Affair Recovery: 5 Steps to Repairing Your Relationship

Couple walking in the fogCoping with an affair is one of the greatest challenges a couple might face. Some people choose not to try to cope and instead leave the relationship feeling devastated by unprocessed anger and hurt. Others choose to stay and find answers, potentially leading to reconnection and rediscovery.

When a person finds out that his or her partner has strayed, feelings of betrayal, confusion, and abandonment may cast a painful shadow over everyday life. It takes time to reestablish trust. If both partners are committed to making the relationship work, it is possible to make a full recovery from an affair.

As a couples therapist, I’ve watched couples go through a five-step process while working through this difficult time. The process works. But to fully heal, you and your partner must go through each step together.

At each step, you will peel back the layers of your relationship, discussing what happened leading up to the affair. As you dig in deeper, you may realize that there were issues in the relationship and individually that contributed to the affair. Keeping these issues in mind will guide you as you address the real sources of the problems.

Use each step below to guide your discovery of the true sources of problems in your relationship. The steps do not necessarily happen in order. However, each one is necessary and fundamental to the healing and rebuilding of your life together.

1. Apologies and Forgiveness

Before you can move forward, both people need to make the choice to remain in the relationship and work through things. It won’t be easy. It is imperative that the person who had the affair apologizes, and that the offended partner offers forgiveness.

The person who had the affair must offer a genuine, heartfelt apology. The apology must acknowledge the hurt and pain the other person is feeling. He or she must openly express empathy for the myriad emotions the other person is experiencing.

The person who was cheated on must forgive the affair. It’s this forgiveness that will allow reconnection to happen.

2. Commitment and Communication

Both partners must feel committed to each other. This commitment is significant as you move through the healing process.

Demonstrate your commitment of patience and time by listening to and openly communicating the “how” and “why” of the affair. Reassure each other that you will figure out how your relationship got to this point.

The goal is to discover the underlying factors and triggers that contributed to the affair. Some couples find the affair was a symptom of growing apart. Others find the affair stemmed from feeling disconnected and distant. Regardless of the reason, open communication and commitment to each other is necessary for getting to the root of what caused the affair.

3. Mourning the Affair

Grief and sadness are natural feelings after an affair. Experiencing and expressing the pile of emotions you’re going through is part of the healing process.

Allow the offended partner to express these feelings of betrayal and the emotional impact of the affair.

Through all the pain and emotion, both partners will eventually need to take ownership of the underlying issues that caused the affair.

4. Awakening and Rebuilding Trust

Through all the pain and emotion, both partners will eventually need to take ownership of the underlying issues that caused the affair. In this stage, you will both awaken and recognize that the affair was a symptom of a problem, or problems, in the relationship.

As you work on repairing the underlying issues, you will rebuild trust and create a new sense of security and safety. Feelings that were never expressed may float to the surface. Issues that were never discussed will become a new part of the relationship.

It’s during this stage that physical intimacy may be rekindled and emotional intimacy restored. The offended partner must feel reassured that he or she is still attractive and desirable to the partner who had the affair.

5. Reconnection and Acceptance

As you move into a stage of acceptance, the period of mourning your old relationship comes to a close. You’re ready to reconnect and rebuild your new relationship by learning from your mistakes. You’re ready to leave behind the relationship that once was, and to create a happy, new future together.

It’s hard to recover from an affair, but with a lot of work, commitment, and dedication, your relationship can grow as a result of the experience. Once you’re able to move past the hurt and pain, you will have a solid, more evolved partnership. The work is well worth it, and partnering with a therapist is a great place to start.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rachel Moheban-Wachtel, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

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.

  • 38 comments
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  • kendra

    kendra

    June 18th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I know that finding a way to patch up that relationship is a thing that many couples will choose to work toward, but I do think that for me I would just want to end it all.

    There is something about this that for me I feel that no matter how much work I did I could never get past the hurt and the pain that this would cause me.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 18th, 2015 at 3:42 PM

    Thank you Kendra for your comment.

    I think many people feel this way but it depends on the situation. I have worked with couples over the years that have been able to get over the hurt and pain with a lot of work and commitment. Some couples have discovered that the affair was a symptom of issues in the relationship and they were able to work them out. It’s still very painful and takes a very long time to regain the trust back in the relationship.

  • Sadie

    Sadie

    June 18th, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    No matter how hard it is, if you want the marriage to survive past this deception, then you have to be willing to accept the apologies and really offer some forgiveness to your partner. I think that we all get all bogged down in our own emotional anger and hurt, but you also have to be willing to look at the relationship from the other side and try to find some sort of understanding of why this happened and what your role could have been. I am not saying that you have to say that what happened was your fault, but we all have to take a little bit of ownership and show that we are in this with our partner and that we are equally willing to work on the relationship to repair the damage.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 19th, 2015 at 5:42 AM

    I agree Sadie. One of the biggest indicators of relationships working is when partners take ownership. This is extremely important in creating a healthy relationship.

