down.

This is not the time to defend your actions. There are no adequate words to justify what you did. Your partner is in pain, and unfortunately, you caused that pain. If you want to save your relationship, this means you need to clean up the mess. During the days, weeks, and months after the affair, the unfaithful partner should not become angry or exhibit frustration when the hurt partner asks questions about the affair partner or the affair. In order to stand a chance at rebuilding, you must be forthcoming, calm, and respectful of the pain you caused. The pain and memories from the affair will not dissipate quickly, so you should not hold that expectation.

4. Focus on Your Partner’s Feelings, Not Your Own

It is also ineffective and destructive in the long run for the unfaithful partner to inadvertently emotionally manipulate the hurt partner by exhibiting signs of self-pity and exaggerated remorse. You may be unsure if your partner will stay in the relationship, and are likely dealing with tremendous anxiety about the future of your relationship, but this is not the time draw attention to yourself and your feelings. This is time to focus on your partner, be truthful, take responsibility, be accountable for your actions, and begin the process of rebuilding trust.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, LMFT, Infidelity / Affair Recovery Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    July 23rd, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    When I found out that my ex had cheated on me it made me even more angry when he tried to blame me for his actions. Now how am I responsible for doing the cheatuing when I remained faithful? I know that there were probably things that I could have done differently but I never strayed and with him I think that’s saying a lot! He on the other hand decided that the solution when things were not going so great was to look for something elsewhere which would have been fine if he had only informed me ahead of time that I wasn’t what he wanted anymore. I don’t like being led on and to do it and then to blame me was just too much to take.

  • shara

    July 23rd, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    Yep, if you did the deed then it is time to think about your partner’s needs and not your anymore.

  • therapydoc

    July 23rd, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    Very good advice. I’m always shocked at the different ways partners lie to one another, and why they do it. For example, one will have an affair, but will say that the other started the lies by lying about substance abuse. Just committing to being honest has to be discussed. Then we can talk about whether or not they are still committed to one another.

  • Tee

    July 24th, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    You know, I have witnessed too many friends who find themselves in these situations, and whether they have been cheated on or they are the cheater, neither side oft he issue will ever be easily resolved or solved. This is a matter that each individual couple is going to have go through their own personaljourney with and for some it will be easier than others. The ones that I find have the hardets time forgiving and moving on are the couples who harbor so much anger and resentment toward one another on both sides that it makes repairing the relationship almost impossible. It is hard to get past some of that even when you might want to when there are still all of these unresolved issues that are left to be dealt with later.

  • Doug

    July 25th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    The bad thing about getting caught, aside from the obvious pain of getting caught, is that most of us would want to do all of the above things. We will first try to hide it, blame it on our spouse, be all angry for their accusations and try to make them feel guilty for the things that we have done.

    Obviously this would not be the best path to take if you wish to heal your relationship but the reality is that these are all things that any one of us would do if we find that we have been caught and have been backed into a corner.

    It is always going to be the best to just admit your mistakes and determine what you two can do together to work on this but it is not always this easy, much more of a challenge than most of us realize until it happens to you.

  • HoPe

    July 27th, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    While I agree with all of these things, I do think that it is also important to remember that it takes two to tango. Just one person didn’t get you to this point in your relationship, so there is blame to be found usually on both sides.

  • samm

    September 3rd, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    my ex admitted to cheating on me, then had the nerve to take it back saying he was just trying to hurt me..four mo. later i caught him talking to his mistress on the phone on easter sunday when he was suppose to be sick and home while the kids and i attended family functions. the worst thing is he never would admit to any wrong doing and always blamed me for snooping. once the trust in a relationship is broken it is over, because the non cheater will always feel less than what is desirable.

  • Joy

    December 28th, 2019 at 1:21 AM

    I love my guy but I think he’s chatting online with girls and I caught him on Instagram and he keeps his f
    Phone and pc in lock down and I’m an open book… my gut is telling me that he’s just using me for sex… he doesn’t cAre to Fi four how my love language affects me…and now I don’t trust him.

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