Surviving Infidelity: Pace your recovery. Here's why:
When infidelity comes out into the open, both the victim and the cheater are thrown into a state of fear, confusion, and chaos.
This period of time needs to be handled carefully. Otherwise as damaged as the relationship already is because of the cheating, it will become even worse.
Most couples who suddenly confront infidelity respond with typical patterns: The perpetrator of the infidelity wants to continue the deceit, denying what he or she has done or if he or she admits to having cheated, the perpetrator wants to minimize conversations regarding what happened.
At the same time, the victim of the betrayal has an urgent need to discuss in great detail everything that has happened and what will happen in the future — simply put, he or she wants answers and proof that the affair has ended. It is necessary for the partner who cheated to prove the affair has ended.
These mutually exclusive needs often add additional pressure on an already wounded relationship that may be on the verge of breaking up, and each individual may be on the verge of emotionally breaking down.
If the effort to move forward is not done in a ‘smart way,’ relationship and personal injuries will get even worse.
Watch this video on recovering from infidelity
Organize your relationship into two parts
You need to resume a normal relationship at the same time you are working on overcoming the relationship breakdown caused by cheating.
As unnatural as this may seem, having a ‘normal relationship’ and also ‘dedicating time to recover from the relationship crisis caused by cheating’ is possible.
Having a ‘normal relationship’ seems counter intuitive given all the anxiety, anger, fear, and chaos you are feeling and experiencing. However, doing so is very important since working on resolving the infidelity catastrophe full time each and every day can lead to additional individual and relationship damage.
There is nothing more stressful than dealing with infidelity. At the same time, it is well recognized that stress is the catalyst for numerous physical and emotional illnesses. Getting yourself sick during this relationship crisis is counterproductive.
When working on infidelity recovery you need your full strength, a clear mind, and an iron clad fortitude to overcome the crisis.
You need to eat, sleep, go to work, parent your children, talk to people, and maintain your ‘normal routine' through all the turmoil that has been caused by relationship cheating.
There are many important tasks that need to be attended to once the betrayal has been uncovered. One important task early on is to determine ‘how and when’ to work on the problems caused by the cheating and betrayal.
When couples come to see me for professional help, one of the first things I tell them is that they should not work on their infidelity problems 24/7. Some couples take my advice and do well, while others who can not or do not, suffer the natural consequences of infidelity recovery overload.
Make recovery rules
It is important to set-up times to work on 'infidelity recovery,' and allow for times to be 'normal' — to just have an ordinarily life just like you had in the past.
You and your partner need to agree ‘when and how’ to work on infidelity recovery so your efforts to recover are fruitful.
I recommend that you set aside 20 minutes to a half hour in the evening to discuss details regarding the affair.
Agree to a practical time when you can talk without interruption. Turn off your phones and focus on each other.
I encourage the partner who strayed to go to his or her partner at the appointed time and ask him or her if they would like to ask questions or discuss their feelings regarding the affair.
When it is the partner who strayed that initiates the discussion it shows goodwill and intent to take responsibility for what he or she has done and in this way takes an active role to contribute to repairing the relationship damage he or she has caused.
When approached, if the infidelity victim answers that he or she is not interested in talking, then they each just move on with the evening.
The following night the 'talking about the affair routine' is initiated again with the partner who cheated asking his or her partner if he or she is interested in talking.
Stay calm, respectful, and focused
If you are the victim of infidelity, you need to stay calm and respectful when you are discussing with your partner your feelings, concerns, and questions. You need to be careful how you respond when you hear something that is upsetting and understandably triggers you.
When your partner sets aside time to talk with you and then he or she is met with a firestorm, you cannot expect that he or she will continue to subject himself or herself to being ‘burned alive’ on a daily basis.
During these times set aside for talking, if you get angry or have a melt-down, either your partner will get inappropriately angry or he or she will withdraw. In either case, the opportunity to discuss what happened and to continue to work on rebuilding your relationship will be lost.
At the end of the half-hour of discussion, should you both agree to extend the time you may do so. However, understand that if your partner does not want to extend the time, don’t get upset. Many individuals cannot endure tense and personal conversations for long periods of time. This is especially true for men.
