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« How to Manage a Nagging Spouse? | Main | Marital Counseling »

How does a Couple Recover from an Affair?

You’ve just found out that your spouse has cheated.  Or maybe your partner just discovered that you had an affair.  The victim of the affair is angry, hurt, devastated and confused.  The cheater is feeling guilty, defensive and scared.  Where do you go from here?  How do you move on? 

If it’s the first time this has happened, it changes the victim’s whole understanding of the relationship.  If it has happened before, then the hard won return of trust is shattered.  Whether it is a fresh wound or an injury to an old scar – learning of an affair is devastating for everyone involved.  *

So, where do you go from here?  Here are 8 points to help you craft your recovery as a couple.


  • Full disclosure!  The cheater needs to describe what happened in detail.  The details include how he met her, who she was, how did it develop, over what time period, how many times and were there others.  Was he in love with the other woman?  Is he still?  Was the sex similar or different?  This is relevant to find out if there are sexual acts that he’d like to incorporate into his relationship with his partner.  The victim should not react strongly during this discussion or she will risk losing valuable information to her recovery.  Ask questions, explore circumstances, but don’t scream – you can do that later.

 The details of the sex aren’t useful to discuss.  Too many details can create traumatic images for the victim.  The broad strokes are useful- we had sex outside or enjoyed specific positions - these details are helpful to consider incorporating them into the relationship. 

Don’t gloss over the details because it will prevent the healing from beginning – don’t minimize, tell half truths or say it was the best sex ever.  Be factual without making negative comments about your partner.  Once there is a full understanding of how this happened and who it happened with, you can move onto the next stage of healing.

Some things that will keep you stuck are speaking in generalities about the affair.  Some men will want the fewest words possible.  “It wasn’t a big deal, I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” Or “We had sex, it was a mistake and you don’t know her.”  Or “I’ve apologized, let’s just move on.”  These are examples of statements that will keep a couple stuck in the first stage of recovery.  It will lead to detective work on the side of the victim to find out the details – which will further damage the relationship.  Provide up front details at the beginning and apologize.


  • The Victim needs to be fully heard.  Why is it hard to move on?  Because the victim often wants the cheater to know exactly how she feels.  The cheater needs to listen, without interrupting, reflect back what they’ve heard and keep listening until the victim feels fully understood.  Studies show that the number one reason people hold a grudge is because the perpetrator hasn’t taken the time to hear their grief and verbalize understanding and apologies.  There needs to be a time limit on this or it can become a weapon in which the cheater is subjected to months of rage that keeps both parties stuck.  If you seem to be at this point, try to determine a timeline for the expression of rage – it’s okay to feel anger at different times in recovery, but it’s important to try to move forward if the relationship is to heal.


  •  The cheater needs to end the cheating relationship.  This should be done in the presence of his partner – ideally on speaker phone.  Keep it short and factual.  The victim should not be active in the conversation; screaming or other degrading behavior is not useful.  Perhaps a simple comment, such as “Stay out of our marriage” is acceptable, but beyond that it can get ugly.


  • Transparency!  There needs to be transparency, in all areas, to encourage the development of trust.  Don’t have burner cell phones, extra email or social media accounts.  Provide the passwords to all of your accounts and be open to the victim’s access.  Have bank statements and credit card statements available to both parties, as these create a paper trail for an affair.  Be where you say you’re going to be and do what you say you’re going to do.  Don’t lie about anything, because it is a further violation of trust.  If someone hits on you, don’t enjoy the attention but start talking about your wife and then tell your partner about the interaction and how you handled it.  Don’t flirt and play the victim, treat the opposite sex like you would a sister or male pal.  If you wouldn’t behave around your spouse in a certain way, then don’t do it when she isn’t there.


  • Commit to preventing future affairs.   What made you vulnerable?  Where were you when you first had contact with this person?  Had you been drinking or cruising online?  Were you out of town?  Was it a workplace environment?  Once you answer these types of questions you will develop of “Relapse Prevention Plan. “


  • Relapse Prevention Plan is a plan in which you look at triggers for affair (eg. drinking, being out of town, arguments in the relationship…) and how to cope without cheating.  When these triggers occur, you know that you are vulnerable to cheating.  Develop a plan for each trigger that will prevent another affair.  Decide, as a couple, how to handle the situations – this will make you feel like a team again.  For example, if you met the other woman while out of town on business, then consider measures to help you during those times.  The measure could include inviting your partner on trips if appropriate, checking in early or avoiding late night outings or partying.  Tell the victim how she can help – give her a positive role in the plan and work together.  Celebrate your successes!


  • Behaviors the victim should avoid.  The victim needs to be aware that some behaviors, while understandable, aren’t good for a relationship.  They include:

Playing detective – don’t check up, follow him, track his cell phone after the first few weeks or month.  If he is having an affair again, it will come out, but these behaviors will drive the cheater away and become a self fulfilling prophecy.  Initially, yes, it is appropriate and understandable, but after a month you are beating yourself up and risk becoming obsessed.  You can’t control him and have a healthy relationship.

Being a victim or a martyr.  “Poor me” or behaving like a doormat doesn’t make you a better person.  No one likes a doormat.  Pick yourself up, shake yourself off and be the strong woman you know you are.  Be the best partner you can be - if your partner cheats again, you’ll know you did everything you could for the relationship.  

Using the affair as a weapon in an argument.  You two are arguing about a topic–say where you are going on vacation - please stay on point.  Stick to the topic of vacations and compromises that are win-win.  Don’t devolve into statements like “You should go wherever I want to go, after all you’ve put me through.” Or “We’re going to Tahiti and that’s that.  You owe me.”   Eventually the cheater will get sick of this false power you hold and begin to resent you – which is a relationship killer.
Refusing to look at their own role in the affair.  Be aware of what you might have contributed to the marital schism.  The goal is to have the best relationship possible and not to be “right” to his “wrong”.  It isn’t the victims fault, but there might be changes needed to make to improve the relationship.  Better communication, more sex, more couple time, getting the kids out of the bed – these are all examples of ways the victim can assess their needs and work on enhancing their relationship.  This should be done with the partner.


  • Marriage counseling.  The affair is a symptom of something.  It could be a symptom that the cheater is narcissistic or that he has impulse control issues or a drinking problem.   An affair might be a symptom of specific marriage problems that need to be addressed.  Marriage counseling is a good starting point to determine what caused the affair and how to prevent it from happening again.  After a full analysis, then individual therapy might be indicated to address individual issues.  Marital therapy will help you both be happy in your marriage and prevent these problems from returning.  The goal is to make the relationship so strong, that no one and nothing can come between the two of you again.




* We all know that women are equal opportunity offenders, but for easier reading we will refer to the cheater as male and the victim as female.  Furthermore, it is understood that it can take two to create an environment ripe for affairs, but, let’s keep it simple by 

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