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The discovery of marital infidelity, simply put, is an “extremely devastating experience.” Marital infidelity can be many things: sexual involvement with another person, secret Internet relationships, or the secret exchange of e-mails, text messages and phone conversations. It may involve a friend, acquaintance, or a complete stranger. Whether the extra-marital cheating is a passionate sexual affair or an emotional affair, it will greatly undermine the trust in your marriage. Even though many marriages can recover from such deceit and betrayal, sometimes the damage done is simply too great to overcome.
The speed and degree of recovery is usually dictated by the behavior and actions of the spouse who cheated. They are, after all, the one who brought an outsider into the marital union. However, the unfaithful spouse often has no idea what to do, or how to behave, in order to help rebuild trust in the relationship. These steps will help those who are serious about healing their marriage.
- STOP LYING. Stop lying or making excuses for your actions. If the betrayed partner presents evidence of the lie, betrayal or inappropriate action, own up to it. You need to understand that the worst thing that could happen has already occurred. You were dishonest and betrayed your partner’s trust. Therefore, continuing to lie, twist, hide, or deny is simply adding insult to injury. If you are looking your partner in the eye and claiming to want the relationship to work then you cannot continue to lie about various odds and ends. You lied to your partner for the entire duration of the betrayal; therefore, if you continue to lie now, it sets the reconciliation process way back. The betrayed partner likely knows the answers to the questions they are asking, or can usually find out, so if you are interested in rebuilding trust in the relationship, STOP LYING. If your partner discovers later – either on purpose or by accident – that you have lied about or left out salient details, they will likely never trust you again. (Moreover, you deny yourself the opportunity to be someone whom they SHOULD trust.) Your only hope of regaining their trust is to give them the truth wholesale, and thus demonstrate your commitment to being honest with them, even about things that might hurt them. You are kidding yourself if you think you are protecting your partner by “omitting” certain truths. If you had wanted to protect your partner, you never would have betrayed them in the first place. Keep in mind that unlearning dishonesty may be unexpectedly complex for you, in that it has likely become somewhat automatic — you may have used it for so long to sidestep conflict and responsibility that you have become very good at justifying it. Taking up the challenge of honesty at all levels is the only way to rebuild your relationship and the only way to reclaim your own integrity.
- Be around. While emotional availability in the days, weeks, and even months following the discovery of a betrayal is of the utmost importance, keep in mind that you can only be emotionally available when you’re around. Understand that, left alone, your partner’s thoughts will begin to eat away at them – they will have questions you are not there to answer, torment themselves with ideas you cannot dispel, and invent suspicions your absence will only worsen. Paranoia is only natural during this time; in fact, it can hardly be called paranoia, as they are right to mistrust you; you have betrayed them deeply. Being around to answer their questions and soothe their thoughts will keep them from building up and causing future explosions down the road. If it is possible, this may be a good time to take some time away from your normal “alone” activities to spend with your partner. If you can’t be with them physically, keep your phone on whenever possible to answer their calls, and allow them as much access to you as they need. Depending on your partner’s temperament, you may need to respect their desire for time alone, but you need to keep yourself available to them.
- DO NOT get defensive or assign blame. This is not the time to employ the old adage of “the best defense is a good offense.” This is the time to be contrite/regretful, remorseful, empathetic, compassionate, honest, and emotionally available. Do not say anything which will give the impression that the betrayed partner was responsible for your lies to them or in any way caused your behavior. There will be plenty of time to share blame during times of productive conversation with your mate or in counseling sessions. It may be that there were significant problems in the relationship prior to your betrayal, and that those problems were 50% (or 60% or 70%) the responsibility of your spouse. Nevertheless, the fact that you chose to betray your spouse rather than to raise the issues and work on them in an honest way is 100% your fault. Therefore, DO NOT waste time blaming your actions on anyone or anything else. DO NOT point the finger toward temptation, confusion, being under the influence, or falling prey to the influence of others. You should have no room for excuses anymore. Telling your partner you did not realize what was happening is not only bogus, it devalues them. The partner will see right through these excuses and will view this as another attempt to keep them in the dark while you continue playing them for a fool. The best way to effectively deal with your partner’s anger, and start the process of rebuilding trust, is to take complete and full ownership of your own selfishness, immaturity, or basic destructive relationship behavior. Remind yourself that it is quite possible that your partner was enduring similar feelings of unhappiness or frustration during the relationship, but instead made a decision not to lie to you or betray you.
