One of the most devastating, destructive events that can happen to a marriage is the heartbreak left in the wake of an affair. Now that it's over - really over - you want to try to pick up the pieces.
First ask yourself if you are serious about staying together. If you really don't want to be together, it is better to end with respect and kindness than to prolong the suffering. If you are both willing, the marriage can recover with time and patience on both of your parts.
Decide whether or not to tell. This is a personal decision, based on your values and your unique situation. An argument can be made that if you feel guilty, you should carry the burden yourself and not unburden yourself on your innocent spouse, especially if you now realize it was a mistake, and you are positive it is 100 percent over. Know that the decision to come clean may mean the end of your marriage, no matter how abjectly and honestly sorry you are. Some things simply cannot be fixed. On the other hand, you may feel the need to clear your conscience, and to begin anew with no secrets. If so, you should brace yourself for the blow your marriage will suffer. Most of all, think about your partner, not yourself. Some people would rather not know, and subscribe to the belief that ignorance is bliss; others would want the complete truth at any cost, no matter how painful, believing that honesty is the best policy.
*Remember that you can't control the actions of your former "partner in crime" - if s/he decides to rat you out to your spouse by calling, writing letters, doing an internet smear of you, etc., then you will have little choice but to confess and deal with the fallout.
1.Assess the reasons you blew it. You must internally examine your motivations, your reasoning, and your rationales. These things don't happen in a vacuum. What caused you to stray? Was it laziness in your marriage - were one or both of you becoming complacent and bored? Were you flattered by the attention of the person you cheated with? Why would you risk everything for an affair with that person? Honestly appraising your own actions will help you avoid these triggers in the future.
2.Leave the situation immediately. If the person you cheated with is a co-worker, request a transfer. If that isn't possible, and you are serious about your marriage, resign and find another job. You must never be seen with that person again. Ever. And after this, avoid anything that gives even the appearance of impropriety. Don't flirt or encourage flirting. And definitely, once you've broken off the affair, have no further contact whatsoever with that person. Don't even think about trying to stay "friends." If, for some reason, you cannot isolate yourself from the person (for example, it is someone in your partner's family), limit your contact to groups and keep conversation simple, void of any kind of emotion.
3.Fall on your sword. Once it's out in the open, do not defend yourself. Take full responsibility and don't try to deflect any of this back onto your spouse. Saying things like, "If you had just tried harder to understand me," or other stuff like that will not help you now. The time to examine the roots of your infidelity and explore it with your spouse is later. But in the first moments of discovery, the best thing for you to do if you truly want your marriage to survive is simply accept all blame.
4.Apologize. Sounds pretty simple, but do remember that just mumbling "Sorry" is not a good apology. Your spouse is going to be shocked beyond belief, hurt, angry and frightened. Make a sincere, heartfelt, and serious apology, right away. Ask for forgiveness, and vow never to repeat the behavior. Understand that your apology probably won't comfort your partner, but the absence of a sincere apology will do damage.
5.Apologize often. No, this is not an erroneous repeat. When you confess a sin like this, your spouse is going to need a lot of time to process the truth of your betrayal. That's right - let's call it what it is. You had a lot of chances to make different decisions, but the one you made to cheat is the one you are dealing with now. Your spouse, for the first several days, weeks, or even months, is going to need to hear your apology many times, and each time needs to be as sincere and heartfelt as the first. If you truly want to repair your marriage, you will need to accept your spouse's need to hear you express your sorrow and regret many times, and in many ways.
*Saying, "I've said I'm sorry a million times - what does s/he want? Blood?" will not mend your marriage. But saying, "I would give anything not to have been so stupid, and seeing how much pain I've caused, I am so very sorry and want you to believe it will never happen again" will help. Even if you're saying it for the million-and-one-th time.
6.Allow time for recovery. If your spouse is not inclined to forgive you immediately, you will need to accept that. Your spouse is going to need time to process the information, and get through all of the emotions and pain you've caused. It takes time - you wouldn't expect someone with a broken leg to get over it and go water-skiing with you the following weekend. Just the same way, your partner is going to need time and space and support in order to come through this ordeal whole.
7.Provide support and assurance. If you were a rather absent spouse before, you will need to change your behavior. Being present in the relationship will be key to restoring your marriage to health.
8.Prepare to be insulted or attacked – often. S/he will take a lot of shots at you. You will need to allow your partner to take those shots and not fire back, at least not in the first couple of volleys. However, don't allow this to continue for more than a couple or three remarks per episode, or to escalate. Do understand the anger and try to defuse it with nonviolent communication. If that doesn't work, say "I want to work things out. I don't want to fight, and you're just being mean now," and walk away for the time being. Your spouse may think s/he feels better after having attacked you, but verbal abuse is not healthy, and you don't want to reinforce the idea that you will forever be the "bad guy" if you want to marriage to heal. Just be patient, and don't be surprised when those insulting remarks surface. Turn the tides in a positive direction, if you can, or don't respond.
