A couple stands by the ocean looking at the sunset representing tools for surviving infidelity

Surviving infidelity is something that none of us expects we’ll ever have to do. But as a longtime marriage counselor and affair recovery counselor, I know that, unfortunately, many people do find themselves in this difficult place at some point in their lives. 

If you have recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, I’m so sorry. The road to surviving infidelity is not an easy one, but I know that you can walk it, whether you do so alone or with your partner. 

There’s no denying that infidelity is crushing. It will shatter life as you’ve known it. But as you begin picking up the pieces, you will also have an opportunity to build something new. While there’s no magic bullet for recovering from infidelity, I can offer you a roadmap of what to expect, and show you how to treat yourself with compassion, care, and grace every step of the way. 

Coping with Infidelity

Our culture rarely recognizes betrayal as the form of trauma that it is. But betrayal is traumatic, especially when you’re cheated on by the person you trust and rely on most. If your life was a table, discovering that your partner has been having an affair would be like having one of the legs suddenly kicked out from under you. It’s destabilizing to say the least.  

Initially, you will likely experience a sense of shock. You may feel intense waves of fear, anger, and hurt as you begin to come to terms with this painful new reality. You will be riding these emotional waves for a while (but not forever), and your job is to give yourself permission to feel everything that comes up and to treat yourself with compassion as you do. 

Be gentle with yourself. This is a time to focus on the basics: prioritizing sleep, eating nutritious foods, seeking emotional support from family and friends (and ideally from a good therapist specializing in infidelity recovery), and managing other sources of stress in your life so that you can give yourself the strength to heal. Practicing good emotional self-care during this difficult time is like adding another leg under your table.

You may feel pressure to make up your mind about whether you wish to work on your relationship, or walk away after infidelity. It’s wise not to make any life-altering decisions about your future in the immediate aftermath of discovering your partner’s cheating. There will be time to make big decisions after the waves have calmed and you are able to get more information about whether or not your marriage is worth saving.

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Surviving Infidelity: What to Expect

Every affair is different, but they also tend to resemble each other to an eerie degree. Whether it’s an emotional affair, a sexual affair, or financial infidelity, there are some changes that typically happen in relationships after a major betrayal.  

Educating yourself about these common dynamics can help you understand and manage the feelings that arise at different stages of infidelity recovery

  • The partner who cheated does not immediately repent. 

When someone is cheating on their wife or husband, they are acting in a way that is out of alignment with important beliefs they hold about themselves; the kind of person they are, their values, and how they treat others. They will feel guilt and shame about that, and they tend to reflexively push those feelings away rather than facing them head on, especially in the beginning.

To do this, the partner who cheated may minimize the affair, lie about it, invalidate their partner’s feelings, or even justify their cheating by placing blame on their partner. This is all incredibly shocking and painful for the betrayed partner, sometimes even more so than the cheating itself. A good affair recovery counselor can help the partner who cheated process their feelings of guilt and shame so that they can take accountability for their actions and the couple can begin to heal. 

  • The affair doesn’t end the instant it’s uncovered. 

Unfortunately, the cheating partner often continues cheating for a time, even if they swear to cut off all contact with the affair partner. People who are engaging in infidelity are indulging in a fantasy that is usually quite intoxicating; while the relationship itself is built on a foundation of deceit and delusion, their feelings are very real, and they won’t go away overnight. 

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If you are the partner who cheated, the best thing you can do at this point is to cut off all contact with the affair partner immediately. But if, like many people, you aren’t able to do that, the next best thing is being honest with your spouse about your continued relationship with the affair partner. Force yourself to live in the light. You will be surprised how quickly the cracks in the fantasy begin to show.

  • Both partners idealize the affair partner. 

To the cheating partner, the affair partner represents a titillating escape from their real life and their real problems. They may believe that, if they could only be with the affair partner, then they would finally be happy. In reality, the vast majority of affairs never turn into committed relationships, and those that do usually don’t end well. 

The betrayed partner often wonders what the affair partner has to offer that they don’t, and they may begin “competing” unconsciously for the love and attention of their spouse. This along with other issues can make sex after infidelity a fraught area. The betrayed partner often feels pressure to compete with the fantasy by becoming more exciting and gratifying, while also feeling wounded, angry, and haunted by mental movies of their partner having sex with someone else. 

  • The betrayed partner can’t ‘get over it.’

Many people want to know how to let go of the past and get over infidelity, but it doesn’t really work that way. The betrayed partner cannot simply forgive and forget, no matter how many times their partner apologizes. After infidelity, “sorry” isn’t good enough. Trust has to be rebuilt. The relationship itself has to be rebuilt. 

The partner who was cheated on will struggle to let go of anger, no matter how much they want to. They will have trust issues (understandably), and they will be hypervigilant about their partner’s whereabouts for a long time. Meanwhile, the partner who cheated will feel ongoing guilt and shame as they see how their actions have impacted their partner, and they will feel eager to put the incident behind them. This difference naturally leads to conflict, and if the couple doesn’t have support working through it, they may begin to lose hope that their relationship can be repaired… and that is what causes relationships to fail

Can a Marriage Survive an Affair?

