An affair is often thought of as a death blow to a marriage –the worst thing that could possibly happen to the relationship, from which there can be no recovery. The truth is that a couple can still save their marriage after one partner has committed adultery, if both parties choose to do so. This choice is naturally harder for the spouse who has been cheated on. The emotional pain of “victims" of an affair can be excruciating, especially if they had previously felt fully trusting of their spouse; their world is turned upside down, their emotions inside out.
Nonetheless, the pain can be healed and the relationship saved. Below is a brief introduction to the path of healing for someone whose spouse has cheated on them.
1. Get support
When you are faced with this kind of crisis, emotional support is crucially important. Trying to go it alone makes the burden significantly heavier. This emotional support can come in the form of a good friend, a therapist, or anyone you feel you can trust. However, a caution: while a family member, such as a sibling or parent, can be a helpful person to turn to, you should consider carefully whether this is a wise long-term strategy. People in your immediate or extended family are probably not as objective as an outside party, and, more importantly, if you reveal to them some of the painful details of your situation, they will not forget them even if you succeed in repairing your relationship with your spouse. They might remain with negative feelings towards your spouse that will impact the relational triangle for a long time to come.
A supportive friend or professional can help you keep afloat when you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions. They can also provide an objective outside opinion which can add a perspective to your situation that you may not be able to see on your own. And just having someone to whom you can unburden yourself makes a big difference, since you won't have to carry the load on your own. As the saying goes, “Joy shared is joy doubled; sorrow shared is sorrow halved."
2. Get clarity
As noted above, an neutral third party can help you see things differently from the way you may be perceiving them through your pain and grief. Getting a clear picture of what is happening and what you want to happen in the future is vital for your successfully navigating this time in your life. There are questions you should ask yourself that don't have easy answers, and you will need to contemplate them for some time before you can expect to achieve this clarity. For example, you need to think about whether you want to stay married at this point, even given the best possible reparative actions on the part of your spouse – sincere apologies, serious commitment to change, appropriate modifications in outside social behavior, and so on. Even if these were to occur, is staying together a realistic option for you? Is it what you want? And, if it is, what kind of things will you need from your spouse to repair the damage? Apologies are certainly necessary, but neither are they enough. Getting clear what your needs are will help you get a sense of whether your spouse is prepared to meet those needs or not.
3. Get your needs met
Once you get a sense of what kind of things you will need to see from your spouse in order to mend the relationship, you will have to have an earnest conversation – or more likely, a series of conversations – explaining these needs and helping him/her understand how to meet them. This may require some major changes, such as changing jobs or moving, if the affair partner was a co-worker or neighbor, or some relatively minor ones, such as installing a filter or monitoring software on the computer if the internet played a big role in the affair. You may want frequent check-ins from your spouse informing you of his/her whereabouts, and s/he must be willing to comply with these requests if you are to feel secure in the relationship again. (If your spouse complains that this is extreme/mistrustful/insulting – s/he is right! S/he made an extreme mistake, has wiped out your trust, and has brought insult upon him/herself and you. Only if s/he is willing to make these up to you will you be able to get your needs met and seriously consider the possibility of continuing the marriage.)
Rebuilding a marriage after an affair is a difficult task, to say the least. However, my experience working with couples who have faced infidelity is that two committed partners can make it work, and even raise their marriage to a higher level than it was at before. The general ideas presented here are a good start, but there is a lot more to it than what I have written. If you are trying to overcome infidelity in your relationship, seeking out professional help is always a good idea.