You Cheated, Now What? Healing Your Relationship After Your Affair

Couple hiking in mountains holds hands and walks togetherThe discovery or revelation of infidelity is one of the most difficult events a relationship can experience. In many couples, there is a sudden upheaval of emotion that threatens to swallow both partners whole. If you have ever searched the internet for answers, you may have found a great deal of support for the partner who experienced the betrayal; for the “wayward” partner, not so much. Being a partner who was unfaithful, yet wishes to reconcile, can be very lonely. This article aims to offer some help with navigating the choppy waters of trying to heal your relationship after your affair.

Your Decision

Before beginning the process of healing your relationship, seriously consider if you want to salvage it. Many wayward partners struggle with the idea of returning to the relationship the way it was before. Some partners are unfaithful because their primary partnership is failing. The idea of returning to that experience may seem almost too painful to bear. Infidelity recovery is a difficult process, so the decision to attempt reconciliation cannot be taken lightly. Before offering reconciliation to your partner, you must decide if that is what you truly want.

In most cases, reconciliation requires that you end any contact with your affair partner(s). This may challenge you to formally end the affair, endure the potential embarrassment, and grieve the loss. This is typically necessary to demonstrate your good-faith effort to rebuild. If you are not ready to end your auxiliary relationship(s) (no matter how trivial this may seem), recovery may not be a viable path for your current relationship. To recover from infidelity requires that you decide to do what it takes to rebuild.

Your “Why”

Many wayward partners are relieved when affairs are discovered because they are no longer in bondage to their secrets. After discovery, the wayward partner may be eager to discuss what was wrong in the relationship that caused them to stray. This conversation is necessary for healing, but immediately after discovery/revelation may not be the best time for it. The betrayed partner is likely reeling from the knowledge and trying to make sense of a new reality. They may be so consumed with wanting to know all the facts about the infidelity that they may not be able to truly hear “why.” Even if they ask, they may not be able to comprehend the answer in a way that brings them healing.

Allowing the injured partner to set the pace of the recovery process is crucial to its success. Know that your honesty in answering the seemingly never-ending questions will allow your partner to eventually come to the “why” of the affair story. In the meantime, self-reflection may help a wayward partner to heal. Exploring how you found yourself in this situation and what needs you were attempting to meet will be key in the process … later. Journaling, talking with a trusted friend, or individual therapy can allow you the safe space you need to find answers to the deeper questions without causing more damage to your hurting partner right now.

Weathering the Storms

As a wayward partner, the agony of discovery/revelation may seem too expansive to contain. Some partners who have been unfaithful experience depressive symptoms as they find themselves thrust from the safety of their secret. Wayward partners may find themselves consumed with extremely low thoughts of self, only to have their injured partner echo those thoughts. The combination of guilt, shame, hurt, and betrayal seems to be a perfect storm.

Recovering from infidelity is not a linear process. Some days a couple may see glimpses of where they want their relationship to be, only to find they feel like they have gone back to step one the next day. Effective recovery is an upward trend.

It may not seem like it, but the storm cannot rage on forever. Some days you may find the sting of betrayal is not as powerful as it was in the beginning. Wayward partners who learn the skill of finding the hurt under the rage may be better positioned to calm the storms in themselves and their partners. In my practice, couples learn that even the most injured partners are looking for the wayward partner to understand the hurt the infidelity has caused. We learn that if pain is acknowledged and empathy is given, the anger can usually subside over time.

Recovering from infidelity is not a linear process. Some days a couple may see glimpses of where they want their relationship to be, only to find they feel like they have gone back to step one the next day. Effective recovery is an upward trend. Through the good days and bad days, the couple may find the lows are not as low as when they began and the highs are more frequent. Understanding the process and being focused on the goal of reconciliation can help a couple cope when emotions are running high.

Lower Your Defenses

One of the most important lessons for a wayward partner is to learn to avoid being defensive. Defensiveness can take many forms. Avoiding or dismissing the severity of the infidelity are only a few ways you can be seen as defensive. Blaming your partner for your infidelity is also defensive and may be detrimental to your partner’s healing. Being defensive also destroys the injured partner’s safety. A wayward partner who consistently takes responsibility for their actions may help their partner to heal faster. When they attack out of hurt, an injured partner wants to believe there is remorse. To show remorse and empathy allows the hurt partner to get what they need in order to heal.

Defending against attack is a natural human response. You may find it useful to think of a partner’s anger as an attack on the distress they are experiencing. Hurt partners may scream, cry, or seem cold in an attempt to rid themselves of pain. Be careful to notice if your relationship is becoming abusive; if so, get help immediately. If your partner is not abusive, to defend against the attack may mean the injured partner is left with this pain. Taking the burden of this suffering may be the act of love that the hurt partner needs in the wake of discovery/revelation. This can help to reestablish trust when you are determined to make amends for the hurt.

