The bomb has been dropped: There’s been an affair in your relationship. Where do you go from there? How do you possibly recover from it? Is your relationship ruined forever?
After the disclosure of an affair, you probably feel devastated. And rightly so. Infidelity is an existential crisis for most relationships that experience one, and both the injured spouse and the partner who had the affair are now on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
For the partner who has suffered an affair, there’s hurt, hopelessness, depression, betrayal and a host of other feelings as the world you know crumbles around you.
The partner who had an affair also probably is not feeling so hot: your relationship is on the brink of destruction, and there’s likely shame and conflicted emotions.
Some couples call it quits at this point. The fear that the relationship will end is why most people don’t share an affair with their partner in the first place, and many relationships do fall apart after the disclosure of infidelity. Hiding is a rational response; breakup is likely!
But there’s another way. You can save your relationship. Here are four important first steps after the disclosure of an affair. Recovery is possible (just not quick)!
Often our first impulse after the disclosure of an affair is to take action quickly. We try to solve things fast. We try to work through all the details immediately. We walk out on the relationship. We punish them. Maybe we choose the person we’re having an affair with.
Resist this temptation no matter how much you’re hurting.
“Looking for that quick fix is in our human nature,” recovery coach Tray Lovvorn told me during a recent episode of my show, Talking Love. “This is messy, this is yucky, this hurts, so I want something quick.”
Moving too fast and taking quick action will almost certainly kill the relationship, though. There is no quick fix.
The first step after an affair is hitting the pause button so you and your partner have time to repair things and let the emotions settle down.
It is okay to create distance and put up some walls. It also is okay to think the worst. Just don’t act on it. Give yourself time to repair things.
Many of us go through our relationship crisis alone. We hide what’s really going on in our personal life so we continue looking successful. We tackle our problems alone, hoping we can fix things without anyone knowing.
Infidelity is too big a problem for this. Hiding is a mistake. You need support.
“We’ve got issues, and we need to bring in some people who love us, who are there for us,” advises Tray, who himself went through an affair and came out on the other side.
A person who has been cheated on needs someone who will listen to the pain and be there when the emotional rollercoaster whips them around. You need support. Someone just to hold space and hear your emotions, thoughts and fears.
The person who has cheated also needs community. You need friends who will understand why the infidelity took place without condemning you and walking away. At the same time, it is important that you have friends who will speak truth and call forth the better person you know you can be.
In both cases, look for friends who are ready to listen, not solve your problems. You want friends who will hold the space for you and be an honest sounding board while still staying on your team.
One dynamic that can really hurt the recovery process is not letting the cheating partner back into the relationship as an equal.
Obviously the cheating partner did something wrong, something big and destructive to the relationship. Nobody is arguing that. But if you use that as ammunition during arguments and disagreements, you’re not going to repair the relationship. There’s a permanent imbalance when the person who was cheated on holds all the power and instantly win discussions.
For awhile it is okay for the cheating partner to be in the dog house. But it can’t last.
“You’re rebuilding trust, but you can’t have that parent-child relationship long-term,” stresses Tray. “That’s eroding the recovery process.”
So get mad about the affair. Acknowledge there was a big breach of trust and commitment. But then let it go and move forward as a couple. You can’t give yourself a trump card that wins all arguments. There will be no recovery if only one partner has a real say going forward, the one who suffered through the affair.
As hard is it may sound at first, you have to work together as equals and enable the cheating partner to contribute to discussions and be heard. Controlling the relationship by holding the affair over the partner’s head won’t fix things.
Finally, get help.
Dealing with infidelity is not easy or fast, and it should not be approached alone. The bonds that hold your relationship together have been ripped apart, and recovery is a complex process that almost always requires outside help.
Don’t go it alone. Trying to fix a relationship by yourself that has been challenged by infidelity is like trying to perform surgery on yourself. Possible? Maybe. Advisable? Definitely not.
We at Kowalke Coaching specialize in building (and rebuilding) relationship bonds, and we have a wide network of specialists who can help with anger, trust issues, depression and anything else you might need.
If there has been an affair in your relationship, reach out to us and we will help get you back on your feet.
Many relationships end after an affair. But yours doesn’t have to be one of them.