Couples seeking my support after infidelity are often surprised that I don't immediately recommend ending their relationship. Instead, I offer hope that healing is possible, especially with the help of online therapy services. My role is to guide them in building skills like communication, accountability, transparency, and cooperation.
Over half of Americans in committed relationships have been cheated on, be it emotional, physical, or both. So, if you're currently going through this—you're not alone. Here are 10 crucial steps you and your partner can take toward recovery.
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1. Seek Support and Professional Help
Infidelity can be an earth-shattering experience for both partners. Most couples need professional guidance to properly heal, understand, forgive, and change their behaviors. While it may not seem like you'll recover from this betrayal, couples therapy can help reduce associated stress and depressive symptoms.
Through counseling, couples can delve into the underlying factors of infidelity and work towards constructive change. Recognize, however, that both parties play roles in the relationship dynamics. Partners who are cheated on aren't always simply passive victims.
2. Engage in Open and Transparent Dialogue
Clear and honest communication is essential when addressing infidelity and embarking on the path to recovery. It entails sharing your thoughts, feelings, and needs while also taking time to genuinely listen to your partner. You need to engage in a two-way conversation and accept that there are two perspectives (not just your own).
Be careful not to resort to blame or defensiveness. To truly communicate, you cannot view each other as threats. Instead, you need to focus on rekindling your bond. A couples therapist can guide you through this process, promoting open and receptive dialogue.
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3. Try an Effective Communication Strategy
A communication strategy you can try with your partner is to take turns sharing your thoughts and feelings, then repeating what the other person said.
For instance, Partner A may say, "I feel hurt and betrayed that you slept with someone else and lied to me about it. I need to trust you again." Partner B would then echo what their partner said, "You're hurt and betrayed that I slept with someone else and lied to you. You need to trust me again."
When it's Partner B's turn, they may express, "I feel ashamed and embarrassed that I cheated on you. I want you to be able to trust me again." Partner A would then mirror these sentiments.
4. Employ Methods to Process Emotions
Managing the intense emotions that arise from infidelity often requires regulation strategies. Cheating can evoke anger, fear, and insecurity and even trigger past traumas. Try these methods to stabilize your emotions:
- Boxed breathing: Involves taking a deep breath, holding it for four seconds, exhaling fully, and then holding your breath again for another four seconds. Repeating this five to 10 times can help reduce panic, allowing for a more constructive conversation rather than a heated argument.
- Splashing cold water on your face: Activates the dive reflex, which can slow down your heart rate and decrease physiological arousal.
5. Practice Strategies for Healing and Self-Expression
To navigate the tumultuous emotions after an affair, consider the following strategies:
- Acknowledge and process feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal
- Avoid emotional repression, which can negatively impact emotional and physical health
- Seek individual therapy and support from friends, family, or support groups
- Use journaling, self-compassion meditation, and mindfulness
- Engage in creative activities, outdoor pursuits, exercise, and self-defense classes
6. Consult Helpful Resources
There are several books and workbooks available that can help you navigate and manage intense emotions, such as anger, following an affair. Here are a few of my favorites:
- "Healing the Angry Brain" by Ronald Potter-Efron
- "Self-Directed DBT Skills" by Elliot Weiner and Kiki Fehling
- "Not 'Just Friends'" by Shirley P. Glass
You may also find it helpful to enroll in expert-led programs that focus on emotional regulation. Look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), anger management, and courses that can teach you to handle stress.
7. Rebuild Trust
Rebuilding trust is a collaborative effort that involves communicating openly, setting clear boundaries, redefining mutual goals, and understanding each other's emotions. This journey isn't linear and can span months or even a year.
There may be moments when you start trusting your partner again, only for doubts to resurface when painful memories are triggered. Patience and commitment are crucial as you and your partner gradually rebuild trust. Though setbacks may happen, they don't signify an irreversible breach.
8. Set and Re-Establish Boundaries
Setting clear expectations and boundaries is vital for preventing future betrayals and fostering trust restoration post-infidelity.
Specific areas where boundaries are crucial include:
- Cutting off communication: Set strict limits regarding interactions with the person involved in the affair and redirect your focus towards each other.
- Unavoidable contact: When you have to interact with the third party, stick to work-related discussions and avoid personal topics.
- Transparency measures: The partner who was unfaithful may need to share more about their daily plans and personal communications, like phone and email, to help rebuild trust.
9. Forgive and Reconcile
Forgiveness often comes after healing begins. It's not the same as reconciling or reuniting. You can forgive someone who hurt you without getting back together. But both forgiving and healing require time and dedication to release resentment and bitterness.
Real remorse from the unfaithful partner is crucial for forgiveness and potential reconciliation. This regret should be sincere and accompanied by efforts to change, make amends, and renew the relationship with defined boundaries and transparent communication.
10. Move Forward and Find a New Normal
After infidelity, it's essential to intentionally create meaningful moments with your partner to restore normalcy. Instead of leaving your time together to chance, set aside regular moments for each other. A good practice is making a weekly commitment to spend at least one hour together and check in with each other daily.
Enjoy each other's company and try new things, whether it's a day trip, attending a show or exhibit, dancing, hiking, or simply having fun at home. Taking a course or picking up a new hobby as a couple can also be beneficial. It provides a shared activity that allows you to learn and grow together.
The Path to a Stronger Relationship After Infidelity
Often, an affair serves as a wake-up call for a relationship, highlighting the need for change. If both you and your partner can recommit, establish clear boundaries, enhance communication, and reignite intimacy, you can fortify your bond.
This healing path can deepen your connection, leading to a better understanding of one another. If you fully commit to repairing your relationship after an affair, you can emerge stronger despite the challenges you face.
» Want to strengthen your relationship? Discover how Regain can help.