  • Sadie

    Sadie

    June 19th, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    Thanks Rachel. I don’t know that it would ever be the easiest thing to do but your partner has to know that at least there is a willingness there on your part to understand and to do much of the heavy lifting too that can ultimately bring the two of you back together, maybe even close than you were before.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 19th, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    Agreed, and I have seen this happen with couples I’ve worked with over the years. But, they were both extremely committed and did whatever they could to build the relationship and do their individual work too.

  • Ben

    Ben

    June 20th, 2015 at 12:22 AM

    My wife wants to be friends with her lover. I’m pretty sure this includes intimacy. I want us to move forward but it seems it has to be this way. She seems not to understand the pain this gives me.

  • KIM

    KIM

    June 20th, 2015 at 5:46 AM

    So I did all the right things- I thought- I forgave, I forgot, I worked and he still did it again. Don’t I feel like a fool.

  • Emmorie

    Emmorie

    June 20th, 2015 at 9:48 PM

    So what is your marital status now? I too have done the same.

  • Chambers

    Chambers

    June 20th, 2015 at 12:30 PM

    Out of curiosity which partner do you think has the hardest time in a marriage overcoming the affair?

    The spouse who cheats or the one who has been wronged?

    I almost think that it might be easier to accept the affair than to deal with the guilt and the shame of committing this act,.

  • Sutton

    Sutton

    June 21st, 2015 at 5:15 AM

    Not that I ever really want to have another person have to experience this but I think that the affair was the real eye opener for me in our marriage. It allowed me to see that hey, there are some weaknesses here that the two of us are not addressing, and some things that we both need to work on to make this marriage stronger.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 22nd, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Kim, I’m sorry this happened to you again. You need to talk to your partner and figure out what is going on. Have you worked on your relationship the first time this happened? You can’t just forgive and forget, this is a work in progress and your partner has to be completely committed constantly nurturing your relationship.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 22nd, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Chambers, I think it is hard for both parties involved. Feelings of guilt and betrayal are both horrible. I have worked with couples who suffered from these emotions and it takes a long time to heal.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 22nd, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Sutton, thank you for your comment, I have experienced this many times throughout the years I have worked with couples. It sounds like you and your partner have worked hard on your relationship and are now in a healthy and more evolved partnership

  • Loren

    Loren

    June 22nd, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    There is nothing that will ever be easy in marriage and certainly not after one or both of you have betrayed the trust of the other. It can be worked on and over time it can be patched and fixed but I do have a hard time believe that all of the hurt will ever go away.

  • Jeremy Frank PhD CAC

    Jeremy Frank PhD CAC

    June 22nd, 2015 at 5:59 PM

    I also think that it’s really important to consider carefully all the reasons why it may be the right thing to leave a relationship. I wrote a GoodTherapy Blog about that which you can find here…https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/three-reasons-to-leave-abuse-addiction-affairs-1205134
    Jeremy Frank PhD CADC Addiction Psychologist

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 23rd, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    The hurt may never go away but it’s a process and the couple must constantly be working together to develop and maintain communication and intimacy in the relationship. Check this FREE audio lessons for strategies to help maintain intimacy and communication in your relationship: relationshipsuite.com/intimacy

  • Kittredge

    Kittredge

    June 23rd, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    You have to be really willing to accept his apology. And what I mean is that you have to be ready to accept it and take it to heart and not act like you hear it but then just forget about it. Be really willing to accept it.

  • Jeremy

    Jeremy

    June 28th, 2015 at 6:18 PM

    I have cheated and been caught twice. I don’t know why I did it. My wife certainly didn’t deserve it and I am truly sorry. I don’t know what to do. We are still talking it out but i am afraid of the damage that is done. That I done. I don’t know how to show her that I am sincerely sorry and want to make things right.

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    June 29th, 2015 at 12:53 PM

    Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you for sharing this. I think an important next step for you and your wife would be couples counseling. Show her your commitment and explore on a deeper level why you cheated two times…it’s important that both of you understand this.
    Best of luck.

  • julia

    julia

    July 2nd, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    What is the best way to talk to your spouse about ending their affair? My husband has been involved in an emotional affair for over a year and 1/2. I found out 3 months ago and confronted him with it. He apologized, and we have spoken only a little bit about it. He is still “deciding” about whether he wants to stay with me (and our 4 kids) or go with her… I know that he cares/ loves her- I know that this is a hard decision, but I feel like I have been more than patient, and would like a real answer, I just don’t know the best way to approach it because no matter what happens we will forever be connected because of our kids…

  • Emmorie

    Emmorie

    August 28th, 2015 at 1:11 PM

    Leave a cheater …gain a life. Check out chumplady.com

  • Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    Rachel Moheban-Wachtel

    July 2nd, 2015 at 2:52 PM

    HI Julia,

    I think you have been very patient. You need to communicate to him the importance of discussing this major issue and his feelings with you. HIs ambivalence and decisions have an impact on your life and you deserve to know what he is thinking.

