Discovering a partner’s betrayal is a trust-shattering experience that can bring you to the lowest point in your life. Whether it’s lipstick on the collar, or messages you find on your partner’s phone, the shock of learning your partner is involved with someone else will trigger overwhelming feelings.
When you discover infidelity, you have a rough road ahead. You’re angry, deeply hurt, and scared to death about what’s happening. But if you want face the affair and stay in your relationship, here is what you need to know.
Begin With the Goal in Mind
If your partner is cheating, and you want a chance to save your relationship, you need to prepare yourself carefully.
One of your most important choices is how you decide to bring this up. The overwhelming feelings involved make this a momentous effort. The challenge starts by facing your own devastating hurt, and then preparing yourself to talk about this with your partner.
It takes a black belt in self-restraint to put your relationship first. Especially when you are terrified of what you may find.
Know that healing from infidelity is possible. It won’t be easy; healing is a process, and it will take time and commitment from you both.
Working Through Your Emotions First: How Can This Be Happening?
When one partner cheats, the injured partner suffers a rush of dark thoughts about how and why this happened. He or she has terrible doubts that the relationship can recover. It is common to feel grief, rage, and despair that your partner may walk out forever.
You find yourself worried obsessively about your spouse’s late nights. Intense alarm may make you unable to eat, sleep or do much else but think about what’s going on when your partner isn’t home.
Of course, you’re outraged. And underneath the anger, you are terrified about what this all means.
Each person may feel trapped, afraid that bringing up the affair will mean that everything is over, and all hope is gone. This paralyzing fear can grip both people: the straying partner may worry that, even if the injured one is willing to stay, it just can’t be repaired.
Knowing the fears – and what you deeply hope for underneath – are important in thinking through what to say to your partner.
Dealing with Self Criticism and Doubt
In a panic to fix things, you may criticize yourself. Self-blame can be intense. “If I were more attractive, if I had been more attentive, then he or she wouldn’t have been out there straying.”
Emotions may swing into deep self-doubt: “If my partner could lie to me about this – if this is true – then does my partner love me? What else have they lied about? How many other times has this happened?”
If it’s a second affair, you may be worried you are dealing with a sexual addiction, or if this is going to be a lifelong pattern. You will need to face these hard questions openly with your partner.
It is important to know that no marriage is perfect. No one is “forced into” having an affair – despite how lonely or bad a situation might have seemed.
Finding your Courage, Choosing Your Words
Getting the nerve up to face your worst fears takes enormous courage and preparation. When you take this up with your partner, you need to be able to speak for your feelings – not from your feelings – as much as possible.
Speaking for your feelings is to say for example, “I’ve got this gut feeling something is wrong. I’m so worried about us. It seems like this other person has really got your attention. I’m not really part of what you’re thinking about, and I don’t know what that means.”
Stop short of accusation. The message behind this is, “I really love you, and I feel terrified and helpless over here. I want us to be okay. I want us to figure out what’s happening, and take care of it.”
Denial Is the First Hurdle to Get Over Together
It’s important to realize you’re going to get denial from your partner, especially at first. Your partner is going to deny the affair vehemently. It is a universal human reaction, not a character flaw. It may look like a setback. But it doesn’t mean that your relationship is unfixable. You are seeing a protective response when a person knows they’ve broken a trust and they feel ashamed.
As the person who is hurt and wants to work through it, it’s important to keep repeating, “I love you, I want to fix this, I’m scared over here; help me.”
If you are looking for a way to repair your relationship, your best chance is to make it as safe as possible for the other person to say what’s going on.
Healing from Infidelity Means Making it Safe to Open Up
The emotions around infidelity are so big — the terror, shame, and hurt — that you will want to find safe ways to deal with them.
Working with a skilled, experienced marriage counselor is often vital to the first steps of healing from an affair. A professional therapist helps you manage those feelings enough in the session to find safe ground.
Safe ground comes when you can share your true feelings without having them ruin the dialog. You can speak for your emotions well enough to understand each other better, even when it hurts. Safe ground means you are open to hearing each other, and can acknowledge whatever has happened.
You Define the Healing Process; A Skilled Counselor is Your Guide
The healing process needs to work for each of you. Every relationship and healing process is unique, and only you can decide how much detail you want or need to know to feel your partner has come clean, and you can lay suspicions to rest.
As the straying partner, know that your spoken remorse, sorrow and regret, and promises to be faithful help a great deal. If you keep feelings of guilt and your apologies to yourself, chances of healing go down dramatically.
Learning to safely express your own sorrow and to listen to the pain your partner faces — each in turn — will helps a lot in restoring a deeper, warmer relationship.
What Good Healing Looks Like
Partners need to step up and do whatever it takes to win back trust. A pattern of honoring commitments helps a lot. The partner who strayed can agree to call the other at a certain time, every day, for example. It may not be what other couples ordinarily do. But you and your partner need to know and respect whatever you decide to make part of your path to recovery.
Healing from an affair involves facing whatever it takes in order to forgive, and be forgiven. You both need a deeper understanding of how you got to that spot, and what it will take to work your way out of it.
Know that your marriage or partnership can be repaired, and become stronger and have a second chapter. You can have whole different marriage. There is hope for partners who are willing to do the hard work, be more accountable and transparent. They create safety for each other and so can form a deeper and healthier bond.
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