Conclusion

Relationships can heal from infidelity. The process is not without its challenges, but it is possible. A couple typically does best when they are determined to work through the pain to get to the healing on the other side. If you are considering reconciliation, you must first decide that rebuilding is your true goal if you want to be successful. Both partners will need to find healing in the pain of an affair, perhaps at different times. Allowing an injured partner to guide the recovery process is important for their healing. If you are able to weather the storms that come without being defensive, you may be more likely to succeed in the recovery process.

Infidelity does not have to mean the demise of your partnership. If you are willing to work through this challenge, perhaps with a nonjudgmental therapist guiding the process, your love for one another can emerge stronger than before.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deidre Prewitt, MSMFC, LPC, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

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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  • jazz

    jazz

    December 26th, 2017 at 10:25 AM

    my bf had an affair didn’t tell me for 2 years we ended up breaking up after I found out couldn’t work through it

  • a

    a "bad" cheater

    December 27th, 2017 at 11:54 AM

    I cheated once but honestly the relationships was dying way before then and it was a last straw. It really takes 2 for relationship to break down. I got labeled as the problem one for cheating but he was basically emotionally checked out, ignoring me and my needs, working too much etc. way before I had one night stand. I needed to feel sexy again and be with someone who gave a crap about me. Do I regret it yes, but I don’t think the relationship problems were only me at all. I wish people would understand that cheating isn’t always one sided you know?

  • Katie

    Katie

    August 7th, 2018 at 10:44 AM

    I’ll be honest I cheated on my boyfriend last year and he came to find out this year almost a week ago. Its been hell pain and all. One day he wants to work it out the next day he wants the relationship to end. I need help coz I still love him and want him back. But I’ve decided to give him space because my continued presence makes him feel superior .

  • Katie

    Katie

    August 7th, 2018 at 10:50 AM

    I have currently been in a cheating saga and I was the wayward person. I want to make it work but my boyfriend is not stable. One time he wants to work it out the next time he is done. I am confused I still love the guy so much.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    December 11th, 2019 at 9:16 AM

    This article is exactly what’s wrong with society. I could get past your first section advising the cheater on deciding on their own if they are wanting to preserve primary relationship before reconciling. If you are married for over a decade and have children, your decision affects everyone. To advise a cheater who had no boundaries, that’s how you got that label, by not caring about anything but how you feel….You made a decision to step out on the marriage without talking to your partner or considering the consequences. I’m a divorce attorney and its amazing to me how many cheaters are living in fantasy land about what that picture (I’m leaving my spouse) looks like and how it affects your kids. They read articles that help them justify cheating, especially special-interest articles on the internet that ignore science….The fact is if you cheated, you are either going through a mid-life crises and/or going through an incredibly selfish and unrealistic time in your life where you are using cognitive dissonance to justify their cheating (i.e. “I’ve always misareable in this relationship”, the other partner is to blame for everything, “we’re just not comparable and should never have married”, the kids will understand I had to do what I needed to be happy…etc). People who cheat are broken and should never make a rash decision like ending a marriage without intense therapy and discovering why you acted selfishly and what you did yourself to contribute to the issues you say led to the affair. While cheating may be a symptom of a bad relationship, cheaters generally don’t understand that they are a big part of the problem, not the other primary partner. If you acted so selfishly, what other things did you do on a daily basis to your partner to make them drift from you? So many marriages needlessly fall apart during a cheating phase primarily due to the cheaters mentality and lack of self-awareness. You are going through and “all about me” phase. Recognize this and challenge yourself to the idea that breaking the relationship may be a bigger a disaster. Years later most realize they made a mistake and just have the same problems with different people and caused their children a lifelong trauma. Just because your kids act the same with you and accepted the blended family (that’s called resilience) doesn’t mean they are not damaged permanently by the ordeal. Your article sympathizes with the cheater, telling them what they want to hear, instead of giving them the good slap in the face they deserve. There’s also a chance you can fix your relationship and it can be better than it ever was, but that requires true honesty about yourself and most cheaters can’t handle that level of honesty because they will have to admit they were the bigger wrong-doer.

  • Yin

    Yin

    April 14th, 2020 at 1:58 PM

    I had an affair.

  • Katerina

    Katerina

    April 29th, 2020 at 10:34 PM

    I appreciate your words your comment I do think cheaters should look at themselves more instead of expecting the one that’s been hurt to magically fix everything and to be magically able to trust them again. I’m sick to death also of cheaters walking out and blaming the person that’s been hurt as if to say you’re broken now there’s nothing I can do it’s your problem.

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