    You need to figure out with him many things but it’s essential that you start working on your relationship and communication. I suggest you ask him to go to counseling with you and begin the communication process. At this point it’s unfair for you to be on standby..You need to know what’s going on. Best of luck to you.

  • Letonya E.

    Letonya E.

    August 13th, 2016 at 12:15 PM

    I recently started dating a man for 7 months, prior to the new relationship, I was with my ex for 14 months he broke up with me and I quickly moved on and started dating the new guy of 7 months. Of course 2-3 weeks into the new relationship my ex starts calling and wanting me back .. So I entertained it and continued to start and date them both , I felt horrible and made the choice to stay with the new guy but I came clean about what I was doing , and he chose to forgive me but every week since May we have discussions/ arguments and the root of it is him not trusting me , I tell him them I know it will take a while and that he chose to forgive me and remain in the relationship he cannot continue to bring it up every week or were never going to move on from thus and it’s going to run me off because I don’t like to argue and fight.. But he feels that since he forgave me I need to let him deal with me cheating by constantly bringing it up .. I’m so exhausted from thus relationship and it’s only been 7 months … I don’t know what to do .. He constantly thinks I’m cheating ..

  • mandy

    mandy

    July 9th, 2015 at 2:43 PM

    kim i’m with you. i did my fair share of work and my “boyfriend” (he turned out to be not worthy of the title) still was a cheater. you know what they say once a cheater always a cheater

  • Kala

    Kala

    August 28th, 2015 at 4:22 PM

    Very inspirational

  • Violet

    Violet

    August 28th, 2015 at 8:41 PM

    Affairs are so difficult.
    My husband had an affair where he maintained a relationship with another woman as well as the marriage and a one night stand until it all exploded. It occurred several years ago but I still struggle with flash backs and anxiety. I can go weeks or months without it even crossing my mind and then there’s weeks where every day something/someone reminds me of that time in our lives.
    I always wish that it would have never happened. There are days I wish i would have walked away and then there are days that i love what we’ve redefined as our marriage.

  • Matt

    Matt

    August 29th, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    “Through all the pain and emotion, both partners will eventually need to take ownership of the underlying issues that caused the affair. In this stage, you will both awaken and recognize that the affair was a symptom of a problem, or problems, in the relationship.”

    This is ridiculous to me. Think about it from a different angle for a moment: affairs are abusive behaviors, right? You’re willingly exposing your spouse to the threat of stds (some of which are communicable even wearing protection), not to mention the emotional trauma.

    There are no other forms of domestic abuse where we ask the victim to “own their role” in the abusive behavior. We don’t ask victims of domestic violence or the spouses of addicts to ponder the reasons how they “contributed to the symptoms” that led to being abused in those ways.

    And why not?

    Because just like drinking, or drugs, or violence, we recognize that cheating was a very specific coping mechanism that the cheating partner chose. There is an entire panorama of ways that human beings choose to deal with unhappiness (marital or otherwise), and a great many of them don’t involve using and manipulating two other human beings as props on the path for individual happiness.

  • Rachel M

    Rachel M

    August 29th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Great site Emmorie-hoping it helps people.

  • Rachel M

    Rachel M

    August 29th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    It’s a very creative idea.

  • Sam

    Sam

    August 29th, 2015 at 12:28 PM

    These steps would really help if the person decides to finish the affair. Sometimes feeling guilty may make the person to apologize for something he has done, but forgiveness and being accepted in the family ease the pain of the guilty thoughts and he may go back and start another affair.
    In my point of view, If someones goes outside of a marriage for a relationship to be satisfied, this means that the previous relationship won’t work at all, not now, not in the future.