- Treat your partner as if they are the very center of your world. While you should do this anyway, it is of monumental importance that you focus on this IMMEDIATELY following the incident, injury, lie or betrayal. This is a critical time in the recovery of your relationship; dedicate yourself to it. Being abused or betrayed will make your partner feel rejected, unimportant, and decidedly less than “special.” Regardless of your reasons or given situation, your partner will be under the rightful impression that you do not truly love them, which is a difficult thing for them to face after years of thinking they were the most important person in your life. Giving your partner your full attention during this time will help them to regain the feelings of importance in your life, and will go a long way towards convincing them that you are unlikely to hurt or betray them again. If you can, also show and tell to other people how much you care or love your partner in order to help them overcome all the humiliation and hurt this burden may have caused.
- Your life MUST be an open book. You no longer have the luxury of coming and going as you please. Once you have abused that privilege, it takes a while and a whole lot of effort to get it back. Do not protest these measures based on your accumulated good behavior prior to “your mistake” — that period of good behavior was in effect, after all, when you WERE actively cheating and lying, so it is no proof of anything. Therefore, if you will be late coming home from work, or have had a change in plans, inform your partner. Every time you leave the house your partner is now wondering if you are going where you say you are going. The best way to ease their insecurities is to check in throughout the day. Invite your partner places you usually go alone like to the game, the gym or the mall. Let your partner know that you have nothing to hide. Additionally, do not hide your cell phone or set the ringer on silent. If your partner requests, give them your email and voice mail pass codes. Tell them about the accounts that they do not know about and/or have not discovered yet. In fact, if you have nothing to hide, then offer your partner the codes without them having to ask. Don’t lock your cell phone, call log or address book. Offer to let your partner see any and all of your mail, including your phone bills, and keep the credit card or bank statements in plain view on the kitchen table. Although your partner may never choose to check these things, the simple fact that you made them available for his/her perusal will be a HUGE step in regaining their trust. In fact, the more openness you demonstrate, the less urgency your spouse will feel to check in on your activities — and that need may eventually disappear with successful rebuilding of the relationship. Although you may feel as though some of these are a violation of your privacy, you need to know that these steps are absolutely NECESSARY if you are trying to rebuild trust. Saying that you are on the straight and narrow while insisting on your right to continue to hide things is counterproductive to your stated goal of wanting to rebuild your relationship.
- Be prepared to answer questions. It is extremely difficult for a betrayed spouse to know that there is another man/woman in the world who has more information about their marriage then themselves. Your partner is going to want lots of details and ask questions about things you may not want to answer, but too bad. Your partner is going to cross reference your prior stories and ask you to confirm if “this” or “that” was a lie. She/he is grappling with the truth about all those little things that did not add up while you were lying, and if you “gaslighted” your spouse during that time (allowed them or encouraged them to believe that they were imagining things), this is another injury that they will need to heal from. You simply need to fess up. The worse thing you can do is to conceal information because you don’t want to hurt your partner. Remember, they have already been hurt beyond belief, so continuing to withhold additional information gives the appearance of an attempt to continue the deception. Therefore, asking multiple questions helps the betrayed partner get up to speed, thus obtaining necessary information to deal with feelings of being in the dark while their partner was trying to hide things from them.