9.Take temperature readings. Instead of making a big deal of having constant "sensitive chats," just reaching over at the breakfast table, putting your hand over his or hers and saying, "How are we doing?" and motioning at both of you can let your spouse know that you are interested and concerned with whatever feelings are being processed today. If the response is, "Not that good today," just pat the hand or try to put a little kiss on the cheek with an understanding nod and say, "Okay. Let me know what you need and I'll do my best." If the response is, "Good today," then smile broadly and give your spouse a little kiss on the lips. Say, "Yay!" and suggest a date, like a walk, a trip to the beach, a picnic. You know - romantic stuff that you used to do when you were first courting. That's what you need to do again, because just as you did in the beginning, you need to win the object of your love again.
10.Let your spouse call most of the shots for the time being. Giving him or her a lot of leeway is important right now. Don't press for sex. Don't insist on a football party for SuperBowl Sunday. Don't bug him or her if s/he just wants to sit in the yard and meditate, even if you're bored to death. Go with the flow for the immediate future.
11.Remember that you must deal with the consequences of this decision forever. Trust is given easily - we fall in love and give our hearts, and we don't question whether or not the person we love is worthy of our trust. We simply trust that person with all our heart. But once you break that trust, it is fragile forever after.
Think of trust as a beautiful, delicate, vase made of crystal clear blown glass. It is a marvel that something so delicate and lovely holds water, can be the vessel for the stuff of life itself, and that it can last forever if lovingly cared for. It can be broken, however, if you are careless, and though you may be able to glue it back together, you will always see the cracks. It may be able to stand on its own again, hold water, and be all it once was to both of you, but there will always be visible reminders of the break. These can serve you if you will let them - they can remind you why it is best to remain faithful and keep your vows.
If Your Partner Had an Affair
1.Resist the temptation to leave. Once you know you've been cheated on, you want to flee. If your spouse is truly sorry, and if you want, in any way, to repair the relationship, you need to try to work it through together.
2.Evaluate brutally. It won't be useful to simply blame your spouse and hate the person s/he cheated with. If there were problems or signals before the infidelity, they will probably come sharply into focus now. If your marriage is to truly mend, you will need to examine whether or not your behaviors contributed to a situation where your spouse was searching for something s/he needed outside of your marriage. This is not to say that you are responsible for the decision to cheat. It is only to say that what is most useful now will be an honest and unsparing evaluation of your entire marriage - your behavior included. There are a lot of things to consider in the wake of this awful revelation:
Did you behave in ways that could be considered "un-lovable"?
Not occasional grumpiness. We all do that. But real, unkind, uncaring, unlovable behavior could cause, even someone who loves us, to go look elsewhere for kindness, compassion, and a tender touch. If you're cold and withhold yourself from your mate, realize that your spouse got into this relationship for your companionship. If you withhold kindness, tenderness, or sex from your mate, s/he will seek it elsewhere - it's not reasonable to believe your spouse would just take a vow of celibacy indefinitely. Being kind, tender, and/or sexy with your mate can make a real difference in your relationship.
*Did you see signs beforehand? Was your mate a flirt before?
*Do you believe this was an event, or is it a pattern? In other words, is your spouse the straying kind? Did s/he leave someone else to be with you? If s/he did, you could be looking at a pattern of behavior that will not be likely to change. An event - one occurrence - is a mistake that can be forgiven. But a pattern will be likely to happen over and over again.
3.Trust your judgment. This is very hard to do after you've discovered your spouse has cheated. When you find your spouse has been unfaithful, it makes you feel embarrassed, a fool, ashamed, afraid. It undermines your confidence. It rattles your ability to make the smallest decisions - where to eat, what to wear. You second-guess every little thing, and it's terrible. You wonder if your whole relationship has been a lie. The good news is, it probably hasn't been. Think about your relationship and the person you believe your spouse really is. If you believe in him or her, if you think you can trust him from this point on, rely on your judgment; believe in yourself and your own ability to make a good decision.
4.Process the anger, grief, fear, distrust, and shame. If necessary, get a therapist to help you through it. Understand that you can't fix "normal" - the normal response to learning of a spouse's affair is all of the aforementioned emotions. It takes time to sift through and make sense of all of it. You'll need to talk it out.
5.Resist the urge to vent to your family and friends. Although you need someone to talk it out with, choosing a family member, or someone you have been friends with as a couple - no matter how deeply or completely you trust that person - is a mistake. It will damage that person's opinion of your spouse and your marriage forever after. Restoring your marriage depends on your family and friends pulling for you to survive your rough patch. Telling someone you are having problems is okay. But telling them your partner has been unfaithful, has betrayed you, will make them feel as angry and betrayed as you do. This can set your confidante against your partner (and the marriage).
Choose instead to confide in a counselor, a co-worker, or a friend who lives far away from you - someone who is not in your home often, who is not a part of your "inner circle." This way, you will preserve your family's and friends' good opinion of your partner, and they will be on the side of your marriage, not just on "your side". You need their support. The last thing you need is to add their shock, anguish and betrayal to your own. No matter how much you need "blind devotion" from someone, no matter how good it would feel to have an "ally," remember: your confidante will never trust your spouse again, and may always be somewhat hostile toward him or her. And if it's a family member, soon the whole family will know - and that will create a whole new problem for the two of you to deal with; something your fragile re-bonding may not survive.
