Three Things Couples Can Do Immediately After an Affair to Start Healing
Maybe you’ve just found out about your partner’s betrayal, and your world has been turned upside down. Your heart has been shattered, and you wonder how you can ever trust him again.
Or maybe your partner has just discovered your affair, or you’ve just told her. You’re ashamed and scared of losing her. You’ll do anything to save the relationship. You’ve tried apologizing but it only seems to make things worse.
After the discovery of an affair, whether it’s a one-time fling or a long string of intimate betrayals over many years, the relationship can only begin to heal once the storm of the initial crisis is past. So what steps can you take to calm the storm and start healing?
For the Betrayed: Create Immediate Boundaries with Consequences
You’re hurt and angry. Take some time to love yourself by leaning into those feelings. What are they telling you that you need to start to feel safe again?
When they pause to listen to their feelings, many betrayed partners know what they need intuitively. Immediate boundaries can include steps such as:
- Cutting off contact with any and all affair partners (or taking a break, if this is not possible in the long term)
- Insisting on your partner telling the truth at all times
- Asking to be notified of any attempted contact from affair partners
- Purging the contact information of affair partners from the betrayer’s cell phone
- Setting limits on Internet access, including Internet filtering software
- Requiring your partner to contact you by phone or text of his whereabouts on a regular basis
- Asking your partner to limit use of his cell phone or requiring him to ditch his smartphone for a “dumb phone” to preclude sexting and Internet use
Whenever you consider boundaries, it’s important that you stick to them and enact consequences when your partner fails to live up to them. Some boundaries are non-negotiable; that is, “If X happens again, I’m leaving and the relationship is over.”
But other boundary violations won’t be as severe. For instance, what if he forgot to text you before leaving work as you asked him to? It’s exactly these smaller acts of accountability that you need to help you trust him again, but you’re likely not to end the relationship for these more minor infractions. A good rule of thumb is that the punishment needs to fit the crime.
A good rule of thumb is that the punishment needs to fit the crime.
Keep in mind that there are organic consequences and inorganic consequences, too. The latter are things like further restricting Internet use if he’s watched pornography again or sleeping in separate bedrooms if he’s contacted a former affair partner. Organic consequences aren’t tangible and have more to do with how you feel: “You forgot to text me after work. When you forget like this, it makes it harder for me to trust you. I lose hope for our future together.”
For the Betrayer: Be Accountable
You’ve betrayed the trust of the one you love. Trust can only be rebuilt by consistent, trustworthy actions over time. You can start healing your relationship and helping your partner heal by doing what you say you’re going to do, again and again.
Accountability also means being transparent. From now on, your life has to be an open book. That means giving her access to whatever she wants: bank accounts, your phone, emails, the works.
And the more you volunteer information about all of this, including the details of your daily life, the better. Trust me when I tell you that your partner isn’t going to start trusting you again if she has to pry information out of you.
Eventually, she may trust you enough to have more privacy. But you should know it’s going to be like this for a while. How long? As long as it takes. As long as your partner needs.
For the Betrayer: For the Love of Pete, Tell the Truth
It’s time to be honest. No more deception. No more lies. No more manipulation. If you do lie to her again, you’re choosing to seriously imperil the future of the relationship.
Surprised? Partners repeatedly tell me that it wasn’t so much the affair that hurt. It was the lying about it. Most of the partners I’ve spoken with can understand a momentary “slip” (e.g., viewing sexually suggestive material) or even a return to the betraying behavior (e.g., watching porn again), but only if the betrayer is honest about it afterward.
Especially if you’re struggling to be sexually sober in early recovery from sex addiction or porn addiction, telling your partner about what happened will do wonders to rebuild trust and minimize further damage to your relationship.
If there have been many affairs or you’re in recovery from a sexual addiction or a problem with pornography, telling your partner everything about your previous behavior without the help of a therapist is generally not a good idea. Doing so can seriously traumatize your partner.
Instead, after the discovery of some of what’s happened, seek out a therapist immediately, preferably one with training in sexual addiction. He or she can help you navigate how much to tell her and when in ways that will help you both heal and will help the relationship recover.
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