- Do not ever attempt to dictate the length of time the betrayed partner’s recovery should take. You are the one who brought mistrust into the relationship, and therefore, you are in no position to dictate when the betrayed partner should be “over it”. The distress, suspiciousness, and distrust that follow the discovery of a betrayal are natural and appropriate in the case of a traumatic disruption such as this. Remember that, even though your relationship may have needed work before the betrayal, your spouse’s reality was just ripped away from her/him by the one person they thought they could trust above all others. Not only is the intimate nature of infidelity extremely painful, the experience of being subjected to overt, repeated lies is emotionally destructive. On top of it all, in the midst of this crisis, your spouse has lost the person to whom they could have turned to for support in the past: you, or at least the “you” that they thought they knew. It will likely take a while to fully heal. Your relationship with your spouse during this time is not necessarily an indicator of how it will be from now on. Anticipate that your spouse will be on a roller coaster of emotions. Mood changes, sleep and appetite disruption, health declines, and sudden tears or withdrawal are natural. They will be alright today and devastated again tomorrow. Just know that they also want to get rid of all the pain and hurt too as soon as possible. In time, with full honesty and emotional openness, you can begin to recover your relationship’s equilibrium. The truth of the matter is, your partner may never fully be “over it”, but may still learn how to mentally move past the lies, or abuse. When a person is hurting, they typically share their pain with the closest person to them. As their partner, you are the one they need to vent to, even though it is you that caused the pain. Additionally, you may feel as though since you’ve confessed, apologized and vowed to remain honest and good, things should now return to normal. That is simply NOT the case. One of the worst things that can happen is for you to begin acting as though its “business as usual”. Deciding to remain in a relationship after your partner has betrayed your trust, or hurt you is a Major decision and one which can be both very humiliating and enormously stressful. DO NOT downplay the GREAT MAGNITUDE of that decision by behaving as though nothing happened. For the next few years, you should make an effort to periodically wrap your arms around your partner, kiss them, and THANK them for opening the door to your reconciliation. Additionally, ‘acknowledge’ how much the betrayal hurt your partner, how difficult it must be to move past it, and vow to do whatever necessary to make things better…forever. Although it may seem to you as though such actions will only revive the pain, that is simply not the case. The betrayal is already with your partner every day. Acknowledging the degree of pain you put your partner through, and expressing appreciation for another chance gives the betrayed partner the impression that you not only are mindful of their pain, but that as long as you are aware of their struggle to overcome the ordeal, you will be less likely to make such awful choices again in the future.
- Choose your battles wisely. Keep in mind that now is not necessarily the time to pick fights over certain topics, particularly those related to privacy and possessiveness. Your partner is feeling betrayed and frightened; it is only natural for them in this state to project those fears onto situations that bear (in their mind) any resemblance to past events of hurt and betrayal. You have shaken their feelings of security in the relationship and in the world, and it is openness and understanding that will gain this back, not combativeness and arguments. Rather than angrily asserting your rights, you will do much better to gain their trust by assuring them of their importance to you and soothing their bruised ego and wounded heart with compliments and understanding.
- Do not behave inappropriately or create future problems. Don’t put yourself in situations which will cause your partner undue stress. Putting your friends before your partner, spending time with friends or co-workers of opposite sex, commenting on the attractiveness of other people, or forming new relationships soon after a betrayal or hurtful event is not wise. It is extremely selfish and disrespectful to your partner. During the time when rebuilding trust is of utmost importance, putting other people or activities before your partner will only deepen the mistrust and feelings of resentment. Furthermore, it will set back the progress of healing and is like “starting over” in their mind. Attempting to secretly spend time with others is even worse. It won’t hurt your spouse to know that another man/woman is contacting you as much as it will devastate them to discover you are again hiding information. Believe me, during this time of broken trust, full disclosure is always the best route.
- Use this opportunity to create a new relationship with your partner and with yourself. Be open to opportunities to deepen honesty, to live out your values and ideals in public and private, and to bring each other closer together. Your partner may now view you as a stranger and your relationship as broken, and they’re right to think so. You may even feel like a stranger to yourself as you reflect on your choices to engage in behaviors that you are not proud of, and your reliance upon deception and secrecy to hide them. Fight to REALLY live as the partner and the human being that you want to be. The key is to forge a new relationship in as many ways as possible. Not only will this approach help you and your spouse address the betrayal (and other issues as well), many couples who succeed in this effort frequently describe their relationship afterward as more fulfilling and joyful than at any time in their lives. Finding new places to spend time and share activities together can help this. Make sure that he or she and everyone around you (i.e.family, friends, children) can see that your partner means the world to you and is NOW being put first in your life. Speak highly of your partner in a genuine way, being careful to protect their reputation when you speak to others–talking badly about them behind their backs is not only a BIG MISTAKE but also BAD BEHAVIOR (it may also reflect badly on you as their partner). You and your partner (and your children, if you have them) are one family that must protect, support, and lift each other up all the time. This may even be an opportunity, in the fullness of time and once the recovery process is well on its way, to renew your wedding vows if you are married. Work with your partner to create something new, stronger,and more open and honest — and therefore not threatened by the mistakes of the past or the possibility of future betrayals.