Recovering from an affair can feel impossible, especially if you stumble across these roadblocks and don’t know how to make sense of them. But couples can and do heal their marriage bonds and survive infidelity, and believe it or not, many go on to have stronger, more satisfying connections than they ever had before. 

If you are on the fence about whether you would like to save your marriage, or end it, I recommend working with a discernment counselor, rather than jumping straight into couples counseling. A few sessions of discernment counseling will help you get more information about what the path to surviving infidelity would look like for your relationship, and how committed and motivated you both are to walking that path. Once you know that, then working on your relationship can be truly productive. 

Infidelity is devastating. It will change you and your relationship — but not necessarily for the worse. There is a doorway in the darkness that leads up to the light. You can choose to walk through it, alone or together. 

If you would like support on this journey from a compassionate affair recovery expert on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on surviving infidelity, check out our “affair recovery” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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Tools for Surviving Infidelity

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Music in this episode is by Pink Floyd with their song “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lise Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Infidelity is devastating to go through, as you know so well. If you’ve experienced this in your own life, it will always change you, it will change your relationship, but not necessarily for the worse. There is a doorway in this darkness that opens up to the light and knowing what it is and how to walk through it, either alone or together, allows you to turn a terrible experience into a chapter of growth and ultimately healing for yourself and hopefully your relationship too.

On today’s show, we’re going to be talking about the tools for surviving infidelity and by that I mean the first stages, that crisis period. I have talked extensively in the past on other podcasts about the journey of healing after infidelity and restoring trust and relationship repair. But there is a special time in this process that is incredibly fragile, that is incredibly intense and that is what we’re going to be focusing on on today’s show.

Our mood music today is very vintage Pink Floyd and I get this 1968. The song is “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” I chose the song for a number of reasons. I think it conveys the intensity, the foreboding of this work because it really is difficult and it is intense, but also just symbolically the title of the song, I mean, going into the heart of the sun with this work to do it well, you will go into the core of the core of the core and it’s valuable work, it’s difficult work, but I think that this song kind of captures part of that experience. And really that’s what we’re going to be talking about today is what to do with this very intense time, to not make it worse, to have some direction.

We’re setting a course to navigate our way through this intentionally and hopefully be transformed through the process. The hero’s journey, it’s not where you go, it is how you are actually changed through the process of getting to a different place and that’s really what this work is all about.

So let’s dive in. I have talked about this topic in other facets on past podcasts. I have Healing After Infidelity or the Stages of Affair Recovery and that talks really more about the process of healing in the aftermath of an affair. I also have additional podcasts about restoring trust After Infidelity and I encourage you to go back. You can find these all on the blog@growingself.com. I actually have this organized into different sections in order to make it easier for you to find the things that speak to you.

You’ll go to growingself.com. Find the blog and podcast page. It’s blogcast enter into the Love collection and then you’ll select the Affair Recovery collection to find all of the podcasts and articles that I’ll be referencing on today’s show. And I’ve also created a Spotify playlist for you to listen to all the podcasts that I’ll be talking about today.

I wanted to make sure that you had access to those resources because actually on today’s show, we’re going to be talking about surviving infidelity from a different angle, a different lens. Less about the actual nuts and bolts process of repair, instead, we’re going to be talking about what you can expect, especially like the early stages of this life experience, to feel like and be like so that you’re not surprised. And also so that you understand what’s happening, you understand why it’s happening and so that you can cope with this. Because one of the things that can be most challenging in this situation is how emotionally overwhelming the whole thing is.

It’s not an overstatement to say that it feels like your life has just exploded. I mean, it’s agonizing. It’s so, so difficult to have an affair discovered. There are so many emotions, big emotions, and to understand the different pieces of this and also the different dynamics and oftentimes hidden landmines, that if you don’t understand them or know that they’re there, could sabotage the process of healing and recovery.

And so that’s really what we’re going to be digging into on today’s show, just so that you can develop clarity around what to expect for yourself and your partner, but also hopefully come away with some actionable ideas that you can use to survive this, to cope with it. And that help create the foundation of stability that you can then begin to build the healing recovery process on.

So to dive right into this, I know as a marriage counselor and longtime couples therapist, surviving infidelity is something that none of us expect you’ll ever have to do. And I know that it’s surprisingly and regrettably common. Many couples, many individuals face this, whether it is a partner having an actual sexual affair or an emotional affair. Both are very hurtful, both are big betrayals, both are scary.

And I also want to say that if you’ve recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, I am so sorry. If you are listening to this, having been exposed in a betrayal, I am also so sorry. I know that you probably have a lot of shame and regret and fear and all of these feelings as well. And it’s a terrible thing to go through.

I understand that you may be blaming yourself for this and we can dig into that. There are aspects of that that are quite helpful and actually appropriate and that are strengths of yours in this situation, which we’ll unpack a little bit later in the show. But it’s just an awful thing to go through.

