Before attempting to rebuild a relationship, consider whether that is what you want and then be prepared to let your partner take the lead. Deidre Prewitt, MSMFC, LPC shares her thoughts on Healing Your Relationship After Your Affair.
The discovery or revelation of infidelity is one of the most difficult events a relationship can experience. In many couples, there is a sudden upheaval of emotion that threatens to swallow both partners whole. If you have ever searched the internet for answers, you may have found a great deal of support for the partner who experienced the betrayal; for the “wayward” partner, not so much. Being a partner who was unfaithful, yet wishes to reconcile, can be very lonely. This article aims to offer some help with navigating the choppy waters of trying to heal your relationship after your affair.
Before beginning the process of healing your relationship, seriously consider if you want to salvage it. Many wayward partners struggle with the idea of returning to the relationship the way it was before. Some partners are unfaithful because their primary partnership is failing. The idea of returning to that experience may seem almost too painful to bear. Infidelity recovery is a difficult process, so the decision to attempt reconciliation cannot be taken lightly. Before offering reconciliation to your partner, you must decide if that is what you truly want.
In most cases, reconciliation requires that you end any contact with your affair partner(s). This may challenge you to formally end the affair, endure the potential embarrassment, and grieve the loss. This is typically necessary to demonstrate your good-faith effort to rebuild. If you are not ready to end your auxiliary relationship(s) (no matter how trivial this may seem), recovery may not be a viable path for your current relationship. To recover from infidelity requires that you decide to do what it takes to rebuild.
Many wayward partners are relieved when affairs are discovered because they are no longer in bondage to their secrets. After discovery, the wayward partner may be eager to discuss what was wrong in the relationship that caused them to stray. This conversation is necessary for healing, but immediately after discovery/revelation may not be the best time for it. The betrayed partner is likely reeling from the knowledge and trying to make sense of a new reality. They may be so consumed with wanting to know all the facts about the infidelity that they may not be able to truly hear “why.” Even if they ask, they may not be able to comprehend the answer in a way that brings them healing.
Allowing the injured partner to set the pace of the recovery process is crucial to its success. Know that your honesty in answering the seemingly never-ending questions will allow your partner to eventually come to the “why” of the affair story. In the meantime, self-reflection may help a wayward partner to heal. Exploring how you found yourself in this situation and what needs you were attempting to meet will be key in the process … later. Journaling, talking with a trusted friend, or individual therapy can allow you the safe space you need to find answers to the deeper questions without causing more damage to your hurting partner right now.
WEATHERING THE STORMS
As a wayward partner, the agony of discovery/revelation may seem too expansive to contain. Some partners who have been unfaithful experience depressive symptoms as they find themselves thrust from the safety of their secret. Wayward partners may find themselves consumed with extremely low thoughts of self, only to have their injured partner echo those thoughts. The combination of guilt, shame, hurt, and betrayal seems to be a perfect storm.
Recovering from infidelity is not a linear process. Some days a couple may see glimpses of where they want their relationship to be, only to find they feel like they have gone back to step one the next day. Effective recovery is an upward trend.
It may not seem like it, but the storm cannot rage on forever. Some days you may find the sting of betrayal is not as powerful as it was in the beginning. Wayward partners who learn the skill of finding the hurt under the rage may be better positioned to calm the storms in themselves and their partners. In my practice, couples learn that even the most injured partners are looking for the wayward partner to understand the hurt the infidelity has caused. We learn that if pain is acknowledged and empathy is given, the anger can usually subside over time.
Recovering from infidelity is not a linear process. Some days a couple may see glimpses of where they want their relationship to be, only to find they feel like they have gone back to step one the next day. Effective recovery is an upward trend. Through the good days and bad days, the couple may find the lows are not as low as when they began and the highs are more frequent. Understanding the process and being focused on the goal of reconciliation can help a couple cope when emotions are running high.
LOWER YOUR DEFENSES
One of the most important lessons for a wayward partner is to learn to avoid being defensive. Defensiveness can take many forms. Avoiding or dismissing the severity of the infidelity are only a few ways you can be seen as defensive. Blaming your partner for your infidelity is also defensive and may be detrimental to your partner’s healing. Being defensive also destroys the injured partner’s safety. A wayward partner who consistently takes responsibility for their actions may help their partner to heal faster. When they attack out of hurt, an injured partner wants to believe there is remorse. To show remorse and empathy allows the hurt partner to get what they need in order to heal.
Defending against attack is a natural human response. You may find it useful to think of a partner’s anger as an attack on the distress they are experiencing. Hurt partners may scream, cry, or seem cold in an attempt to rid themselves of pain. Be careful to notice if your relationship is becoming abusive; if so, get help immediately. If your partner is not abusive, to defend against the attack may mean the injured partner is left with this pain. Taking the burden of this suffering may be the act of love that the hurt partner needs in the wake of discovery/revelation. This can help to reestablish trust when you are determined to make amends for the hurt.
Relationships can heal from infidelity. The process is not without its challenges, but it is possible. A couple typically does best when they are determined to work through the pain to get to the healing on the other side. If you are considering reconciliation, you must first decide that rebuilding is your true goal if you want to be successful. Both partners will need to find healing in the pain of an affair, perhaps at different times. Allowing an injured partner to guide the recovery process is important for their healing. If you are able to weather the storms that come without being defensive, you may be more likely to succeed in the recovery process.
Infidelity does not have to mean the demise of your partnership. If you are willing to work through this challenge, perhaps with a nonjudgmental therapist guiding the process, your love for one another can emerge stronger than before.
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