You may be reading this because you cheated on your spouse. Or, you may be reading this because you were cheated on. Either way, it is great that you are open to understanding if and how you can heal after an affair. It is possible.
The good news is that people can recover from infidelity and people and relationships are capable of healing. The news is that both parties have to be willing to put in the work in order to mend the relationship. The bad news is that your relationship won't heal if both of you don't actually do the work it takes to heal the broken pieces and create a new future.
First, let me be clear on my stance when it comes to infidelity. Cheating is never the fault of the spouse who was cheated on. That is a lie and an excuse that many cheating spouses use. For instance, "If only she/he was thinner, if only he/she was more sexual, if only he/she paid more attention to me..." blah blah blah. The excuses go on and on; I have heard them all. But the reality is that there are always deeper issues(often that stem from way before their relationship) that cause an individual to seek another person outside their relationship.
Therein lies the real work: figuring out what those deeper issues are. For the betrayed spouse, work gets to be done too. This entails exploring the impact the betrayal has had on their self esteem, trust, sexuality, identity as a man or woman and what they specifically need in order to regain trust and as sense of safety in the relationship. This too is done in therapy.
Oftentimes, couples think they need to go to couples therapy in order to heal from infidelity, which is understandable. However, my (and my team's) approach is a little different. After all, if there are deeper issues to address in order to get to the root of why someone cheated in the first place, along with instability in the relationship, it may be hard to focus on tackling this in couples therapy. Each person deserves their own safe space to address, explore and work through the layers underneath such a huge betrayal before they begin couples therapy. Otherwise it can prove to be disastrous.
So I encourage people to begin in individual therapy to gain the support and stability they need before we embark on couples therapy. After both feel stable and solid, then we are ready to begin couples work. If I work with one individual in the coupleship then I typically refer to one of our couples therapist to do couples work. However, sometimes I am the couples therapist and my colleagues treat each person in the relationship.
In couples therapy we set the following ground rules for beginning to mend the relationship post-affair. These rules (p.115-117) are adapted from my colleague and friend Rob Weiss's wonderful book titled Out Of The Dog House: A Step-by Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating (©2017).
Avoid any major decisions for one year. If this feels like too much; set goals in three month intervals.The reason for this is that neither individual is typically clear on what they want as the emotions are extremely high and there is a lot of dysregulation and often confusion. So focusing on getting some solid support before big decisions are made is key.
Create safe support networks. This is crucial for each person to do since trust has been thrown out the window. Therefore relying on the other person for support at this time is likely going to result in a lot of frustration and let down. For cheaters: DO NOT reach out to your affair partner for support.
Take a Time-Out From Sex. This may be a lot to ask especially for the betrayed spouse so if folks choose to have sex there get to be ground rules and the betrayed spouse gets to decide when, how and where sex occurs. Oftentimes, a Time-Out allows for clarity in the relationship, whereas sex can sometimes cloud both individuals when there has been a betrayal, especially early on in recovery.
Rigorous Honesty. This is especially important for the person who has cheated and actions speak a lot louder than words. But honesty as a couple is also essential for mending after a betrayal.
Infidelity is a painful betrayal, one that at times breaks a relationship. However, couples can stay together if they are willing to do what it takes to heal themselves and the relationship.
Remember, you are worth it.
Visit: https://www.namasteadvice.com/services/ to find out about our sexual/relationship recovery program.
Coming Fall 2017! Gottman Couples Class. Stay Tuned.
Amazon Link to Out of The Doghouse by Rob Weiss, LCSW: https://www.amazon.com/Out-Doghouse-Step-Step-Relationship-Saving/dp/0757319211/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1497641553&sr=8-2&keywords=Rob+Weiss