  • Susangh

    Susangh

    January 28th, 2016 at 9:29 AM

    Matt, thanks for pointing out that cheating is emotional abuse. It involves lying to the person you claim to love. The liar is distorting his victim/partner’s reality, depriving her of complete knowledge about her own life. He is holding his wife captive by not letting her make an informed choice about whether he is worth her time and attention.
    I hate my porn addict husband who turned my world upside down by getting fired for using online porn at work. If he doesn’t enjoy being despised and knowing that he disgusts me, he can file for divorce and let me impoverish him. I simply hate him even though he is working hard in therapy and 12 Step.
    It’s the intentional lying and betrayal for so long that destroyed his marriage. Aparently, he had been doing it since long before we met and I made clear when we were dating that porn was a deal-baker for me. I wish he had spoken up and said “Love me, love my porn habit” and given me a choice rather than pretending he had no interest in that form of harmless entertainment.
    Sometimes when I’d call him a few minutes before our usual call time before he left work, he’d sound like I caught him doing something he was ashamed of. When I asked what he was doing, he always said he was playing online chess. After being confronted by his bosses that fateful Friday afternnon, he came home and lied to me all weekend that he was “in a little trouble with HR for playing too much chess on the clock.” He was barred from campus Monday morning, fired for gross misconduct and didn’t even qualify for COBRA. He risked our home, our health, marriage and rescued dogs. Idiot. I adored him. Now I don’t know who he was or who we were, but none of it had been real. Feels disorienting to have lived in non-reality. The lying pervert-scum got a better job so I’m keeping him for his paycheck. No love or trust from me again! Gimme the money, honey.

  • HH

    HH

    December 20th, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    New job and more money? Sweet.

  • Amy

    Amy

    February 13th, 2016 at 6:25 AM

    I recently found out my H of 10 years was having an affair. I kicked him out… He moved in with a friend, quit his
    Job and is still seeing OW. He has not told family only a few friends . When I ask about a divorce, he says I am
    Jumping to conclusions . I am taking care of our 6 year old who only wants her Daddy back. He says he is not sure what he wants .. It messes with my mind all the time.. He has recently made mention of losing his family .. Something he has not said.. He also tells me he is fighting a lot with his OW. Could the fog being lifted ? Cracks in the perfect relationship ? Help!

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    February 13th, 2016 at 12:27 PM

    Dear Amy,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Linda R

    Linda R

    March 4th, 2016 at 11:43 AM

    As I read this I once again cannot find any help with our situation. My husband who was 21 and serving in the military courted a girl who was also 21 for weeks and then went overseas for a tour of duty, I was with my family 800 miles away. He took her address with him and wrote to her, she wrote him that she was pregnant. We already had a 2 year old. Married way too young. When he returned to states, I went to live with him again and found a note she had left with one of his co workers that said “Anna loves you and all nine yard”. I was devastated. He never told me it was more than a one time thing and that she was pregnant. I had a child, no education, no job, what was I to do?? I forgave him for a one time occurrence. That was March 1970, fast forward to 2014 and he gets an email from someone who thinks he might be her biological father, he again denies and does nothing. 2015 he gets another email from her husband saying she had letters her now deceased mother had left for her. He trashed the email but told me about it. I told him if it could be true he had to find her. January 2016 he found a message on his facebook page from her. She found him thru FB. Sent her an email and had phone call with her on 1/26/16. I listened to phone call. DNA was done and she is his child. She has his green eyes, which are very rare and looks exactly like him and his father. I hate him for this and he also confessed to two other sexual encounters with other women. One before this and one in 1981. I don’t want a life with his reminder of the affair in my life. I know she is innocent but there were no problems in our marriage and he had protection with him but said she laughed at him about the condoms and he didn’t bother. PLEASE help me. I am too old to start over and will stay with him but I don’t think I love him, respect him or trust him now.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    March 4th, 2016 at 3:55 PM

    Dear Linda,

    Thank you for your comment. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we encourage you to reach out. The support of a therapist or counselor may help you address the aftereffects of this affair and help you find answers as you move forward.

    You can find a list of therapists in your area through our website. Simply enter your ZIP code here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available, and we wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Nikki

    Nikki

    June 12th, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    A year and a half ago I found out that my husband had a two year affair. She had texted me and sent me photos of their time together. Since then I had also found out that he also had a four year drug addiction and when he met her he was already two years addicted. She was his new dealer. He says he received no favors and paid for everything… So why sleep with her? I think I’d understand better if he got something out of it. He said they only had sex when they were totally wasted. He has no feelings for her. We have been together from middle school and this was all so shocking. We have three children and he works away a lot so was able to hide this all so well. since then he has been to rehab and says he has cut off all ties with her. I have heard so many lies I don’t know what to believe. I randomly drug test him and he apologizes and even goes to counseling with me.
    I’m having a hard time. When u have it all why need drugs? Great life, nice home, perfect family… Then a woman also? And so many lies come with it all. So many triggers. Two long years of planning on his end. I saw photos of him going to be with her on her two birthdays, I saw places he worked and she went out to him. I saw places he went to be with her. A trip to Vegas and so many many many things. He was my best friend up til this. An amazing father. I don’t understand. Finding out about the drugs was hard and just such a blow. But this whole story has left me a wreck. Counseling helps a little. But at the end of the day. I’m still a wreck… He did all this. I see he’s sorry and trying, but I’ll never be the same. I’m scared of the miserable unhappy life this has created. I want to let go and I don’t know how. We have three beautiful babies that don’t know about this and I want them to grow up happy.

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