So I’ll also say that the road to surviving infidelity is not an easy one. And I know that you can walk this, whether you do so alone or with your partner, there is growth ahead if you choose to engage in it. Courageously, the fact that you’re listening to this podcast make me think that you are. But there is no denying that this life experience is just crushing. Especially if it blindsided you. And if you were the one who was betrayed. It shatters things. It shatters life as you’ve known it. It shatters trust. And as you begin picking up these pieces, you will also have the opportunity to build something new.

And spoiler alert, there is no magic bullet or secret recipe or do this and it will all be healed, it will all be over. This is always a process and growth is going to be measured probably in years just to manage your expectations for this timeline. But hopefully today, can begin to see the roadmap of what to expect and also be thinking about how to treat yourself with compassion and care and grace just every step of the way.

So first of all, let’s talk about how to cope with infidelity. I mean, our culture rarely recognizes betrayal. Like the betrayal of being harmed really in the worst ways by somebody who loves you as a form of trauma that it is. But betrayal is traumatic, especially when you’ve been cheated on by the person that you trust and rely on the most. If your life was like a table, discovering that your partner has been having an affair is like having one, possibly two of the legs of the foundation of your life just kicked out from under you.

It is so destabilizing. And initially, let’s talk about what is normal emotionally. I mean, most people going through this experiences a sense of shock, I mean, intense waves of fear, anger, disbelief, overwhelm hurt as you begin just to come to terms with this painful new reality. And you can expect to be experiencing this and riding these emotional waves for a while, not forever, but it is intense.

Weeks to months is what you can expect here. And your job is to give yourself permission to feel everything that comes up and treat yourself with compassion as you do so, being gentle with yourself. And this is really time to focus on the basics like prioritizing sleep as best you can. I mean, not being able to sleep is a normal, and expected aspect of this life experience.

But doing your best, making space for it, eating nutritious foods if you can, seeking emotional support from family and friends and ideally, from a good therapist who specializes in infidelity recovery or an MFT who’s really, really familiar with attachment trauma, attachment ruptures and understanding what this is like for you. So not somebody who is going to pathologize this experience and have it be like oh well, let’s reduce these symptoms as fast as we can because to feel angry and afraid and hurt and overwhelmed in the aftermath of this life experience is normal and expected.

This is what happens to humans who have a primary attachment to another person that is threatened, damaged or broken. So what you are going through is really normal and so somebody who can understand this and then help you cope with it, this is also a good time to manage or reduce other sources of stress in your life the best that you can. And that might not always be possible, but like not a great time to be volunteering for things that you don’t have to do or taking on work assignments that are not fundamentally vital to your role.

Saying no to high impact social events might be a good idea. Just like everything that you can minimize that feels like it is. You giving more energy than you have to give. Obviously, if it’s helpful to have more going on, if it feels good to have some healthy distractions in your life, if you want to throw yourself into work so that you have something else to think about besides this, that can also be a really great self care strategy.

Self care is not a one dimensional thing. It doesn’t mean sitting in a bubble bath. It means really thinking about, “What do I need right now?” And then feeling empowered to give yourself that. So do some of that work, what feels positive, what feels energizing, what feels nourishing to me, which does also not have to be a definition of what should be healthy.

It might not be exercising, it might not be eating nutritious foods, it might just be sitting there and watching 9 hours of TV. Whatever you need to do is totally okay. Just getting clear about what that is and allowing, giving yourself permission to be doing that. It helps put some of that support back underneath of your table.

But also it is extremely important if you are the betraying partner, to understand that the emotional fallout from this situation is extreme and it’s going to last for a while. So it is very common for somebody who has been caught or who has disclosed a betrayal to think, feel and unfortunately say things like, well, it’s over. I stopped talking to that person. We’re going to work on our relationship. I’m here, I’m committed to you, we’re doing this. So can you stop being so mad at me? Or can you stop being really scared and worried about me all the time?

There can almost be a tendency for the betraying partner to be a little annoyed or impatient with the person who has been hurt, their emotional experience. And so I just want to talk about this very openly and directly. To say this is a natural consequence, this is the outcome of what you did. And so to be annoyed or impatient or wishing that that emotional reaction could be reduced a little bit is not a fair or appropriate expectation at this point, particularly in the first few months.

And your work right now is really like wrapping your head around that and maybe even doing some of your own personal growth work to think about. How do I set aside my own feelings of shame and guilt and remorse in order to be compassionate and emotionally available to this person that I really, really hurt and who is not okay and who is not going to be okay for a long time.

So the faster you can get to that place, the quicker this is going to go. So that is a big piece of surviving infidelity, is to figure out how to manage these emotions on both sides. And I would strongly encourage both of you to get into your own growth work.

