“Now what?” A guide to surviving an affair
Did you recently discover that your partner cheated on you? Or, have you been struggling for some time to move your relationship beyond an infidelity?
Surviving an affair isn’t easy. In fact, the process of healing from an affair is a bit like being kicked in the gut – it is terribly painful and you aren’t sure it will ever stop hurting. Finding out about the affair is like an out of the blue incoming threat that is foreign to you and has taken up residence inside your mind and every single moment you keep thinking about all the questions without answers and what it all means for your relationship. It is difficult to breathe.
At the same time, many couples do push through. And many couples say that after the hard years of healing, their relationship ends up even stronger in the end.
How do they do it? How can you and your partner heal after whats happened?
Here’s a brief guide for surviving an affair.
Stage 1: Allow yourself to mourn the loss of what was.
Breathe. Hearing of a partner’s infidelity can knock your breath away. Sit in a comfortable chair and, if you feel like it, let yourself cry. You’re grieving a huge loss — the loss of trust in your partner’s sexual faithfulness. The loss of the type of relationship you thought you had. The loss of the person you thought your partner to be. The loss of the future you were both working towards. You may experience all these losses and more or just one of them. No matter what the loss is significant for you and the best thing to do is to begin mourning the loss.
And then, go for a walk. Get outside. Change your scenery. Processing difficult emotions takes energy, and it’s important to see the world around you and remind yourself that life has ups and downs, highs and lows, even though at the moment you feel devastated, this is not going to last forever. Try to take a break from all of your thoughts that just keep spinning around in your head.
Stage 2: Better yourself, Nurture yourself, Don’t compare
It is by no accident you chose each other. Just take that in for a moment. That doesn’t mean you are immune from affairs. It does mean that you will want to work on parts of yourself to enhance who you are, not to believe you are not enough. This is a time to build up your confidence and belief in yourself. Think about who you have both become in the marriage. Nurture yourself in ways that are gentle and helpful to you. Lastly, don’t compare yourself to the other person nor let that person take up space in your head. They are not you. Get back into that place of being you. Keep looking at who you have become and what has the marriage become.
Stage 3: Learn the skills you’ll need to talk things through
As you move forward, you’re going to need to want to avoid being stuck in this painful place. Eventually you will want to really explore the relationship with your partner. Here’s the key though – you are way more likely to be successful if you find a way to have better communication. Are you able to listen and hear each other. Can you talk together without the conversation getting overheated? Can you create some healthy boundaries so you don’t keep experiencing more and more hurt. Can you talk without either of you getting defensive? Can you make decisions together about your new path together that feels mutually satisfying or do your decisions include someone or both of you feeling like you’re going to have to do a lot of compromising? Put the emphasis on the changes you can make that will transform the marriage.
Stage 4: Lay the foundation for rebuilding and repairing.
After an affair, most people find it essential to get all of the facts out on the table. Telling and hearing the truth can be painful, like ripping off a band-aid. Still, healing is easier if your partner is able to handle the feelings of guilt and shame enough to level with you fully.. Lies can put a stick in the wheel of recovery. Realize too that you will have the burning need to know more. You will exhaust yourself and keep the gap growing between you if you keep needing more info and believing that there is more still to uncover.
It’s important also to try to put the third party totally out of the picture. What steps is your partner taking to make that happen? Are they stuck and not taking this action? Are they trying to be transparent?
With the truth out, and the threat removed, your conversations now can focus on connecting. You both need to understand what were the steps leading up to the infidelity, and what roll you each played.
You might ask, “If I’m the victim, why should I have to look at what I did? This wasn’t my fault!”
That’s true. At the same time, for a full recovery, the more both of you learn about what you did or didn’t do that impacted what happened, and therefore how to prevent this in the future, the more quickly you both will heal. Simply blaming your partner will keep you locked in eternal turmoil.
As difficult as it may sound, surviving an affair depends on both you and your partner growing, connecting, and learning from the experience.
Stage 5: Create something new and better.
Just surviving isn’t aiming high enough. You can create a new, stronger, more loving, more trusting relationship than you ever had. Together, you can transform your mistakes into opportunities for creating something brand new. Create new patterns in your relationship that correct the mistakes that led up to the infidelity. Develop your connection, grow in your ability to understand each other and fulfill those human needs that we all have to feel safe, secure, and loved in a relationship.
Mourn your loss. Look at who you became. Learn new skills. Lay a new foundation. Create a new path and direction for the relationship.