Is It Possible To Survive An Affair?
When you find out that the person you trusted most, the person you love, has betrayed you by having an affair. What do you do now?
Take a breath.
I know the pain is almost unbearable. I know you feel like you’ve been sucker-punched and all the wind is knocked out of you.
You need to breathe.
“If there were a Richter scale for emotional earthquakes, the discovery of an affair would register at the outermost end of the dial”
– “Not Just Friends” by Dr. Shirley Glass Ph.D.
This is one of the most painful things that can happen to you. I’ve lost a loved one to death and I can tell you that the pain of having your spouse cheat is worse. You can explain a death, but betrayal is worse than death.
This happened to me over seven years ago. My wife of 28 years had an affair.
I know how you feel.
I survived and you can too. Not only did I survive, but my marriage of 28 years survived as well. We will celebrate our 35th anniversary this year.
Take another breath. Breathe deeply.
I want to share some things that helped me survive. I think they will help you too.
I am NOT a licensed counselor. But I do have first-hand experience which, in my opinion, is sometimes more helpful.
First Things First
Do you want to save the marriage or is it over? You will have to decide that at some point but now is not the time.
You’re on a journey now that wasn’t your choosing. That doesn’t mean you can’t make choices. Now is not the time to make major decisions. The first thing you need to do is take care of yourself.
You’ll be tempted to put all of your focus on your spouse and your marriage. That time will come but in this initial phase of recovery, you need to think about yourself.
The trauma of an affair brings about a period of numbness, shock, anger and overwhelming grief.
More than likely you’ll lose your appetite. I lost 15 lbs in the first couple of weeks without even trying. Eventually, I lost over 30 lbs. This was one of the good things that came out of the process for me.
In many cultures men aren’t encouraged to show emotion. You may be tempted to hold it in. Don’t do it. There are many constructive ways to handle emotions like sorrow and anger.
I took up cycling. When I started I couldn’t ride three miles without huffing and puffing. My distances gradually grew to where I was riding 30-40 miles at a time. The long rides became my therapy and helped me to clear my head.
I also became deeply grateful for the book of Psalms. Seeing how David was able to cry out before God and be angry made my prayers much more energetic.
You’ve been hurt. Let it out.
Once you’re able to think more clearly you can start making decisions about your path forward. Do you want to save your marriage? My vote would be yes, unless there’s been abuse in the relationship.
Think long and hard about this. The decision shouldn’t be based on feelings at this point. Your emotions are still not trustworthy enough to use as a guide.
When I started the process I thought of all we had been through together. The good times and the bad. I thought of our grown children and our new granddaughter and future grandkids. I thought about our church family.
Divorce affects many more people than just you and your spouse.
Think about what you want relationship-wise in 5 years, 10 years and beyond. I know it’s difficult because all the pain is now.
We had a pretty good marriage for most of our 28 years together. I wanted to come out of this stronger as a couple. I didn’t want to throw that 28 years away and start over with someone new.
I can tell you without a doubt it was the best decision for me and my wife. We are doing better than we ever have. Our communication is better than it’s ever been.
Steps to Recovery
If you both have decided you want to save the marriage there are several steps you’ll need to take to heal the wounds and move forward. It won’t be an easy journey but it is definitely worth it.
Steps for the unfaithful spouse:
Promise to stop the affair—and to stop seeing your lover—immediately. Agree to sever all contact. This lifts secrecy and creates a sense of safety for the betrayed spouse. Stopping an affair goes beyond no dinner dates or sex. All phone calls, in-person conversations, and quick coffee breaks together must stop. If you work with the person with whom you had an affair, keep your encounters strictly businesslike—and tell your spouse everything that happens. Avoid private lunch dates and closed-door meetings. It’s also important to report any chance meetings with your affair partner to your spouse before he or she asks about it. Talk about your conversation. If your affair partner contacts you, announce that too.
Answer any and all questions. More and more marriage experts agree that couples heal better after an affair if the adulterous spouse supplies all of the information requested by his or her betrayed partner. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover. It’s counterintuitive—many spouses (and therapists) think that going over the details will only further upset the aggrieved partner. Truth is, willingness to talk rebuilds trust. The key? Not holding back—no more secrets. If you leave out details that emerge later, your spouse may feel newly betrayed.
Be transparent. Your spouse is not going to trust you. You have to rebuild that trust and one of the best ways to do that is to be transparent. Give your spouse your phone when they ask. Give them the passwords to your email and Facebook accounts. Show them your credit card statements when asked. You may feel like it’s an invasion of your privacy but if you truly want to heal and “become one” again, you need to rebuild the trust.
Show your spouse empathy, no matter what. The single best indicator of whether a relationship can survive infidelity is how much empathy the unfaithful partner shows when the betrayed spouse gets emotional about the pain caused by the affair, according to infidelity expert Shirley Glass, Ph.D.
Keep talking and listening, no matter how long it takes. You can’t speed up your spouse’s healing process, and you shouldn’t ever negate its significance. Be ready to answer questions at any time, even months or years after the affair has ended. And listen to his or her reactions without anger or blame.
Take responsibility. Blaming your partner for the affair won’t heal your marriage. Showing sincere regret and remorse will. Apologize often and vow to never commit adultery again. It may seem obvious to you that you’ll never stray again, but your spouse may have worries, so renew your commitment to your spouse as your one-and-only.
Don’t expect quick or easy forgiveness. Your partner may be in deep pain or shock. Expect tears, rage, and anger.
Steps you’ll need to take:
Ask lots of questions. At first, you may want all the factual details. If your imagination is like mine, what you’re imagining is much more colorful than what actually happened. It’s good to get the facts and get all your questions answered so your imagination doesn’t fill in the details and make it bigger than it was.
Put a limit on affair discussions. Restrict yourselves to 15 to 30 minutes. Don’t let the affair take over your lives. Do ask questions as they arise instead of building up resentment and long lists of questions.
Talk about how the affair has affected you. Discuss your doubts, disappointments, feelings of betrayal and abandonment, anger, and sadness. As your partner builds a wall between him- or herself and the former lover, help open a window of intimacy between the two of you. Don’t hold back.
Don’t forgive quickly or easily. You must grapple with your pain and anger first and rebuild trust. Forgiveness is for you, not your spouse. Forgiving doesn’t mean you’ll forget.
Find support. Find someone you can talk to. Preferably a best friend or counselor. I suggest not talking about the affair with your family. If you want to survive the affair it will be much easier if your family doesn’t have to go through the healing process like you are committed to. Many of them won’t.
Spend time together without talking about the affair. Connect as friends and romantic partners by doing the things you’ve always enjoyed.
If all of the above seems overwhelming, that’s okay. Take it a step at a time. Recovery won’t happen overnight. When things get tough, remember what you’re striving for and why. The relationship is bigger than the moment.
We’re seven years into the recovery of our marriage. The pain of recovery was worth it! It’s a distant memory and another part of our marriage’s history.
Do I wish it had never happened? Yes.
Has there been some good things come out of it? Yes.
It’s been said that a good life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.
My wish for you is that you respond well.
You can do this!