And additionally, one last thing that I will say. You might, particularly if you were the one betrayed, you might feel pressure to make up your mind about what you want to do. Like, do I want to work on this relationship? Do I need to just walk away? And if you’re clear, if you’re like, and we’re done, there wasn’t enough here anyway for me to be willing to tolerate this crap. So you could just call it that’s cool. And just also to be aware that when you’re going through this kind of shock and trauma and just horror, it can also be a good idea to allow yourself the gift of time to just make a decision that involve things that you can’t walk back from.

It’s usually a good idea, generally speaking, to not make any life trajectory altering decisions when we’re really not okay mentally and emotionally. And so if you have the luxury of giving yourself some time, please do that. So there will be a time to make big decisions after the waves have kind of calmed down, after you can get more information, after you can think more clearly about what this means for you, what you want in your life.

Big picture, whether or not this is a relationship that can or should be saved, sometimes that takes a bit of a process to figure out. But when it comes to things like buying or selling real estate, quitting your job, moving to a new town, like getting divorced, reactively, these can just have such huge implications. And so you don’t have to make a choice right now. You can take a year before you decide what you want to do. You can do anything you want, but be thinking about what is me prioritizing my long term well being.

And so, generally speaking, whenever any of us are reacting from the place of big emotions, from fear, from anger, from pain, we may be making different decisions than we would if we were calm, clear, felt safe. We’re connected with our values. We’re thinking about long term game plans, and you’re not going to be able to do that for a while.

So just expect that if you have to make a big, major decision, have compassion for the fact that it’s going to be difficult for you to have all the clarity maybe and find trusted advisors who can help you make great long term decisions. And that might be a trusted family member, a trusted attorney, pastor, counselor, career coach even. I mean, anybody who’s on your personal board of directors. Get them involved to help you just think through things short term and long term before you make any big moves.

So another thing that you need to know about surviving infidelity is around this idea of what to expect as being like, just normal. Normal facets, normal landmines, normal obstacles, pitfalls, things that you need to know. And every affair is different. Every betrayal is different. And they also tend to resemble each other in some ways.

So whether it’s an emotional affair or a sexual affair, financial infidelity, there are some changes that typically happen in relationships after any kind of major betrayal. And so educating yourself about some of these common dynamics can help you understand and manage the feelings that arise or the things that you might encounter at different stages of infidelity recovery.

So first of all, a thing that happens and likely to happen with you. The partner who cheated may feel ambivalent about what they did and might struggle to take ownership or immediately repent for what they did. Maybe they’re saying, like, oh, sorry, that was so awful. And they’re like saying the words. But on the inside, there are reasons for why they did what they did.

So, like, when somebody’s cheating on their wife or their husband, they might be acting in a way that’s out of alignment with important beliefs they hold about themselves. The kind of person that they are, their values, how they treat others. Like, most people have this core concept of I am a good person, I am making considered choices. This is the right thing for me to do in XYZ. And so I don’t know if you’ve come across the psychological term of congruence or avoiding cognitive dissonance.

For example, someone who is cheating in order to maintain their self identity will have created a narrative about why they are doing what they are doing that supports their ability to feel okay about themselves while they are doing that thing. So someone who is cheating will have a narrative about all the reasons why that’s okay, why they might even be entitled to do that. Well, my wife is not nice to me anymore. Things have changed since we’ve had kids. I just don’t feel alive in this relationship the way that I did with my affair partner. I feel really attracted to my affair partner.

There’s a lot of chemistry, sexual chemistry. I feel energized and excited and young again. And I feel like I got my life, vitality back.

That is often the experience of somebody who has been having an affair. It feels exciting, it feels energizing. There’s a different level of emotional intensity, sometimes emotional intimacy, particularly as compared with a long term relationship that hasn’t been getting the time and the energy that it really needed in order to be nourished.

So people have all these reasons of why it made sense to cheat on their partner. That this is why financial infidelity, well, they’re so controlling about money and if I didn’t do these things I would never be able to have the life that I want because my partner is just so impossible. They don’t understand me. They would prevent me from really being the person that I need to be in this world.

Somebody who’s been having an emotional affair well, my partner is just impossible to talk to. They don’t understand me. They’re not emotionally available, they’re not emotionally mature, they don’t care. And so because of that I needed to develop this emotional intimacy, this emotional attachment with another person. Because my partner was just a desert, right? So many things.

Somebody who’s stealing, who’s embezzling money may be like well, my boss is paying me enough anyway and they’re a jerk and I work so hard, I earned this. So just know that and expect it. Whenever anybody does things, they have very well developed reasons that support their doing of whatever they did.

So they might be now scared, afraid, partially feel a lot of shame and guilt like somebody flipped on the lights and they’re like what are you doing? They do legitimately feel bad and remorseful and like oh my God, what? I was thinking I’m going to lose my family. I can’t believe I did this. But on the other side they’re still pulled by all of the reasons why. And I also would just like to say out loud that just because somebody had this narrative that supported those behaviors doesn’t mean that those things were true.

