The Pain of Infidelity: Infidelity Recovery Stages
Is it true that the pain of infidelity never goes away? Is it possible to get over infidelity pain? What does the road to healing look like after infidelity? What are the infidelity recovery stages and are they possible? As a family and marriage therapist and relationship coach, I have couples come to me looking for help through the process of healing after infidelity, whether it’s a sexual affair, emotional infidelity, or financial infidelity. They often ask questions similar to above – and it’s true – infidelity recovery is a long road, but for couples who put the work into the relationship it can be healed.
It is NOT true that pain caused by infidelity never goes away, even when the hurt feels big. Like with any trauma, it has an impact on someone’s life, and regardless of whether the relationship is repaired or not, post traumatic growth is absolutely doable.
To move past infidelity pain, it is important to talk through and process the event. For couples who choose to repair and rebuild the relationship, it is important for them to understand that their previous relationship needs to be grieved because the relationship as they once knew it no longer exists after such a significant breach of trust.
Couples often wish they could “go back to the way things used to be,” but I always like to remind couples that “the way things used to be” actually didn’t work for them. Instead, through couples counseling work, you can repair trust and create a new, more effective, healthy, and satisfying relationship. Most couples who successfully achieve affair recovery report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than it ever was before the affair took place.
The work that is done during the affair healing process allows couples to evaluate all areas of their relationship and to pull what worked into their “new” relationship, and to address and “fix” the areas that were not as effective.
Infidelity Recovery Stages: Falling Out of Love After Infidelity
But what do you do if the trauma of infidelity has impacted your relationship to what feels like the point of no return? Or, what if the affair itself has brought to light major discrepancies in your relationship that has completely changed your outlook on your partnership? In my work with clients who have experienced an affair in their partnership have questions like, “I don’t think I’m in love with my partner anymore – is it possible to forgive them/myself and recover what we once had?” And, “When do I know it’s time to move on?”
A great way to know when it’s time to move on is if your partner is unwilling to be patient and participate in this process. It isn’t easy, but it is possible and requires both partners to be invested in the healing process. It is absolutely normal for either couple to experience frustration and even hopelessness at times during the healing process because it can feel like a never-ending issue. At times, it can be very difficult for the spouses to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the healing process requires that couples trust their therapist to guide them through it. What you may be feeling right now is completely and totally okay, and the only way to move forward together is to process these emotions and work through healing together. As I mentioned above, many couples who successfully achieve healing after an affair report that their relationship is stronger and more connected than ever before.
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Infidelity and Divorce
There are less damaging options for couples considering divorce than the traditional litigation route, such as the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is an alternative dispute resolution method in which two attorneys, and in most cases, a financial professional and a mental health professional, work together as a team to help a couple separate legally, financially, and emotionally.
Alternatively, couples can explore mediation, which allows couples to find resolution with the help of a third-party mediator. Both of these alternatives to traditional litigation allow the couple to stay out of court, which is beneficial to the family for a number of reasons, and they grant the couple more autonomy in creating marital settlement agreements that are specific to their unique family needs.
Infidelity Recovery Stages
So what does the road to recovery look like after infidelity? What can you and your partner expect in couples counseling and throughout the healing process? Typically, the partner who has been cheated on has many questions, and it is important for them to grasp the entire situation and have all of their questions answered. The healing process requires the person who has been unfaithful to answer all of their spouse’s questions with the exception of details about sexual encounters.
The spouse who has been cheated on needs to feel like their pain and experience is thoroughly heard and understood by their partner. Inevitably, frustrations occur during this time because the person who cheated is eager to move past the situation, and oftentimes, the same questions or triggers need to be addressed over and over again.
After the spouse who has been cheated on feels completely understood by their partner, it is time to switch roles and hear from the spouse who has cheated. There are often concrete reasons that led to the infidelity, and it is during this time that many of the areas in need of “fixing” come up so that this issue can be prevented in the future.
Finally, the couple develops new rules so that the relationship can function better. For example, one spouse might ask the other to change their phone number/email address so that there is no way for the affair partner to contact the spouse. They also might decide that they will carve out time for a date once a week and make the appropriate arrangements, like for childcare, to support that new rule.
Ultimately, it is up to each spouse to determine whether they want to repair the relationship and whether they are willing to put in the effort that is required to accomplish that goal. Healing is possible, regardless of the path the relationship takes.
Wishing you the best,
For more on Daring to Trust again after a breakup or divorce, see: Daring to Trust Again
Meet Dr. Rachel: a relationship coach and marriage and family therapist who assists couples and individuals in restoring trust and intimacy, building emotional connection, and transforming their lives by creating more satisfying relationships.
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