Without question, an affair is one of the hardest challenges a marriage will face; And without question a cheating spouse is one of the most difficult trials a partner will encounter.
Feelings of betrayal, deceit, and heartache always accompany the affair and a relationship dealing with an affair will face a crisis unlike any other.
Can the relationship be saved?
Can the hurt ever go away?
Can the marriage ever be healthy again?
As impossible as it may seem the answers to all the above questions are, yes.
Yes, relationships can even heal from the horrible heartache of an affair.
You can once again have a loving relationship and move beyond your partner's cheating.
I'm not saying it is easy, I'm not saying it doesn't require an enormous amount of work and energy, and I'm not saying it is going to happen overnight.
I'm not even saying your should. I'm saying it is possible.
There are many healthy and happy relationships that prove a marriage can survive and even thrive after an affair. But, as any couple who has faced this serious challenge will tell you, it takes effort and time and an enormous amount of courage and commitment.
How is it possible to have a happy and loving relationship after an affair?
It is possible because after an affair the unhealthy issues within the relationship are often dealt with and healed.
An affair is often the result of an unhappy marriage and an indicator that the relationship is unhealthy, unfulfilled, or even miserable. This is not an excuse for an affair. Let me repeat, this is not an excuse for having an affair.
It is however a reality that happy and healthy marriages do not experience infidelity. Relationships that are loving and caring and respectful do not involve deceit, dishonest, and cruelty; or humiliation and degradation which is what an affair amounts to no matter how it is rationalized.
In other words, an affair is typically and unfortunately a very hurtful and degrading way of bringing the issues to the fore.
If after an affair the couple decides they want to continue the relationship and both are willing to do the necessary work, the marriage often can grow stronger and even more committed and loving than previously experienced.*
So let talk about how the non-cheating spouse can survive a partner's affair, and how a relationship that has been devastated by an affair can heal.
First and foremost I would offer the suggestion to get professional help.
Couples counselors who are trained and have experience working with marriages can provide enormous help and insight into the marriage and be of invaluable assistance in healing the relationship.
For those who are unable to pay for counseling, churches, universities, and community programs are often available for free or for minimum payment. Call around and see what is out there in your area.
Here are, very briefly....
Ten ways to cope after your spouse has cheated:
1. Take care of yourself. Often when one is going through a very difficult challenge like discovering their partner is cheating, the emotions are so overwhelming that one can hardly eat or drink or sleep. There may be incredible anger, devastation, depression, panic, and even feelings of violence and rage. These emotions make it difficult to manage life in a healthy way. This is a time to do whatever you can to take care of yourself. Make sure you are hydrated, get rest when you can, make sure you are moving your body whether you go to a gym or walk around the block, keep moving. If you need help with emotions it may be important to see your help care professional to get you through those most difficult days.
2. Embrace your spiritual, religious, or traditional beliefs. Many people find peace in God or Source or Nature. Engage in all those activities that bring solace whether it be prayer, meditation, a walk on the beach, or playing with your dog. Finding an energy or resource beyond yourself is often enormously beneficial.
3. Allow support from family and friends. While no one can take the pain away, support and love can help you through this difficult time. Don't hold the pain inside, all alone as its overcome you. Often, people do not want to share the reality of how their lives were devastated by their partner. It may be embarrassing or humiliating, but you may need the love and care from those close to you who can help and support you.
4. Now is not the time for revenge. This may be a difficult one for some. Retaliation is not the way to handle sorrow or anger. It may feel like the appropriate thing to do but usually this will only make matters worse and sometimes cause more problems then you can realize. Don't do anything rash. Your goal right now is to heal not to compound your problems.
5. No matter what, do not use your children as a way to harm your partner. Your children are going to experience the fall-out of an affair but using them as a way to hurt your cheating spouse is only going to further hurt your children. They need you now more than ever. You don't want to ever look back and know that your reactions to your spouse added pain to your children. Take the high road here and rise above this hurtful tactic.
6. Remember time does heal. Hold to the knowledge that you will move beyond this crisis and you will have a future of peace. It may not seem like it at the moment but the future will be better and you will again find happiness. The heart wrenching blow from infidelity often seems like, not only the end of the relationship but the destruction of the family and the end of ones self-respect and self-esteem. But as any therapist will tell you, you do not have to remain in this state; you will move forward and find joy. Hold to this truth.
7. Forgiveness.This is one of the most difficult of all human behaviors. Now, obviously for a marriage to continue (in a healthy way) after an affair forgiveness is required. However, this doesn't happen overnight. It is important to acknowledge your feelings, to hold your partner accountable, to embrace your journey as difficult as it is. But, here is the important point: Forgiveness is not about the other person it is about you. Forgiveness means you are done with the negative emotion that is harming your life. It means that you are not going to let the event destroy your life even if it feels right now like it has. Forgiving your spouse doesn't mean the affair was OK, or that you were not harmed. It means that you are not going to let the behavior of another destroy your future. Of course this takes time. It takes effort. It takes going through the process of dealing with the crisis. Give yourself time.
8. Letting go. Will one ever forget the pain of an affair? Perhaps not. Those dramatic and emotional experiences of our lives become strong and powerful memories. When the emotions come into our experience, the memories return; they are explicitly linked as they form together. However, the pain subsides, the memory fades, and more importantly new experiences become more important and vibrant. As horrible as the memory may be, as it is placed into the totality of one's life it diminishes in strength. The more new, happy, peaceful, and joyful memories that are made, the less this painful episode will have its hold. As you go forth in life, consciously create wonderful memories and deliberately design joyful experiences.
9. Grieving. It is OK to grieve. It is appropriate to feel all the emotions you feel after discovering your partner has been unfaithful. You may go to all sorts of places and experience all sorts of emotions. One thing is certain there is a form of grieving that accompanies affairs. When one feels betrayed, deceived, and harmed; when one feels the trust and confidence and love is gone from the partnership it is perfectly normal and appropriate to grieve. In order to move on, it is essential to feel the various emotions that come to you rather than deny or ignore them.
This doesn't mean you have to engage in behavior that is hurtful or inappropriate (or illegal), but it means that you allow the grieving process to take place. You may notice yourself experiencing the five stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross which are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. All of these are normal and common.
What people often notice is, as they experience the pain and heartache, and as one goes through the various stages of grief, the hurt diminishes, the sorrow softens, and life returns.
10. Let your emotions flow freely. Observe them. Honor them. Respect them. You can acknowledge the pain and sorrow as an observer without allowing them to take a hold of your heart and mind. There are many ways to release the pain including visualizations, meditation, prayer. However you chose to manage, or whatever techniques work for you, remember that the point is to let the emotions flow not to hold them in, feed them, ignore them or repress them. Denying them will only keep them growing inside you. Let them flow.
If your spouse has had an affair, you will most likely be filled with all sorts of emotions. It will take time to sort out what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you will handle it. Give yourself the time. Know it is a process and must be worked through. It won't be over in a day or two but it will be over and life will go on. You will find happiness and peace again.
And, if you chose to continue on in your marriage, you can absolutely find happiness again. Your marriage, believe it or not, can become healthy and strong and even fabulous.
*Just to be clear I think marriages can grow strong and wonderful without an affair, and certainly an affair is not necessary for growth. My point is, if a couple ends up facing this crisis they can move forward and overcome the challenge.