After one spouse discovers that the other has been unfaithful
The couple begins a painful process that can either lead to divorce or reconciliation. Even if the partners are intent on saving the marriage, it can take up to two years for trust and intimacy to be fully restored. The six main affair recovery stages are described below. For the sake of clarity, the cheating spouse is referred to as ‘he’ and the betrayed spouse is referred to as ‘she’.
After an infidelity is revealed, the first stage couples can expect to go through is characterized by deep emotional trauma. The spouse who has been cheated-on will typically react with shock, followed by anger and depression. She will wonder whether she really knows her partner at all and what else he has lied to her about.
She may feel foolish for not picking up on various clues which make his activities obvious in hindsight. The cheating spouse may feel guilty for causing so much distress. He may be afraid that he’s destroyed what was once a good relationship. For both members of the couple, the security they felt in the marriage is stripped away and their future is uncertain.
After the initial turmoil has subsided, the spouses go through a stage of ambivalence. Both will typically be confused about what to do next. In many cases, there will be good reasons to try to rebuild the marriage, especially if children are involved. However, the betrayed spouse will wonder whether her husband is likely to lie or cheat in the future. The cheating spouse may doubt that his wife will ever trust him again. He may also be unsure that he can control his own impulses. In some cases, he may be torn between attachment to his wife and feelings for another woman.
During the third stage of recovery, most couples will feel ready to discuss the situation in a rational manner. By this point they’ve each had time to calm down and consider their problems individually. Now they need to talk them over with each other. The betrayed spouse will have many questions about the cheater’s motivations. The unfaithful spouse may feel attacked and respond defensively. If any issues remain unresolved, the partners are likely to continue to feel hurt or misunderstood. Sometimes the help of a professional marriage councilor is necessary to overcome communication problems.
The fourth stage is decision time.
The couple must choose whether they will commit to saving the marriage, or whether it is impossible under the circumstances. If they do decide that their relationship is worth rebuilding, they will have to agree to work together to deal with what happened and move on. The betrayed spouse must give her husband a second chance, even if she doesn’t think he deserves it. In return, the unfaithful spouse must promise to change his behavior.
In stage five, the partners must work to restore trust. A spouse who’s been cheated on is likely to experience intense feelings of jealousy and a desire to monitor her husband’s every move. This is especially true if, before the discovery of the affair, she raised suspicions which he denied. The cheater, who has now committed to changing his ways, may feel as though he is under surveillance and that his wife is distrustful of everything he tells her.
Sometimes lifestyle changes are necessary to reduce the opportunities for cheating so that the betrayed spouse can start trusting again. If the two partners had independent social lives, they may choose to merge them. They may start to go out with each other instead of separate groups of friends. If the cheating spouse travels for business, he may agree to bring his wife along on future trips. For transparent communications, the couple can decide to share online accounts for email and social networking. When the formerly unfaithful spouse consistently shows a willingness to be open and honest, his partner’s jealousy and insecurity will naturally diminish.
The last of the affair recovery stages is restoration of intimacy.
This can only happen after a period of healing has taken place. If the couple have been working on their marriage together, each making concessions toward the other, they will begin to feel like a team. As anger, mistrust and resentment subside, they will once again be able to see the positive sides to the relationship.
At this point, they will experience a sense of relief that their marriage has weathered the storm. Feelings of love, affection and companionship will gradually return as the affair is relegated to the past.