Just because you’ve been having an emotional affair doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner was actually impossible to talk to or have emotional intimacy with. Maybe they are. But what is much more likely and much more common is that it’s a lot easier and safer to find a new relationship and have an easy banter like texting at 01:00 in the morning while your husband is asleep kind of emotional affair with somebody who’s charming and engaging in a different way than to put in the work of having courageous conversations with the person you’re married to, to say, “I really want to have a more emotionally connected relationship with you, and here are the things that I’m willing to do as your partner in order to create that kind of relationship with you and really be the engine of growth for a relationship. If you aren’t feeling the kind of experience that you want to have.”

For many people, like the super intense chemistry feeling, many grown adults believe that they should experience super intense feelings of romantic chemical grrrr, with the person that they’ve been married to for 15 years. Which we can have some of that, but the feeling of having a crush on someone is not the same thing as the life experience of having a long term intimate partnership that is based on a friendship, a shared life together. It’s like a different thing.

And so a lot of people who don’t really understand that can be chasing this dragon, wanting to feel what they felt when they had a crush on somebody when they were 17 and it was all they could think about. And wanting to talk to them all the time and like really intense sexuality. Like, you’d be amazed at how many people just blow up their lives chasing that feeling rather than investing time, energy, resources, emotional capital, vulnerability, authenticity, challenging their own selves to grow in order to have a satisfying, mature, long term, healthy relationship with a person that they had committed to.

And again, I just wanted to talk about these things in order to help you understand what’s really going on underneath the hood of betrayal in order for you to understand why you might be having some of the experiences that you are.

If you were the person who betrayed, it is highly likely that you feel ambivalent about that and you feel bad on the one side, but on the other side you’re like, but right? And so if you were betrayed, you can expect that you might get some pushback or that you might even get blamed by your partner for making this happen, right?

So partners who cheat may minimize the affair, lie about it, invalidate your feelings, justify their cheating by placing blame on you, not have a lot of compassion for the huge feelings that you’re having. These are some of the things that will make it harder to heal, obviously. I mean, this is all incredibly painful for the betrayed partner, but sometimes even more so than the cheating itself is like the way that the person who betrayed is now operating emotionally in the relationship.

And so getting together with a very good marriage and family therapist who understands affair recovery inside and out can help the partner who cheated process their feelings of guilt and shame but also begin to help them take ownership and understand the mental games that they were playing with themselves, the self protective strategies, the oftentimes like adolescent fantasies that led them to go down this path in the first place.

Because without ownership, responsibility and accountability for your actions, healing will not be possible. If it just, it won’t work. You will not be able to restore trust and rebuild a relationship worth being in if 45% of you like, well, but I did these things because of X-Y-Z and I was really entitled and justified in doing these things. And so here’s what I need my partner to do for me in order so that I don’t do this again.

I will also just say something out loud. Be very cautious of any couples counselor or marriage and family therapist who supports the narrative that the person who was cheated on is responsible for what the betraying partner did. The betraying partner will always have a justification narrative.

And I have actually personally met a lot of therapists who buy into that who think, well, the reason that they did that is because communication was so bad in the relationship. That is so disempowering. If your goal is to actually repair the relationship, it’s incredibly disempowering. You had lots of ways of resolving that and working on that and you chose to betray and cheat as opposed to leaning in and doing some hard work differently and having courageous conversations and finding out for sure whether or not your relationship could be better and could be different.

And if it couldn’t, you can end that relationship with integrity. You don’t have to stay married to somebody that you don’t have a good relationship and that you never will have a good relationship. You can sign off, but you didn’t do that. You instead decided to betray in order to meet your needs while maintaining this situation over here. So you have to find a couple’s counselor who understands that and who is very focused on personal responsibility and accountability because without that, the healing won’t work. Right? Okay.

Another thing that you have to know about in this landscape for surviving an affair is that many times, and this is particularly true for sexual affairs, the affair might not end the instant that it is uncovered. So unfortunately, particularly if there is a lot of ambivalence or if the cheating partner has a strong attachment to their affair partner, once it is discovered that cheating can continue for a time, even if they are swearing on a stack of Bibles to cut off all contact with the affair partner. And this is when you can see things like gaslighting, like, you know what? You’re just crazy. No, I was staying late at work, or no, you couldn’t get in touch with me because my phone was off, I was in the middle of a meeting.

I mean, people can do a lot of things to maintain these connections and so I just want to bring this up because it’s a reality and people who have been engaging in infidelity have been indulging in this fantasy that is often quite intoxicating. I mean, it’s analogous to almost having a substance use disorder.

Even if the relationship itself was built on this foundation of deceit and delusion and indulgence, these feelings of attachment are very real and they don’t go away overnight. If your partner was having an affair with somebody that they were attached to, that switch does not flip off just because it was discovered or because you gave them an ultimatum that it needed to end.

And so if you’re the partner that cheated, the very best thing that you can do at this point, if you would like to end the affair and rebuild your marriage is to cut off all contact with the affair partner immediately. But if you are not able to do that, the next best thing is to actually be very honest with your spouse about your continued relationship with the affair partner. It’s like forcing yourself to live into the light.

