by Michele Weiner-Davis,
(reprinted with permission from DivorceBusting.com)
Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the monumental
task of healing from infidelity. As a marriage therapist for two decades,
Iíve heard countless clients confess that the discovery of an affair was
the lowest, darkest moment of their entire lives. And because affairs
shatter trust, many seriously contemplate ending their marriages.
However, itís important to know that, no matter bleak things might seem,
itís possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity. Itís not
easy- there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions- but years of
experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to what people
in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back from the brink of
Let the healing begin
Healing from infidelity involves teamwork; both spouses must be fully
committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on track. The
unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair and do whatever it
takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse. The betrayed spouse must
be willing to find ways to manage overwhelming emotions so, as a couple,
they can begin to sort out how the affair happened, and more importantly,
what needs to change so that it never happens again. Although no two
people, marriages or paths to recovery are identical, itís helpful to
know that healing typically happens in stages.
If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you will
undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions- shock, rage, hurt,
devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have difficulty
sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the affair. If you
are an emotional person, you may cry a lot. You may want to be alone, or
conversely, feel at your worst when you are. While unpleasant, these
reactions are perfectly normal.
Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never
improve, it will, but not immediately. Healing from infidelity takes a
long time. Just when you think things are looking up, something reminds
you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. Itís easy to feel
discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and downs are
the norm. Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far between.
Although some people are more curious than others, itís very common to
have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially. If you have
little interest in the facts, so be it. However, if you need to know what
happened, ask. Although the details may be uncomfortable to hear, just
knowing your spouse is willing to ďcome cleanĒ helps people recover.
As the unfaithful spouse, you might feel tremendous remorse and guilt, and
prefer avoiding the details entirely, but experience shows that this is a
formula for disaster. Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions
under the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.
Once there is closure on what actually happened, there is typically a need
to know why it happened. Betrayed spouses often believe that unless they
get to the bottom of things, it could happen again. Unfortunately, since
the reasons people stray can be quite complex, the ďwhysĒ arenít
always crystal clear.
No one ďforcesĒ anyone to be unfaithful. Infidelity is a decision,
even if doesnít feel that way. If you were unfaithful, itís important
to examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could threaten
your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel attractive? Are you
having a mid-life crisis? Did you grow up in a family where infidelity was
a way of life? Do you have a sexual addiction?
Itís equally important to explore whether your marriage is significantly
lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes people feel so
unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional or physical
connection. They complain of feeling taken for granted, unloved,
resentful, or ignored. Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy or sexuality
in the marriage.
If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to have an
affair, you need to address your feelings openly and honestly so that
together you can make some changes. If open communication is a problem,
consider seeking help from a qualified marital therapist or taking a
communication skill-building class. There are many available through
religious organizations, community colleges and mental health settings.
Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the
willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and
remorse. You canít apologize often enough. You need to tell your spouse
that you will never commit adultery again. Although, since you are working
diligently to repair your relationship, you might think your intentions to
be monogamous are obvious, they arenít. Tell your spouse of your plans
to take your commitment to your marriage to heart. This will be
particularly important during the early stages of recovery when mistrust
Conversely, talking about the affair canít be the only thing you do.
Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the importance
of both talking about their difficulties and spending time together
without discussing painful topics. They intentionally create opportunities
to reconnect and their nurture their friendship. They take walks, go out
to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual interests and so on. Betrayed
spouses will be more interested in spending discussion-free time after the
initial shock of the affair has dissipated.
Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which
is frequently the last step in the healing process. The unfaithful spouse
can do everything right- be forthcoming, express remorse, listen lovingly
and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage wonít mend unless the
betrayed person forgives his or her spouse and the unfaithful spouse
forgives him or herself. Forgiveness opens the door to real intimacy and
But forgiveness doesnít just happen. It is a conscious decision to stop
blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If the past
has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to having more
love in your life? Decide to forgive today.
2001 Copyright - Michele Weiner-Davis. All rights reserved.