- Also, schedule an appointment with a good counselor as soon as possible, so the two of you can discuss your problems with an experienced counselor who can help you both repair the marriage.
- Remember that the days and weeks immediately following the discovery of the affair are of vital importance, and your actions during this time will greatly determine the speed of your recovery. If your spouse feels supported, loved, respected, and safe discussing his/her feelings during this time, your chances of recovery will be greatly improved. If, on the other hand, your spouse feels alone, ignored, and in the dark, it will be much more difficult to reestablish their trust later.
- If your spouse asks you to do something for them to help them recover from the affair (such as read this article, if they have indeed posted it on the fridge), do it right away. Do not make them ask twice. Putting off such things only communicates to your spouse that their feelings are unimportant to you, and that you lack the proper remorse for what you’ve done. Nothing should be more important to you right now than helping your spouse recover from this. You caused this pain and should be doing everything in your power to make it up to him/her.
- One important factor to keep in mind is that, even though your spouse will ask you to compare them to the other man/woman (was she prettier/sexier, etc), they are also interested in knowing how they are better than the other person, even if they don’t directly ask. In fact, many of these questions are disguised opportunities for you to tell them so. In other words, balance something good about the other person with something you liked better about your spouse.
- Pay close attention to your spouse. Your spouse has (probably) never been through this before, and may be too distraught to articulate what s/he needs. It is, in part, your responsibility to try to predict/account for these needs. Whenever possible, avoid making your spouse ask you for things they need from you during this time; doing so puts them in a weak position, and they’re already weak enough. Remember: just because they’re not bringing it up, doesn’t mean it’s not on their mind. Be as proactive as possible. Ask them if they are eating, sleeping, drinking water and if they are okay. These things may seem like the basic things in life however your spouse is in a traumatic state and will most likely not be functioning normally.
- Be on the lookout for seemingly unrelated discussions that may be projections of this issue. Keep in mind that although you may be arguing passionately about who last did the dishes, you may actually be arguing about the affair in some tangential way though this should be discussed in a counseling session to be sure(i.e. how much time you dedicated to the relationship outside of your marriage). It is sometimes difficult to tell what factors will trigger your spouse’s thoughts about the affair – in fact, your spouse may not even realize that they are projecting these issues onto seemingly day-to-day arguments. A good rule of thumb is to assume that any argument in which your spouse seems unduly angry about a seemingly small thing may fall into this category. If this happens, it’s unwise to simply back down, as doing so may establish a submissive pattern you will regret later. However, keep in mind that your partner is in an ‘unpredictable and tumultuous emotional state’, and be as understanding as you can.
- Remember that the paranoia, anger, and distrust that follow the discovery of an affair are all natural, and may take a while to fully heal. Your relationship with your spouse during this time is not necessarily an indicator of how it will be from now on. Anticipate that the victim spouse will be in roller coaster of emotions. Mood changes in them are natural. They will be alright today and devastated again tomorrow. Just know that they also want to get rid of all the pain and hurt too as soon as possible. In time, with full honesty and emotional openness, you will begin to recover your relationship’s equilibrium. *Be grateful. Your spouse is deciding to remain with you after your betrayal. No matter how angry, petty, or unpredictable they get, they have shown a great love for you and, in many cases, a great strength of character in choosing to try to trust you again. Give this decision, and your partner, the deserved respect and gratitude.
- Your spouse may need closure through seeing the “break-up” email or listening to you tell the other person that things are done. Your spouse wants to hear or see you tell the other person that your marriage, family, and they themselves are important. If you don’t want to put the other person “through that” consider how much they, through their affair with you, have put your spouse through. The other person had the luxury of knowing they were becoming involved with a married person – your spouse didn’t know or get to to make any decisions if this is someone you work with remember it is very hard for your spouse to start to trust you knowing you see this person on a day to day basis. You need to do what it takes to remove yourself from this. Where are your priorities: at work or your marriage? If you don’t offer closure there will never be any. If something is more important than your marriage then you need to relay this to your spouse and not lead them along to only hurt them in the future. Your spouse does not need to consider the feelings of the other person. They know that person had no consideration of their feelings. Giving your spouse closure will go a long, long way in improving their emotions and in helping them heal. If they never hear or see you tell the other person things are over, they may never fully believe or process that you have. If your spouse wants this, it is very important to let them have it, even if it is an embarrassment for you to do so.
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