The Formula for Affair Repair: Time, Trust, and Discomfort

Offended coupleYou find yourself in a fraught situation: your partner has just learned about your affair. Feelings of panic, anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt overwhelm you. You aren’t sleeping well, maybe waiting for the other shoe to drop, worried that every conversation will lead to your partner telling you it’s over. You have some decisions to make: should you stay or leave the relationship? If you decide to stay, there are some realities you must accept—specifically, the repair process could take a couple of years. It will require a lot of emotional and behavioral work.

Think of it this way: repairing an affair is like trying to rebuild an investment account after having made a series of short-sighted trades that wiped you out. You feel pressured to save and reinvest quickly to recreate what you had, but just like with a financial investment, relationship investments cannot be rebuilt quickly. At first, your balance is zero. It is through your efforts that the balance in the account grows. Just as all of your spending decisions will affect how much you are able to deposit in your retirement account, the daily decisions you make about your relationship will result in how quickly you build up your relationship account.

The unfaithful partner must accept the reality of the slow repair process. Just when everything seems to be going well and you are hopeful that forgiveness will come soon, your partner may be triggered by a thought, event, or feeling and be thrown back into the well of anger and despair. Continue to think of it as an investment account. Checking the balance every day won’t make it grow faster. What does make it grow faster is making everyday choices that please your partner.

Love is behavioral—it takes attention, attunement, regular and healthy communication, compromise, and a willingness to play the long game. Short-sightedness in relationships is a self-inflicted wound. Do not cut corners by passing up chances at affection or emotional connection, or by rationalizing that unhealthy behaviors don’t count or won’t be noticed. When in the process of repair, the unfaithful partner must act from an understanding that everything he or she does matters. Your actions and words will serve to either help rebuild your relationship or contribute to its breakdown.

The partner in the process of repair needs to accept that he or she may be under the microscope. You will be watched, assessed, and perhaps feel like you are under surveillance. Before allowing this to upset you, remind yourself that you created this situation.

You may be wondering what really helps in rebuilding trust in your relationship. From my perspective, relationships are repaired mainly through small gestures. Trips to romantic destinations and expensive gifts may seem like obvious ways to increase trust, but they’re not. Trust is developed by engaging in trustworthy behavior on a regular basis.

To help you clean up your relationship mess, here are some suggestions that may increase trust between you and your partner:

  1. Cut out the secrecy. Your partner may want to have your passwords for your phone, banking, credit cards, and social media accounts. This may feel invasive and unnecessary to you, but to your partner, this gesture sends the message that you get it. Hurt partners often gain reassurance by engaging in the process of “checking.” Many hurt individuals greatly dislike the act of checking up on their partners because they genuinely want to trust you. Reading emails and text messages can make the hurt partner feel parental. It’s an uncomfortable situation for both parties, which is why it often stops shortly after it starts.
  2. Increase your availability. If your partner contacts you, make every effort to either answer the phone, text, or email back immediately. If there were frequent communication dark periods during your affair, your partner will respond to your unavailability with increased anxiety, which leads to lack of trust.
  3. If after ending the affair you are still contacted by the affair partner, tell your partner of the contact. You may resist doing so out of fear it could lead to a fight, but if he or she finds out later about any further contact between you and your affair partner, trust will be weakened.
  4. Be honest about why you chose to have the affair. One way to not make the same mistake twice is to understand why you made the choices you did. Sharing the truth can be and often is very painful, but it is a vital aspect of the repair process.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, LMFT, therapist in Chicago, Illinois

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.

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  • Nina

    Nina

    September 18th, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    I can’t even begin to imagine just how difficult it must be to rebuild that trust that is lost after one partner or another has an affair. There is so much damage that is done to the relationship in the interim that it must be hard to cobble back together that which is torn apart. I have witnessed many friends who have gone through this, from both sides, and it is neither easy to be the one who has the affair or the one who has been cheated on. This repair work is something that you either have to commit to working on fully or you have to know that it will be terribly difficult to put the marriage back together.

  • Lane

    Lane

    September 18th, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    You have to know that there are going to be those who think that it is crazy to have to give up things like passwords and things like that when they feel that they are trying to resolve the issues.
    I get it that you might feel hurt and that makes you suspicious but shouldn’t it be enough that I tell you that it’s over? If you can’t trust me then how can either of us reasonably agree to try to work this thing out?

  • Rhea

    Rhea

    September 19th, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    Time would have to be the most important thing for me. I think that there are many couples who rush right back into things without taking the time to process and heal that they probably should. They think that they can make it work by just going backtoth e same old routine without stopping to think that maybe it was the sameness of it all that got them to this point in the first place?

  • keena

    keena

    September 19th, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    If there is still any sort of contact whatsoever then you need to break that off immediately! This is not what you need in your life to get back with your spouse, and I think that contact of any kind only invites more trouble.

  • Leila S

    Leila S

    September 20th, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Ok so I know that there has to be something that is terribly wrong with a relationship for one person to choose to cheat. But at the same time, the relationships that wind up being the ones that can be repaired are also something that I feel have to have something fundamentally deep between them to make them work. There has to be the basis for very strong love there and that isn’t something that can be made up or put back together. Now the trust thing, I get that that this can be broken but I also think that with work between two partners who want to make it happen, then that can happen. But the love essentially still has to be there, and if it is, if that part of the relationship never died then I think that you have a pretty good chance of being able to work through this.

