Woman leaning on man's chest with her cheek and hand on his shoulder. Emotional affair recovery.

How to Heal a Relationship After an Emotional Affair

So often when the word “affair” is used, we assume a sexual affair. However, an emotional affair can be just as (if not more) detrimental to the relationship. As a couples counselor and affair recovery coach, I see couples struggle over this reality. 

Why is this? Well, first of all, when your partner is having an emotional affair, it can be highly traumatic. We are created to make decisions that help us survive, so we gravitate towards people who we believe will provide us with not only physical safety, but emotional safety as well.

When we discover that our emotional connection with our partner is compromised and therefore our emotional safety is compromised, it can be a devastating and highly distressing experience.

[How to tell? Read: The Warning Signs of An Emotional Affair]

As a Bentonville, Arkansas marriage counselor who specializes in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT), I know that healing your emotional bond after an emotional affair is challenging, and also possible.

Stages of Emotional Affairs

Emotional affairs typically begin with one partner getting too close with someone outside of the relationship. And not just any someone: Someone they’re attracted to.

What is an Emotional Affair?

The first stages of an emotional affair generally involve feelings of attraction, and increasing feelings of closeness with the emotional affair partner. People in emotional affairs may be flirting and sharing personal details about one’s life and his/her relationship, but it can also look more innocent like confiding in the outside person during times of distress. Emotional affairs can start on social media, or at work — anywhere someone has the privacy to share.

Recognizing an Emotional Affair Before it Goes to Far

While this may seem relatively harmless, the risk of an emotional affair is that the emotional closeness is being taken away from the primary relationship and given to someone else. Over time, people begin feeling increasingly connected to their emotional affair partner, and less connected to their spouse. From an EFCT marriage counseling perspective, this damage to your feelings of safety, security and attachment is not just jarring, but difficult to get over.

Furthermore, as emotional affairs go on, it’s not uncommon for them to turn into sexual affairs. But even if they don’t go that far, when spouses discover emotional affairs it often leads to feelings of betrayal and damage to their sense of trust and emotional safety. 

Again, from an EFCT attachment perspective, this “attachment trauma” can lead to many other problems in your relationship. In order to heal your bond, you need to restore your sense of trust and safety.

Can a Marriage Recover from an Emotional Affair?

Grow Together
Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Ending an emotional affair can be difficult for the person who has come to depend on an outside person to meet their emotional needs. And for people whose spouses were engaging in an emotional affair, trust can be very hard to rebuild.

After an emotional affair, my clients come to me feeling hopeless, alone, and unsure of how to move forward. The truth is, recovering from an emotional affair is hard work, and almost always requires the help of a trained professional. However, the good news is that many couples who are committed to rebuilding their relationship, can… and even go on to establish a stronger, more satisfying relationship than ever before.

As a therapist who works with couples recovering from infidelity, as well as emotional affairs — all from an emotionally focused couples therapy lens — here are some steps that I recommend.

Grow Together

Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Emotional Affair Recovery: The Path of Healing

Step 1: Recognize The Emotional Affair For What It Is, An Affair

Since we often consider an affair to be sexual, it can be challenging to accept that an emotional affair is as equally valid and detrimental as a sexual affair. Until you are able to do this, it will be very difficult to recover. 

For those of you who have committed the affair, your partner (and your relationship) cannot truly heal until you are able to see how your actions affect him/her. For those of you who are victims of the affair, admitting that you are emotionally betrayed can be the beginning of a truly healing experience. 

Step 2: Commit To Moving Forward After The Affair

Because affairs are so emotionally devastating, it is easy to throw in the towel and assume there is no hope for recovery. However, couples who are committed to recovering can actually make it through!

The key to recovering from an affair is to decide to move forward and renew your commitment to the relationship. For emotional affair recovery to work, both partners need to be committed to the process of recovery, no matter how hard it may be.

It is also important to note, however, that if you have experienced emotional or physical abuse, or if the affair is still ongoing, there are much bigger barriers to emotional safety and it may not be safe or healthy to pursue affair recovery

Step 3: Set Boundaries

Since the hurt partner is feeling betrayed, in the early stages of affair recovery it is vital that the unfaithful partner shows him/her that they are committed to moving forward. 

The most helpful way to demonstrate commitment is by setting clear boundaries with the outside partner. This means cutting ALL ties with him/her. 

Doing this will provide the hurt partner with a sense of safety that the affair is less likely to occur again AND it shows him/her that the unfaithful partner is truly wanting to move forward in their partnership.  

Step 4: Work On Reviving Your Relationship (I mean really work on it)

Recovering from an affair is hard work and requires a commitment not only to each other but to the very process of recovery. Possibly the best thing you can do at this point is to reach out to a trained professional that can help.  

As a couple’s therapist, I try to help couples through this difficult process by providing a space to atone for the affair, attune to each other’s emotional needs, and eventually attach to each other in a deeper, more meaningful way than before.

In addition to participating in couples therapy, you can also do things outside of therapy to help revive your relationship!

First, nurture your friendship. The very foundation of a healthy relationship is a good friendship, so do things that help build fondness. Go do something you’ll both enjoy together!

Another thing you can do is find small ways to tune into each other’s emotional needs. Try using an “I feel, I need” statement in order to create an opportunity for connection. 

Ending an Emotional Affair: The Good News

There is hope! Many couples recover from emotional infidelity. It is possible. The process of recovery takes time, so be patient with the process, with your partner, and with yourself. 

Ultimately, you can rebuild a relationship even better than it was before!

P.S. If you’re in the recovery stages of an emotional affair, forgiveness can be the biggest hurdle. However, if you do want to continue forward in your partnership – it’s an important step. I encourage you to seek help from a professional marriage counselor and an affair recovery coach to help you and your relationship heal. Here’s more on How to Forgive Your Partner, When The Hurt Feels Big.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *