You are shell-shocked. It feels like the floor has fallen out from under you and all your hopes, dreams, and visions of your life together with your spouse fell right down with it. This is a normal response from a spouse that has just discovered their partner has been having an affair.
Nothing is clear anymore. Nothing can be trusted. And the question of, “Has our whole marriage been a lie?” comes creeping in. For couples that have experienced this, the above example is all too familiar. But, recovery can happen and it can launch your relationship to a depth and intimacy never imagined.
So what should a couple expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead? Waves of emotions. Shock. Anger. Sadness. Love. And so many more.
Often times, couples have described it as a roller coaster. They will have the initial intense anger followed by a short time of deep emotional and psychical intimacy to only be followed up with hurt and anger again. It is normal to vacillate between all of these emotions.
“Recovering from an affair is hard. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes compassion and empathy.”
What leads to the experience of deep intimacy is the honest and real conversations that follow the discovery or admission of an affair. It can be confusing for both spouses because this is something they probably desired all along but may have been missing.
The conflict arises for the offended spouse when they are experiencing both the emotions of closeness and betrayal simultaneously. If the couple chooses to work on the relationship, the highs and lows will lower will not be as high or as low as they choose to do the hard work.
To help with the healing process, there are 3 key things NOT to do and 3 key things TO DO.
What NOT To Do:
1. Do Not Get All the Graphic Details From the Offending Spouse
While this will feel like the needed and right thing to do, these details create images and images are very difficult, if not impossible, to erase from your memory. The offending spouse needs to be honest about how long, when, where, what lead to, but not the graphic details of the intimate experiences.
2. Do Not Make Permanent Relational Decisions in the First Few Days
It is okay to ask for space and to ask for short separation (separate bedrooms or a few days at a hotel). And do not act out of your anger towards the affair partner.
3. Do Not Share With Everybody
Be selective with who both you and your spouse share what is happening between you. Those people need to be trustworthy. If you need help assessing their trustworthiness take a look at The Anatomy of Trust by Brené If they are not able to keep confidentiality and be respectful towards both of you, they will not be helpful.
What TO DO:
1. The Offending Spouse Has to Show Deep, Genuine Remorse and Cut Off ALL Contact With the Affair Partner Immediately
The offending partner cannot be defending and justifying their actions. While there may have been something that was not functioning well in the relationship that led them to take those actions, those actions are still 100% their choices and there needs to be ownership of the choices and the pain those choices have caused. Without this first crucial step, true reconciliation cannot happen.
2. For a Period of Time (This May Vary From Relationship to Relationship), There Has to Be Full Access to Everything
This does not mean policing. This means that when there is fear that comes up for the offended spouse and they ask to see email or text messages, that together they open up the offending spouses’ accounts.
This provides an opportunity for the offending spouse to be open and honest and share that experience. It also provides them an opportunity to show and express empathy and comfort.
3. This Will Be a Long Road
There will be times where the offended partner may be trigger and express hurt or insecurity again. This can come from an anniversary of the discovery, a location, a look, etc.
There are many triggers. This will become frustrating at times for the offending spouse. They may be working hard at building trust and these triggers may make them feel like their efforts are not making a big impact. The more each spouse is able to slow down, share their hurt, and be able to have intentional conversations about how they are doing, the better these triggers will be handled.
Do not wait to check in with each other until this happens, but have a regular time where you both are sharing with one another how you are doing in regards to the affair recovery and life in general.
Recovering from an affair is hard. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes compassion and empathy. But it can be done!