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How to repair and heal your marriage after a spouse cheats

How to repair and heal your marriage after a spouse cheats

Infidelity is often considered the greatest of betrayals: a betrayal of trust, the relationship, and the marriage. For some, it is too much and the marriage is over. Some spouses are more forgiving and hold on to the marriage and its benefits, including security and an intact family because, for them, those benefits are more important than the broken vows. In other words, either the pain of the betrayal or the pain of the losses is too much to bear.

No matter what, there are issues to be addressed. The marriage or relationship is in trouble. You need to determine if it is worth fixing. Even if you don’t think so, it is important to understand what went wrong. Own your part in what has happened, which could be denying the signs of trouble, or withdrawal from your partner due to stress, depression or illness. Obviously, no matter what you have done, it did not warrant your partner’s infidelity. That, too, must be addressed.


Do

Do contact a licensed therapist

When a partner cheats, it is an indication of a problem in the relationship and problems with each partner. Therapy is clearly needed for the relationship and often, so is individual therapy for each partner. There are many different styles of therapy and, for that matter, licensed therapists. You may find a psychologist, social worker, marriage and family therapist, or other professional—all of whom will have different specialties, insights, and counseling styles.

The unfaithful spouse may need individual treatment to understand why he or she chose infidelity, the other spouse may need treatment to heal the wounds of infidelity and to look at their role in the relationship problems. It is often best to start with a therapist for the relationship. Sometimes pain, hurt and anger are so strong that it is difficult to address the relationship issues. If this is the case, don’t put off the couples therapy too long. 

Do recognize and accept your feelings of hurt and anger

Hurt and anger are natural responses to infidelity. Many people have the belief that marriage vows are sacred and forever, and are wounded deeply when a spouse violates those vows. The wounded spouse feels the rejection of the sexual transgression, but often it is the rejection from the violation of emotional intimacy that hurts more. A spouse”s betrayal from a one-night stand can be more tolerable than an affair that has gone on for a year. Hearing about your spouse’s affair from your best friend is harder than finding out from your cheating spouse. It is important for you not to judge yourself for the feelings of hurt and pain you hold. They are neither right nor wrong.

Anger is easier to feel than hurt. Your rage can temporarily empower you. However, acting on it impulsively often doesn’t help. You may feel good for a brief moment, then go back to feeling miserable. You need to express your anger without harming yourself or your partner.

You also need to be reasonable about your hurt. Be careful not to let this rob you of your self esteem. Your partner having an affair doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means that your partner had an affair, and your relationship is in trouble. 

Do take time to heal

The emotional havoc wreaked by an affair is exhausting. The kaleidoscope of feelings can be difficult to manage—especially when you have work, children, and a household to manage. Take time to rest each day; let go of less important tasks. Yes, the kids need to eat, but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or pizza a few nights, won’t hurt. Do something nice for yourself when you can, even if it is as simple as taking a nice relaxing bath before falling into bed.

Healing can take months, but the intensity, frequency and duration of stressful or painful episodes will decrease with time. You may feel a little bit like one step forward and two steps back. Gradually the good times will outnumber the bad. However, if you are not sleeping or have no appetite for longer than a week or two, discuss this with your doctor or therapist.

Do conduct a cost-benefit analysis

Your initial reaction to the infidelity may be to end the marriage. However, remember that first reactions are not the only reactions. Let your emotions settle before committing to ending the relationship. Marriages can be repaired, and when couples work in therapy after an affair, the marriage is often better than before. You have to weigh the risks and benefits of trying to repair the marriage.

Considerations can be the length of the marriage, children, finances, and your ability and willingness to forgive. The risks certainly include remaining vulnerable to additional hurt. Obviously, your partner must be willing to make an investment in repairing the marriage as well. 

Do be open to your spouse’s sincere remorse

Once your emotions have settled down, and your partner has acknowledge how he or she has hurt you, you should start to sense the remorse. Your partner needs to own what has been done and understand the impact it has had on you. It can be difficult for your spouse to withstand the guilt, and you may want you to let them off the hook.

At some point their guilt may be uncomfortable for you as well, and you’ll be tempted to let them off the hook then, too. However, that is not what remorse and forgiveness are all about. Each of you needs to acknowledge what has happened—as painful as it is—in order to repair the marriage. 


Don't

Do not obsess about all the details of your partner’s infidelity

When you have been hurt by your partner’s action it is common to go over and over the events. You may need to do this to help yourself believe that it really happened. But limit the people to whom you disclose the information and the frequency with which you discuss it. You can be tormenting yourself needlessly. It can be like picking a scab, let it alone for periods of time so you can heal.

