An affair is a personal betrayal, a relationship injury that has many stages of healing. This is not a linear recovery, it takes time to deal with the trauma and pain and the first 3 months of this crisis is the most difficult, it can take up to two years to fully heal. The fundamental trust and foundation of the relationship has been shattered. The whole world is turned upside down and feelings of shock, rage, sadness and hurt emerge.
The couple first has to decide if they want to stay in the relationship and work thru the steps of healing together or end it. Working together to be able to identify their negative cycle of interaction and share the primary emotions underneath of the anger, hurt, sadness, fear and shame they are feeling.
Beginning with the moment of discovery and why this happened, through caring and compassion from both parties: both the betrayer and the betrayed. This is a deep personal wound and to heal from it both people must find meaning and understand it, so that they will not recreate this and obsess about it, ultimately reaching the goal of forgiveness and rebuilding trust.
This trauma can leave the betrayed injured partner with symptoms of depression, obsessive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety, inability to sleep, intrusive thoughts, feeling numb, trouble with memory and a feeling of being crazy, out of control, helpless. The betrayer feels guilty, bad about themselves, shame, regret, depressed, and can retreat into a withdrawn shut down avoidant place or fantasy world.
Healing from the affair involves having the betrayer spouse end the affair, be honest about it and become available emotionally to the injured spouse. Providing love, attention, caring and compassion for them. This seems counter-intuitive but the betrayer who caused the trauma needs to turn towards the betrayed partner and give them hope. The betrayer becomes the healer, showing remorse, sadness and caring for their injured partner who they love and caused them heartache and grief. The couple needs to heal in each other’s arms.
How To Heal
Honesty is the best way out of this. The hardest part for the injured partner is the deception, the lying. If the betrayer has the attitude of I’m here to do whatever it takes to heal this, I love her/him, I care for her/him, I want to help the marriage heal and move on together. Secrets destroy marriage so honesty, transparency is essential to heal.
At first the betrayed spouse’s reaction can be anger, shock, rage, fear, suspicion, controlling behavior. They become hyper vigilant, asking endless questions, watching partners every move, reading their emails and texts, feeling a rollercoaster of emotions. Be careful to not dismiss or minimize the pain of this trauma, instead work through the pain by talking about it honestly and with patience so the betrayed spouse can make sense of it and begin to feel safe again. Why did this happen? Be open to talk about everything except the physical sexual details or any written texts, emails etc. These can be reinjuring for the betrayed partner and cause additional pain. The betrayed partner needs to know this information so they can stop visualizing, obsessing, imagining the situation, filling in the blanks, which can cause more trauma. They need to feel the betrayer sincerely cares about them, wants to earn their trust back and is in pain because the injured spouse is hurting.
The hardest part of the healing is for the injured partner to begin realizing they had a part in creating the negative climate in the marriage that led to the affair. Not that they were responsible for the spouse cheating, that was the betrayers choice. But that there was a negative cycle in the marriage and that helped to create the climate for this to occur.
Coming to couples therapy is the first step towards healing. Forgiveness is a non -linear process that takes time. The betrayed partner needs to let go of all the bitterness and resentment of being betrayed. They need to let their heart be open and vulnerable again. They must know the affair is over and will not happen again so the pain can stop for them to feel safe to open up again. Rebuilding occurs slowly after this pain and requires time, commitment, healing and resilience. The scars are still there but the relationship can become stronger in the recovery.