If your partner is pushed past his or her capacity to discuss something, he or she may either tune out, get angry, or say something inappropriate. Should this happen, instead of the discussion about the affair being helpful, it becomes hurtful.
Reasons the victim needs to discuss what happened
The reasons to discuss what happened are numerous and each one contributes to the healing of the relationship. Here are a few of the reasons for discussing what happened:
- The victim has a right to know what has happened to his or her valued life and family.
- The victim has a right to 'interrogate' the betrayer to determine that he or she is telling the truth (after all, infidelity and lying go hand-in-hand).
- The infidelity perpetrator has a right to attempt to redeem himself or herself and this can only happen if there is an opportunity to speak.
- When the discussions are respectful, calm, and compassionate it is an opportunity for the two individuals to come together more closely and understand each other better.
- Talking about what happened is an opportunity to plan and make decisions regarding the future.
- Talking about what happened gives the victim the opportunity to hold the perpetrator of the infidelity accountable.
- The victim has the opportunity to inform the person who cheated about the pain and suffering he or she has caused (the perpetrator may not fully understand this without being told).
Only tell the truth
I tell the perpetrator — the cheater — that when your partner asks you a question, there are only two responses you can give: 1) Tell the truth and answer the question fully, or 2) Say that you don’t want to answer this question.
The reason the cheater should only answer the questions in one of these two ways is to prevent lying. Lying at this point is very damaging. It will undo all the prior effort to heal and recover from the infidelity.
Infidelity is always maintained through lying and concealment. A cheating partner can only redeem him or herself if he or she shows remorse, is completely honest and stops all the deception.
All lying, even 'white lies' that are meant to protect the victim from additional hurt, are inappropriate. The reason being that should the lie be discovered, it will make no difference whether it is a 'white' lie! It will simply be understood as a lie. As well, you need to rebuild trust and this can only happen when you are honest.
If a lie is discovered during the infidelity recovery process, all the prior healing work will be undone and you will be worse off than even before, since the betrayed partner now even more reason to not believe you. Whatever you say will be not believed!
For many victims of infidelity, more hurtful than the physical contact with the outside person is the deception needed to keep the affair a secret. Being lied to makes the betrayed partner feel that he or she is only an object to be manipulated — not a cherished and valued partner.
If the individual who cheated is caught lying after the affair has been revealed, this leaves the betrayed victim feeling that he or she cannot trust his or her cheating partner nor believe what he or she says. He or she no longer has any credibility. When this happens, there is then no road to recovery — all bridges back home have been blown-up
If you are the partner who cheated, stating that you do not want to answer a question may not be acceptable to your partner who has been victimized by your bad behavior. Nonetheless, it is a true statement, and it is preferable to lying.
When you tell your partner that you do not want to discuss something, this is at least a true statement.
To the best of the your ability, you the perpetrator, should be transparent and honest.
Recovering from infidelity is not easy. In fact, for many couples it is not even possible. Separation, divorce, or chronic conflict and mistrust are possible outcomes after an affair is discovered.
However, with effort and perseverance, and with a recognition that so much is at stake for everyone who is either directly or indirectly involved, efforts to stay together and to fully recover are advisable. This can only happen when the individuals in the relationship balance a 'normal life' with the necessary relationship work to heal from the 'betrayal'.
Most often the assistance of a relationship professional who specializes in infidelity is required to help you survive infidelity. Many thousands of couples have successfully overcome infidelity and have gone on to live together in a healthy, normal, and loving relationship. Here are sources where you can find qualified therapists:
The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
The Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Infidelity Recovery Specialist
Need more help? Get my book, Surviving Infidelity: Restoring Trust, Finding Forgiveness, and Living Happily Together
About the author
Abe Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T., is a Registered Social Worker, Registered Couple and Family Therapist, Certified Hypnotherapist, and award-winning Educator. He has a busy clinical practice in Toronto, Canada.
After many years of clinical practice and research, Abe concluded that practical solutions requiring a focused effort of no more than a few minutes a day for very specific relationship problems were critically needed. GoSmartLife Publishing House has been created to fill this need.