Infidelity does not always necessitate the end of your relationship with your spouse. It is possible to survive infidelity in your marriage, but only if you both are committed to doing so.
That is because doing the work necessary to survive it is difficult. However, when you are both “all in” and determined to make your marriage work, your relationship will wind up being better and stronger than you could have ever imagined.
Before you worry about the how’s of surviving infidelity, you need to know a bit about what to expect. There are three phases you and your spouse will go through as you focus on rebuilding your marriage.
The first phase is discovery. This is when the betrayed spouse learns the truth – that the person they’ve committed their life to has strayed.
As you can imagine, this is a very difficult phase. You will both experience uncomfortable emotions – rage, shock, denial, guilt, sadness, and so many others.
Since you both have such wild emotions during this phase, it is best to avoid making big, life-changing decisions until you are both experiencing less tumultuous feelings.
The second phase is when you do the work of rebuilding trust. You both have to invest effort in this phase.
The unfaithful spouse must become trustworthy again. By doing so, the betrayed spouse will feel safe to fully love them again.
The betrayed spouse must do the work of healing and truly forgiving. This is difficult work and not something that happens quickly.
The final phase is creating a new marriage that supports and nurtures both of you.
Now that you know the phases, you have a general idea of the path you will follow as you work to survive infidelity in your marriage.
The unfaithful spouse has 6 actions they must take to do their part in resolving the hurt they caused. If you were the unfaithful partner:
1. Stop the affair immediately
Not only is it important to stop the affair, it is also imperative that you cease all communication with your former lover.
This is not always easy especially if you work with your affair partner. If it isn’t possible to cease all communication, you must let your spouse know of each and every interaction you have with them without your spouse needing to ask you about it.
2. Become transparent
Allowing your spouse to have complete knowledge of your whereabouts, your communication and your important thoughts will go a long way toward rebuilding trust with your spouse.
This will not be easy to do. You’ll probably feel that you have lost your privacy. However, keeping secrets is how you got into this situation and your spouse knows it. The only remedy is to become an open book to your mate.
3. Show your spouse empathy
No matter how much you may want to tell your spouse “Just get over it!” author Janice Abrams Springs counsels against doing so in her book After the Affair. All you will accomplish is showing your spouse that you are not trustworthy with their emotions and that you are not adept at putting their needs before your own.
Instead, develop empathy for what your spouse is going through because of your behavior. Remain willing to discuss your infidelity and listen to what they have to say for as long as it takes – not necessarily in marathon conversations, but for weeks, months, or even years after the discovery of your betrayal.
4. Take responsibility for your actions
It is normal to want to find a way to absolve yourself from blame, so you don’t feel so bad. Every instinct you have may be crying out to find someone else (including your spouse) at fault for your behavior.
However, the fact remains that you are the one who committed adultery. If you want to survive infidelity and save your marriage, you must take responsibility for your poor decision and the pain it has caused your spouse, your family, and you.
5. Express sincere regret and remorse
You cannot undo the past. You cannot forget what you did, and neither can your spouse.
However, what you can do is let your spouse regularly know how sorry you are for causing them such deep pain, vow to never stray again, and be someone worthy of their trust.
6. Begin conversations about your affair
This may seem counterintuitive. But when you open discussions about the affair, you are demonstrating your commitment to helping your spouse heal because you are thinking about it too.
Not all of the work to survive infidelity in your marriage needs to be done by the unfaithful spouse. There is quite a bit the betrayed spouse needs to do as well. If you are the betrayed spouse, you need to:
1. Accept that people cheat for a variety of reasons
Even people in happy marriages are unfaithful. The fact that your spouse strayed, does not mean that they thought your marriage was bad or that you are a poor spouse. Avoid taking blame that is not yours for your spouse’s choice to betray your trust.
2. Constructively express your emotions
Despite the huge temptation to lash out and vent your painful, vengeful, and enraged emotions on your spouse because of the hurt they have caused, doing so will only increase the rift between the two of you. Surviving infidelity within your marriage requires that you proceed with respect. Respect for what you are experiencing and for how your behavior could impact your spouse.
3. Become curious about what happened
To heal from your spouse’s infidelity, you need to have information. You need to understand what happened and when. It is only when you have the facts that you can start making sense of things.
The only way you will learn what really happened is by asking questions. Ask lots of questions. Continue asking until you know all you want to know – even if that means you are asking questions weeks, months, or years later.
4. Talk about how the affair has affected you
Just as you need to know what your spouse did, your spouse needs to know how their behavior has impacted you. Your transparency is just as important as your spouse’s in rebuilding trust.
5. Take responsibility for your healing and forgive when you are ready
Your spouse cannot make you feel better. They can only do their part in repairing the damage their infidelity has caused.
You need to put in the work to heal, to trust again, and to eventually forgive. Even though no one can do it for you, you don’t have to do it all alone. Seek out the support and guidance you need.
6. Remain open to sexual intimacy with your spouse
Intimacy is an important part of a vibrant marriage. As you work together to create your new marriage together and your spouse has built more distance from their lover, start reintroducing sexual intimacy into your relationship.
You each have your personal responsibilities for recreating your marriage. And you each have joint responsibilities for surviving infidelity in your marriage. So:
1. Get support
Your marriage will need the support of a therapist or counselor to help you navigate through the chaos of infidelity. This person will guide you through the three phases of surviving infidelity in your marriage, so choose someone you both feel comfortable with.
2. Agree to guidelines for conversations about the affair
The discussions you will have about surviving infidelity within your marriage will become tense and difficult. They definitely need to occur, but not without some agreed upon guidelines.
You might agree that if either of you becomes too upset or out-of-control, that the other will respectfully bring a conclusion to the discussion.
You could agree to time limits on each discussion so that your lives do not revolve exclusively around the affair.
Try agreeing to talk about questions as they arise to keep the pressure off of waiting until a scheduled session with your counselor or therapist.
Agree to regularly spend time together without discussing the affair.
Surviving infidelity in your marriage is not a simple task. It is hard work for each of you individually and as a couple.
At various times, you will find yourselves taking three steps forward and two steps back. And sometimes you might feel a bit stuck as you move through the three phases of healing.
However, if you both make and renew the commitment to persevere and save your marriage from an affair, the “new” marriage you create together can be better and stronger than it ever was before.