  • phyllis

    phyllis

    September 22nd, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    affair repair…
    is there such a thing?
    i would love to know just how many marriages can survive this kind of betrayal, how many go back together for a while, how many make it last, and how many evetually end up in divorce

  • Tonia

    Tonia

    September 22nd, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    What if I feel like I only have so much time and that waiting for years for everything to kick in and feel right again is nto acceptable to me?
    Seriously I think that this is causing me to waste a whole lot of precious time on forgiveness that may never come

  • Anonymous1

    Anonymous1

    September 23rd, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    Can people change? Can people truly change? I’ve been pondering this for some time. I thought my significant other and I had made progress, yet, he has been unfaithful again. Out of no where. He was drunk. She was drunk. She physically put herself on him, he resisted at first, and then consented. None of it makes sense. Do people heal from the trauma of their childhood, their previous relationships? Or do they walk around with permanent scars, hindering any possibility for growth and love in the future? Being a counselor myself, maybe I’ve been so blinded by love that I cannot see correctly.

  • rianna

    rianna

    February 4th, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    May I ask where your relationship is now? I am in the exact same situation with my partner, I asked him to leave and he’s been gone for a week. We have two children.

  • Chris

    Chris

    September 23rd, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    I agree with Nina but I’ve also seen relationships that were already unrepairable when the cheating took place.
    In other words cheating was the result not the cause.
    There was a fundamental problem in the relationship before the cheating occurred.
    In one case she said she no longer loved her husband and was not sexually attracted to him ( so she cheated).
    It turns out he was not a talker and unable to express his feelings, she felt unloved because he didn’t give her the affection she needed.
    Thus she found it elsewhere.
    Couples must communicate !!!!

  • Jace

    Jace

    September 25th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    I am so tired of all of the bitterness that I have felt for too long now, I have let it ruin potentially great relationships all because I could not get past what had been done to me before. Why am I letting what was done to me and I played no role in it continue to haunt me and prevent me form moving on? That was finally the realization that I came to, that I was letting someone else continue to rule my life and keep me from moving forward. It’s been hard but I am starting to bit by bit let that go and move on doing things that I know will make me happy.

  • RJ

    RJ

    November 11th, 2014 at 6:27 AM

    is it really possible to repair a marriage after an affair? does he leave his job because she works there? where will that leave us financially? how do i know he is not inlove with her and wont tell me because he doesnt want to hurt me, is he staying because of our son…. how does the pain and paranoia go away? will i ever leave him if i love him this much :(

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer

    November 13th, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    RJ – I am asking myself the same questions that you have asked above. My husband of 25 years had an affair with a friend that I considered as part of our family over the 16 years or so. There is an emotional connection with them and she works in our office (we are self employed). I caught it via phone text searching. I realize the wrong in spying, however I knew something was going on and could not get either of them to be honest with me. This was about 3 months ago. I am trying to forgive and move forward. We are trying to work on our marriage; however, she still works in our office as well as my husband and myself. I have such a hard time just working without it always being in my head and making me feel anxious or cry. I am going to seek the help of a therapist, but have not yet made that step. I love my husband and I know that he loves me. Our business needs the income that she provides and it is not easily replaced. I have said that I cannot work there with her there but working from home is not an option. I feel like I am dying inside and almost obsessive with it. Not a unique situation but not really sure how to get past it.

  • Dillan

    Dillan

    November 18th, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    I have resently evaded a hurtfull relationship with my ex who took my trust and turned it against me. She knew that i loved her and would do just about anything to make her feel happy, she told me that she loved me and nothing would ever break us apart but after a year and four months she still cheated on me and we broke up.
    After experiencing that i lost trust in every woman and i was afraid to start another relationship because i had strong trust issues. But after a couple of months i was reunited with an old friend that was funed of me and i was funed of her from we were kids. She and i exchanged contacts and we began talking to each other, i told her about my resent break up and she told me that her last breakups were just the same as mine. With all that similarity we decided to start a relationship and cherish each other and be there for each other since we both know what it is like to be heart broken. i totally devoted my life to her to make her happy even though i was scared of getting hurt again but she assured me that nothing would come between us. We were doing great for the last two and a half months until we went out for the first time and i found out that see was seeing someone els for about a week. I felt like my world had collapsed i cried and begged her not to leave or hurt me, i asked her to leave this new guy but she refuses, she said she still loves me and all and she has no intentions of leaving me but she just realize that she was not ready to make such serious commitments as yet. She wants us to have a open relationship but i am just not use to this, i can hardly sleep at night and i fear that at the end of this all she might not choose me even though i think i am the best man for her. At the moment i an currently seeking help to get over my fear.

  • Sandra

    Sandra

    February 11th, 2015 at 8:10 AM

    I can relate to infidelity, my husband cheated on me and we are now rebuilding our marriage. Will I ever trust him again as I once did “No” and I don’t ever want to trust to that extent. It was an eye opener and I never want to be in the dark again. I want to be reminded never to be caugth off guard like that again. Yes I can move forward but he took a piece of the marriage that he can never regain. It’s like cutting your arm off and getting a fake arm it never fits right. His cheating was a wake up call for me to be mindful of my surroundings. No I’m not gonna check up on him or be no more insecure than I already am. If he is going to cheat again I can’t stop him, but what I can do is heal and work on me to get stronger mentally just in case it happens again. I will say this if he does it again it will truly be over this time. The first time is a learning process but the second time tells me you don’t want the marriage to work so why and I here. Yes I am still bitter, but I pray a lot that is what keeps me strong. Thanks

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