If you say, I am 100% committed to being radically honest with you, understanding that that was the part that was the true betrayal in the past, to say, I still think about this person all the time. I want to be with them, I’m planning to see them on Wednesday. You will be surprised at how quickly the cracks in this fantasy begin to show.

But you are also now living with integrity. You are living with integrity because you are being honest. I am planning on meeting them on Wednesday afternoon at a hotel, and this is what we’re doing. And telling your wife that so that they now have the opportunity to have informed consent about whether or not they wish to continue existing in this relationship with you under these circumstances.

If you are hiding the truth from them, you are being so deceitful because they don’t have all the information that they need to know in order to make healthy decisions for themselves. And if you are the betraying partner, I’m like, well, if I told my wife that I was going to meet my fear partner in a hotel on Wednesday to have sex with them, they wouldn’t want to be with me anymore.

Yeah, that could very likely be true. And they have the right to know that because without that, you’re depriving them of their ability to make informed and educated decisions that protect them. So having integrity means taking ownership of what you are doing and then allowing the natural consequences to unfold as they may.

If your partner wouldn’t want to be with you under these circumstances, they have the right to have that information so that they can decide what they want to do. Hiding things from them is depriving them of their own autonomy. So I hope that that makes sense and can help both of you avoid this pitfall. But I tell you what. If you would like to repair the situation, and if you tell your partner that you are committed to ending the affair and to fully investing in repairing your relationship and rebuilding your family, you get one chance to do that.

So that means changing your phone number, avoiding any and all contact with your fair partner. If you work with them, you don’t like, well, I have to see them, I work with them. People get different jobs. You might need to make a decision about what is more important to you maintaining this particular career at this particular company or your marriage and your family. Totally okay to choose your marriage and family over continuing in this particular employment position.

I just wanted to say that out loud so you get one chance. If you say, okay, you can trust me, here’s what we’re doing, I’m totally in. And then it comes to light six weeks later that that hasn’t been the truth. The best marriage counselor in the universe will not be able to help you put that humpty back together again. So do what you say. And if you’re not doing that, be real honest about that and take ownership. Okay?

Another thing that you can be ready and willing for is that both partners tend to idealize the affair partner. So to the cheating partner, the affair partner often represents this titillating escape from their real life and their real problems and the chemistry and the sex and the whatever. And they may believe that if they could only be with this affair partner then they would finally be happy.

And in reality the vast majority of affairs never turn into committed relationships and the ones do often don’t end well because they’re not reality based relationships to begin with. I mean, even just the foundation of starting a relationship with someone that you know is capable of cheating on a spouse will set it up for disaster many times.

And many times these relationships are not based on the kinds of factors that contribute to a long and enduring relationship like values, congruence life goals, shared meaning a friendship, it’s nine times out of ten based on sexual chemistry which is like a 4 July sparkler. Like it burns down to its natural end and then you’re left holding this burnt stick as opposed to something that can really grow into the future. So that is oftentimes very true but it doesn’t mean that that sparkler part isn’t extremely intoxicating.

And so there could still be even if we shut all the doors and yes, I’ve changed my phone number and I’ve requested to be moved to a different team and I am not seeing this person ever. And it’s over. There’s still that mental, like, but the sparkle. And the other thing too is that the betrayed partner often will idealize the affair partner.

Like, they will often wonder what did that person have to offer that I didn’t? And they might begin competing unconsciously or directly for this love and attention with their spouse and that can do a big number on your self esteem. That can be very damaging. But you can also see interestingly, with a threatened attachment or with a rival a big surge of very intense, like, biologically based sexual interest and desire to pursue the cheating partner.

So, like, somebody who has been cheated on may now be flooded with sexual desire for their partner who has been cheating. That is very, very confusing and might also idealize their cheating spouse in a way. And this is so confusing because it’s this biologically based survival drive kind of thing to maintain an attachment at all costs. And so it could be this surge of feelings of like love and attraction and chemistry and idealization of the person who was cheating on you that comes from your body rather than your mind or your values. And it is so incredibly confusing.

And so like many people not having gone through an affair, if asked would you stay in a relationship with somebody who cheated on you? They’d be like no, I would not do that for all of these really good reasons. But that when they have that life experience they’re like oftentimes want to repair and continue the relationship. I have talked about this phenomenon on so many different podcasts.

But the nature of love is very, very chemical. It is in your body. We are wired to bond very very fiercely to other people. And when those bonds are threatened or broken, there is this overwhelming and involuntary biologically based, evolutionarily appropriate desire to reconnect or to stay connected at all costs.

Because 20,000 years ago in our evolutionary history we would not exist, we would not survive without maintaining attachments to other people. Whether or not they were nice to us, whether or not they were good people. It goes into survival of the species, it goes into whether or not we will eat this week or whether our children will survive. It depends on our ability to maintain attachment bonds with our tribe, with our family, with our collective. And so this machinery existed in us 100,000 years ago and it becomes activated in these situations that have nothing to do with whether or not it’s a good idea or logical or whether or not this is how you want to spend the next 50 years of your life.

