Healing after Infidelity

For the 40% of marriages in which one or the other spouse admits to either physical or emotional infidelity, the hurt feelings, the betrayal, and the broken trust are extremely painful and difficult to work through. The pain of infidelity can feel devastating. The idea of continuing the relationship following infidelity may seem impossible and even ill-advised, but the truth is that many couples do succeed at recovering from infidelity. Marriages can become stronger after the affair than they were before. Of course this takes time, a lot of work, and commitment on both people’s part.

If you have just discovered that your partner has been unfaithful to you, you are likely in a state of shock, rage, and deep betrayal. The idea of working on your marriage may seem impossible and repugnant to you. I would like to reassure you that this initial phase will not last forever, and in time you will begin to feel better. As best as you can, take it slow and easy during this time, and try not to make any hasty decisions.

The process of grieving infidelity is different for everyone, and of course is dependent on many variables, including the type and length of the affair and the overall functioning of the marital relationship. If you are the one who recently discovered your partner’s infidelity, you are undoubtedly spending lots of time mentally going over events of the past, rewriting your “history” in light of this new information. You are also likely mourning the loss of the future you thought you’d share with your partner, as suddenly your sense of what your shared future was going to be like has been stolen from you.

One important thing to realize is that an affair and a marriage are like apples and oranges…… they are not the same thing! An affair is more like a drug than another relationship, because it is really about escape. Making a marriage work over the long term is hard work. There are bills to pay, responsibilities to divide, differences to bridge, so many things for two separate people to have to cooperate about. In addition, our life partners see us as we really are – with morning breath, leaving cabinet doors open and toilet seats up, with all our idiosyncrasies. In contrast, an affair is 99% fantasy. It does not have to manage responsibilities, or negotiate compromises, or allocate paychecks. It does not have to discipline children or cope with in-laws.

Knowing this can help put the infidelity into perspective, and can point the way towards healing as well. The fact is that infidelity can be a very useful wake-up call to repair aspects of the relationship that had become muddled or damaged. It is an opportunity to create a new, and better, shared future.