Finding out that your partner has had an affair can be the worst feeling you ever have in your relationship. Whether you find out about it by looking at messages on their phone or intercepting a call or note, it can feel like a punch in the stomach. If you are told about it by your partner, it can be one of the most painful conversations you ever have. Either way, it may change your feeling of loving that person.
The shock and pain may be so acute that the thought of getting past it may not occur to you for a while. It is the pain of the betrayal, the insult of being deceived, the hurt of no longer being special, the feeling of sadness, loss or abandonment or the regret of time wasted with the wrong person that can seem insurmountable and just plain terrible..
Once the secret is out and the feelings are intense, what is next?
When is it time to decide how or if to move forward? What do you need to know to decide? How long will this all take?
Recovering from an affair is very difficult. It includes issues related to many factors. Everyone is unique and has different reactions and there is no one right way to figure out what needs to happen, but there are a few places to look for some answers.
Probably the most important decision you have to make early on is your level of commitment you have to continuing relationship if you didn’t feel so awful. The infidelity is a wounds. Think about the idea that if the wound could be healed, do you still want to be in this relationship? If you do want to stay with that person, then you need to work together to acknowledge the pain and figure out how to make it better. If you want to continue, consider taking these 4 steps.
Step One: Identify your feelings
The first step is to identify what you are feeling. It is likely a combination of shock, anger, hurt, betrayal, grief, sadness and fear. What are you feeling the most? It is important to think about that because that is what may need to subside in order for you to consider moving forward.
Step Two: Figure out what happened
The next step is to look at how it happened. Is it the pain of feeling cast aside or the sadness of realizing you have been lied to? Was there a breakdown of communication somewhere? Would clearer communication have been helpful? Why did that not happen? Were there warning signs that you missed, or did you misjudge the person you thought you loved? To rebuild, it might be helpful to see how the relationship fell apart.
Step Three: Re-establish some communication
At some point, after you have experienced the strongest emotions, may after a few weeks, a month or maybe longer, it is time to re-establish some form of communication.
Step Four: Forgiveness
The key to recovery is forgiveness. Literally putting something in the past so that it doesn’t ruin the future. The key to getting over the infidelity and moving forward is forgiveness. When you forgive, you are saying that you won’t hold the affair against them anymore. This will allow you to consider trusting that person again. They can never regain your trust unless you allow them to do that. You accomplish that by saying to that person and to yourself that you are willing to trust them again.
How long does is all take?
In figuring out how long it might take to get over the affair, rebuild trust and move ahead, it is important to look at what the barriers are to forgiving them and to forgiving yourself for being deceived, naïve or too trusting. This takes time.
It may take a couple of weeks to get over being incredibly angry or hurt. You know best how long it takes for you to get over being angry. Then you will have to confront your feelings of grief and loss. You may have lost the feelings of warmth and intimacy you had. It is like a person has died in a way. Your relationship as you once knew it has disappeared in a dramatic way. Like grieving the death of a loved one, it may take a year to get past the memories and sadness. Give yourself some time for this. It usually gets better little by little, not all at once.
Getting past the sadness and fear can happen while you are rebuilding your relationship. Reach out to the other person and allow them to reach out to you. Share with others what you have been feeling. Get support from friends, family, or a counselor, therapist, or coach.
If you and your partner have decided to stay committed to your relationship, you need to heal the wounds together by hearing what each of you feels. This is where good communication becomes important. Develop a way to share your feelings and your fears with each other without judgement or defensiveness.
It takes practice, and you will fail some in the beginning. Set up time just to listen to each other. Maybe only 5 minutes a few times a week. Just listen and say “thank you for sharing your feeling.” When you can both share your fears authentically, forgiveness will be easier.
Forgiving the other person is a gift to them. More importantly, it is a gift to yourself to lift the burden of having to be alone with your grief and sadness.
We worked with a couple where the husband had an affair over the course of years. Conner finally saw that he was not aware of how hurtful his actions were to Jane. He wanted to return to being in love with her, apologized and asked for forgiveness. She was angry and very hurt and wanted him to feel the pain she had felt. In some individual sessions, however, she saw that being angry did not make her happy. The barrier to happiness was her desire to get back at him. When she decided she liked herself more as a loving person, not an angry one, she forgave him for her own sake with lots of assurances that he was serious as well. They were able to share their fear that they were both taking a risk and went on to be a stronger and happier couple.
It will take time to get over infidelity. There is grief and loss to get over, communication to be restored and forgiveness to be given and accepted. After the initial shock has passed and the emotions have begun to be dealt with, you can begin to communicate again about your fears and feelings.
It starts with reaffirming your commitment to being in the relationship. Then set times to communicate authentically and work toward forgiving the other person. Your forgiveness is what will allow you to trust them again, not because they have proven themselves, but because you want to be happy and loving again. It may take a year, but it is possible to build a new and amazing future together. Don’t wait for them to act. Make it better by starting on the path to forgiveness.