So knowing that idealization component of the affair partner, of the betraying partner, just almost expecting that can help you get a little bit of psychological distance about what’s going on and just to figure out what you want to do with that. Because if you notice yourself competing and having these super intense, almost sexual feelings that reconnect you to this person that cheated on you, that’s something that happened. And I think this is why it’s super important to be in individual therapy so that you can also reflect on whether or not this is actually a good idea.

If you really want to mend the relationship and if there are a lot of reasons to do that, if it is important to you, that’s great, this kind of energy will support that goal. But just because you feel that way doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. So to be able to give yourself permission to months or a year to really unpack this and figure this out is going to be very important to your process of healing and recovery.

You can also expect that the betrayed partner will not be able to get over it either. Many people want to know how to get over infidelity — how do I just move on? And it does not work that way, if you’ve been betrayed, you cannot simply forgive and forget.

Like no matter how many times your partner apologizes or whether or not they are actually being scrupulously trustworthy right now, when you’ve gone through this kind of attachment trauma, sorry is not good enough. And trust needs to be rebuilt, but it will also never be the same because if you’ve been traumatized, you will always have that core trust trauma. It can be healed to a degree and you can have a nice life and a great relationship anyway.

But it will also require a very deep and reality based understanding that it will actually not ever be the same. The relationship itself has to be rebuilt and you will feel angry. You will always wonder a little bit about your partner and you will not feel completely safe in situations that you may have felt safe in in the past. You can expect to feel pretty hyper vigilant about your partner’s whereabouts for a long time.

And if you’re the one who has betrayed, the fastest thing, the best thing that will help you repair your relationship ASAP is going to be to embrace this fully and expect, have compassion for and figure out how to receive the fact that your partner is going to be extremely angry with you. They will not trust you no matter what you do or don’t do, and they’re going to be extremely anxious and it is never actually going to be what it was.

That doesn’t mean that it can’t still be good. But a common mistake is for people who betray to be like, okay, it’s been three months and you’re still really angry and I can’t go to the grocery store by myself without you texting me to find out where I actually am. And that feels bad for me. It reminds me of the shame and guilt that I feel and I’m really trying so hard and I let go of a relationship that I was actually enjoying in order to make this work with you. And so I need you to be nicer to me and not make me feel bad about myself. That is not conducive to repair.

What will help you repair this is to take full ownership of the fact that it’s broken. It can come back together, but it will be like, oh, I don’t remember the name of it. Like those Japanese pottery techniques where a plate is broken and then soldered back together with gold. It’s beautiful and it’s more beautiful and perhaps even stronger than the original plate was, but it will be forever changed.

And so in order to heal this relationship, you, betraying partner, need to get very comfortable with your partner’s anger and understand how to respond to this very effectively in a consistent and emotionally safe way. Understand that because of your actions, you have forfeited the right to privacy and that you can expect them to not trust you if you are not in their line of sight for a really long time and to think about what that means for you. And if you were to expect that to be true for probably most of the duration of your relationship, what needs to change then in order for this to feel nice and emotionally safe for you?

It may mean spending a lot more time together, it may mean being radically transparent about where you are at all times and really showing them that you are trustworthy and that they can count on you because what you say doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all about what you do. And so to be empathetic, being transparent and being completely reliable in obvious felt ways is the path forward. The faster you can do that, the more quickly the anger will begin to subside as a result of your partner seeing that they can trust you and working so hard to show them that you have changed.

Another important piece of this, and I talk about this much more completely in past podcast episodes, but when you’re able to articulate your ownership and understanding of why you did what you did, taking full responsibility for it and also able to articulate the things that you have learned and the ways that you have grown and how you will manage the things that created the situation inside of you differently going forward. That is actually how trust is rebuilt, is by you going through a transformational process that your partner can see and feel and understand to be true.

So it is not about your behavior as much as it is about the transformation. I will also say that if you’ve been betrayed, it will always feel like a struggle to let go of anger, no matter how much you want to, and certainly fear and the degree to which you can go through a transformational process with your partner that betrayed you, and be able to develop feelings of safety and security inside of yourself.

By managing those attachment things that come up, the faster you will be able to feel safe in the relationship and do some inner growth work that allows you to feel safe without necessarily controlling your partner. Is the growth work on the other side of this? This is also very, very difficult to do for most people. Again, it takes a year or more to be able to move through this process.

So I just want you to understand the timeline and expect this and not rush it. Because if you do, and if you expect this to be happening sooner than it can, just in terms of the way that people evolve, it will create more conflict, it will create more mistrust. And if you expect for things to be happening differently or more quickly than they can, you will lose hope that the relationship can be repaired. And it is ultimately when we lose hope that things can be meaningfully different, that is when relationships truly fail.