If you find yourself obsessing, tell yourself to stop, and then think about other things. The negative thoughts may continue to intrude. This is normal. Think of these intrusive thoughts as uninvited guests in your mind and turn your attention to other things. Or indulge the thoughts for two minutes and then move on. Write the thoughts down, put the paper away and tell yourself that if you need the thoughts later, you can refer to what you wrote. Writing things down is a way of working through your feelings. 

Do not ask for more details

Like obsessive thinking about the infidelity, asking your partner for more and more details of what happened isn’t helpful. You will end up torturing yourself even more. Knowing the basics is hurtful enough. Do you really want to know what the other woman wore when she was with your husband? Or if the man your wife was with could bench press more than you? Nothing helpful can come of your knowing this information.

Sometimes people believe that if they just learn one more thing about what happened, they will feel better. Oftentimes, this only leads to wanting to know just one more thing. Your partner may even want to share details in order to alleviate some guilt, but this doesn’t help you. Resist listening to this and tell your partner that you don’t need the information. 

Do not constantly blame or punish your partner

While your partner has clearly done wrong, constantly reminding him or her of it is not helpful. The unfaithful spouse must take blame for his or her actions and should expect some retribution, but a constant barrage of accusations will not help repair the relationship.

In addition, it will prevent you from healing.

Sometimes people will continually bring up the infidelity because they haven’t felt genuine remorse from their spouse. Other times, it is because they can’t let go. If your partner only hears the blame, he or she may just get defensive and angry, which will only increase the tension in the crisis. 

Do not share information with your children

Because you are hurt and angry, you may want your children to know of their parent’s infidelity and how you have been wronged. It is not fair to burden them with this information, especially if they are young. Young children will not understand the complexities of the issues, and do not need to be burdened with the idea that a parent is bad.

Adult children do not need the details and should not be forced to choose sides, even though you are clear about whose side they should take. This issue is between you and your spouse.

With young children both parents, together, can say, “We are having a big argument right now and we are trying to fix it. This has nothing to do with you. You haven’t done anything wrong. We know you don’t like it when we are upset with each other, but sometimes that happens and we are working on it. Grown ups can be confusing at times, and that is hard for you. Know that we both love you very much.”

With adult children, who will most likely have figured things out and will ask questions, avoid bad mouthing your spouse. Say something like, “Your mother has hurt me very much, I don’t understand what happened, but the issues are between the two of us. I know you want more information, but that’s between us. Understand we are trying to sort things out and we’re just not sure what will happen down the road.”   

Do not make impulsive decisions

When people are in shock, or feeling things intensely, their decision making is typically not rational. It is based on emotions and clouded judgement. You need to let the shock wear off and your emotions settle before deciding what to do. Seeing a divorce lawyer may ultimately be the right thing to do, but it’s better for that to be a deliberate plan than a hasty response.

Hurting yourself or your partner physically is not an answer to the problem. Neither is running to your partner’s family and telling them everything you know. You can’t take these things back. As understandable as your anger is, actions like these benefit no one, not even you. You can say to your partner, “I am so hurt and angry right now, that it is best if you leave for a few days, (or I am going away for a few days). I will call you by Monday and we’ll talk then.”

Relationships can often be repaired after an affair, but it takes hard work with a licensed professional therapist. You need to heal from the hurt, have a sense of sincere remorse from your partner, forgive and rebuild trust. 


Summary
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The betrayal of infidelity is a painful wound and needs time and proper care to heal. A licensed professional is vital to the process. You need to sort out the problems in the relationship as well as the individual issues which led to the affair, and then determine if you want to repair the relationship.

Recognition and acceptance of your feelings, is important, as is taking care of yourself while healing. Openness to your own feelings and paying attention to your partner’s, can be painful, but necessary to the rebuilding of the relationship. Distance and deception played a role in the affair, genuineness is essential if the relationship is going to work.

Dwelling on the details of the affair resolves nothing and just wratches up your misery. You need to talk about what happened, but need to set limits about who, when, and how long you talk about it. Most of the details are best shared with a therapist and should never be discussed with your children. The problems are between you and your spouse and children, even adult children should not be in the middle, no matter how wrong your partner may have been.

Take your time deciding how to handle this, and assess the pros and cons of staying in the relationship with the help of a professional. If you can forgive your partner and resolve the problems, you can end up with a better relationship than before the affair. Just know that it takes work—it may be worth it. 


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Mary Kelly Blakeslee, Ph.D.Retired Psychologist

I am a recently retired Psychologist. I had a private practice since 1985, first in Springfield, then Summit New Jersey. My practice consisted of individual and couples therapy, with adolescents and adults, covering issues of depression and anxi...

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