6.Choose to forgive. You will never forget what happened. It will leave a scar. But choosing to forgive your spouse and believe it when s/he promises it will never happen again can free you to move on. Bringing it up every time you have an argument will only prolong the agony. Try to put it behind you, no matter how hard it is. Of course you will need time to get to this point, and you will have talked it over many times with your spouse and any therapist you may have consulted. But after a reasonable amount of time, you must stop using this event to define your entire marriage.
Forgive and free yourselves.
7.Choose to trust. It's hard. You will feel like you want to check up on him or her all the time. Any time his or her phone rings, you'll wonder who it was. You'll want to check the text messages s/he receives - but you should be more concerned with what s/he sends - your partner cannot control what someone else does, only what s/he does in response. Frankly, those should be made available to you by your spouse until you feel comfortable again.
*If it's been more than a year since the infidelity and you still feel you need to check, there's a chance that there's still a deeper issue in your relationship that you should address. Being in a relationship with someone you will not trust is painful to you both, and will erode the marriage over time.
8.Choose to love again. If you can forgive your spouse, you will also need to see that s/he is really trying now to show you that you are loved, that s/he is sorry, and that you can trust him or her again. Even if you can't quite trust him or her, you don't need to feel stupid for loving your spouse - allow yourself to love your partner, even though you still feel hurt.
Both of You
1.Talk a lot. In the beginning, you will need to talk, cry together, rant, vent, and then reassure, accept reassurance, etc. It's going to take awhile. Accept that, and accept that the perpetrator will need to do a lot of apologizing, while the victim will need to make a lot of snarky, angry, and grieving comments. Talk through it, keep communicating, even if it hurts.
2.Take your time. There is no magic bullet. There will not be a magic moment when suddenly all is forgiven, all tears are dried, all wounds are healed, all anger is gone. You're both going to hurt for a long time. It can take years (2 - 5 years is the general opinion) to really feel like you've made the right decision, and that your marriage can truly recover. And after you have given it some time (this will vary, depending on the two of you)...
3.Act normal, even if you don't feel normal. Oh horrors! Does this suggest you should pretend to be okay, even if you aren't? Actually, yes, to a certain extent. Does this mean you should never pout, sulk, act petulant, snap at your spouse, make snarky, snotty remarks - even if you're still feeling hurt, angry, etc.? Does this mean you're not entitled to an authentic response to your pain? No. You're entitled to your pain. But that response will not serve the restoration of your marriage. Does this mean that you should act like you want to be there, even if you want to run like the wind? Absolutely. You will feel like leaving every single day - heaven knows it would be easier than going through all of this. But just put one foot in front of the other. Be polite. Act normal. Be kind. When you want to make a snotty remark, instead, reach over to that person you were just about to snap at, and give him or her a little back rub without saying anything at all. When you feel lost or embarrassed, reach out and pat his or her hand. Doing things like this helps to rewire your responses, and redirect bad thoughts to doing good things. If you just act like everything is normal, one day you will realize that everything really is normal. It's a quiet realization - it won't come with fireworks.
4.Find reasons to stay. There are a million reasons to leave. After infidelity, life gets real hard for a long time. And there's really no obligation on the part of the injured party to try for reconciliation, so it can be doubly difficult to find reasons to stay. Still, whatever your choice is, whether it is because you have children, or because you choose to believe that your spouse slipped once and is otherwise worthy of your love and devotion, once you have found the reasons to stay, cling to them, and remind yourself what they are any time you find yourself wanting to bail out.
5.Parent together. There can be a temptation to abdicate parenting. The injured party may feel apathetic or unsure. The party in the wrong may feel s/he has no right to make decisions, or may want to soothe guilt by being seen as "the cool parent" - see the "Warnings". That is not fair to your children, either way. The two of you will need to work together - if one of you sees that the other one is making no decision or a wrong decision, tell the children to belay that order and discuss the matter with your partner before making a final decision.
Say that you and your partner need to discuss it and you will get back to the children with your answer later. Do not respond to cajoling on their part - children will exploit the weakness they surely sense if they can. Simply stand to your position that you will discuss and inform later. Then do that. Talk it out and decide how you will handle it - be united in the eyes of your children. It will be important to them - and they should always be the first priority.
6.Let it go. The injured party will want to hang onto this longer than the one who cheated. The anger and the reactions that ensue are understandable, but verbal abuse is still unacceptable, and will do nothing to heal the marriage. After a certain amount of time, you must let it go, or else the person who cheated will simply resent it and become sullen and hardened to this form of punishment. If you continue to berate him or her after a reasonable period of anger and grief, it is now you who is in the wrong. Seek therapy or help from clergy to help you leave this in the past, or else all of your efforts will fail - nobody will volunteer to be flogged daily forever, even if s/he accepts all blame for doing wrong. If you attempt to turn the punishment phase into a life sentence, your marriage is doomed.
7.Rejoice. If you wake up one day and realize that you have accepted the incident, forgiven (or been forgiven for) what happened, and are glad you decided to stay with your partner, you've done what very few people ever do - you've survived infidelity, and your marriage is intact, vital, and healthy once more.