So lots of information and I know I’m being very honest with you and I hope it’s not in a scary way wanting to be real here. So that the big question and the thing that you probably led you to begin listening to this in the first place. Can a marriage survive an affair? Right? Recovering from an affair, when you’re in the thick of it and when you’re dealing with the things I describe, particularly in the early stages, it can sometimes feel maybe even impossible. And especially if you stumble across these roadblocks that we’ve been talking about and if you don’t know how to make sense of them or if they surprise you, right, if they catch you off guard. But couples can and do heal their marriage bonds and survive infidelity.

And believe it or not, many go on to have stronger and more satisfying marriages than ever before. But it requires a ton of growth work in order to build that. That is not something that is just going to happen. It is something that you must very intentionally, brick by brick, day by day, forever more be committed to creating.

So if you are on the fence about whether or not you would like to save your marriage and do all of this work, I would recommend talking with a very good marriage and family therapist. Another strategy actually would even be to get involved in something called discernment counseling. And so discernment counseling is like a special type of couples counseling that is for the purpose of helping couples understand what would be necessary in order to build the kind of relationship they would each like to have together. It is for the purpose of identifying whether or not the commitment and motivation and desire to do all of that work exists.

And it’s often a fundamentally important first step before jumping into marriage counseling or couples therapy that is ostensibly for the purpose of repairing a relational bond. Like if one or both of you is ambivalent about repairing the relationship, it is very, very important to get extremely clear and in alignment around whether or not you want to do that before embarking on couples counseling for the purpose of improving or rebuilding a relationship.

Because if one or both of you isn’t totally sure that that’s a good idea, couples counseling or marriage counseling is very likely to fail because of that unspoken or hidden mixed agenda kind of experience. So that is one type of counseling that you might consider doing prior to marriage counseling to repair this.

And I will also say that in order to heal after an affair, the recovery process is a long one, it is a difficult one, and it requires a lot of intense work on both sides. It will be extremely important to be with a very, very good marriage and family therapist who knows what this process is like and can help shepherd you through the process of growth and healing. And it will also probably be important for each of you to have individual therapist to have a private place to work through the feelings of anger, shame, guilt, sometimes ambivalence, but also to have it be very, very transparent.

One thing that you may even consider is, if you are in couples counseling, either have what’s called an ROI, so a release of information that allows the couple’s counselor to be able to consult with each of your individual therapists in order to create transparency around the process that supports both of you. Because sometimes without that, if you’re saying things to your individual therapist that are not being said or discussed in marriage counseling, that can also derail relationship repair.

So, for example, if you’re telling your individual therapist about how much you miss your affair partner and still crave contact with them, and that is never being discussed in marriage counseling, it’s sort of being like hidden compartmentalized in individual therapy. On the one hand, it’s important for you to be able to work through that. But if you are actually not committed to working on the relationship and are not telling the marriage counselor about that, and, like, compartmentalizing that in individual therapy, and the marriage counselor and your husband or your wife is taking what you say as face value, like, yep, yep, yep, I’m totally committed to this. I want to do this without understanding that you are working through feelings of ambivalence that can derail things.

There needs to be a high degree of transparency, because if you’re feeling ambivalent about this, the marriage counselor needs to conduct the work of relationship repair in a way that is different than if you were really fully on board with working on this relationship. So I hope that makes sense.

The truth will set you free, as always. And I hope that this podcast has illuminated some of the truths of this very, very difficult life experience, but also illuminated the narrow path forward, which is founded on the truth, on radical transparency, on a commitment to integrity, on an absolute, extreme ownership around who do I need to be? How do I need to grow? What do I need to be aware of? And how do I need to operate very intentionally every single day within myself and with my partner in order to have a great relationship, in order to have the kind of life experience that we want to have together?

What do I need to learn about myself, about the way to manage my emotions, about the way to change my mindset, about the way to focus on the most important values, on how to manage big feelings within myself and how to manage big feelings within my partner in open and emotionally safe way. In order to restore the foundation of trust that is built on transparency and on action and also to reconnect with the things that we love about each other, the things that brought us together in the first place, the things that are so special and truly irreplaceable, the lives that we’ve built together, the beautiful family that we have, our shared goals and values and history.

And so to understand why what happened, happened, to learn from that experience to grow, to become changed because of it, and to become truly a person for whom that past would never be possible again in the future because of the transformation that you had experienced in the growth and repair process. I know it sounds kind of unbelievable when you’re in the beginning stages of this, but it happens, and it’s very real.

Again, it requires a lot of support and commitment and courage to create, but it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing when and when it does. So. Lots that we talked about on today’s episode, and I do sincerely hope that this information is helpful for you in understanding your experience and the path forward. I will be interested to see what you hear about these ideas, and if you apply any of them to your own healing process, I would love to hear about the ultimate outcome. Again, you can find so much more information on affair recovery on our website, growingself.com in the Affair Recovery Content Collection.

And of course, if you would like to work with one of the marriage and family therapists and our team here at Growing Self to support you either individually or as a couple on this journey of growth and healing, we are here for you. You can get in touch to request a free consultation for either discernment counseling or coaching, couples therapy and begin this journey of growth together.

All right, you guys take care.

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.

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