Rebuilding a Relationship in the Aftermath of an Affair

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If you and your partner have experienced infidelity in your marriage, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that marriages can survive an affair and in fact can end up being stronger. The bad news is that it takes a lot of work and time on the part of both spouses to reach this happy ending. One therapist I know told a man who cheated on his wife and went on to rebuild the marriage that he would need to spend the rest of his life demonstrating love and affection for his wife in order for her to heal.

Business guru Dr. Stephen Covey talks about the emotional bank account.  With each person with whom we have a relationship, we have an account into which we put deposits and take out withdrawals. When we are depositing more than we are withdrawing, our account is in good shape. But when we withdraw more than we deposit, the account becomes overdrawn and problems result. The challenge with an affair is that it results in an immediate overdraw and takes many, many deposits over a long period of time to get back to a positive balance.

Dr. Shirley Glass recommends the following to couples working through infidelity:

  1. You must stop the affair. The person who has been betrayed cannot begin to heal until the affair is finished. And that means totally eliminating any remaining shred of the relationship. If your partner was at work, you may need to change jobs or locations in order to totally stop.
  2. The person who had the affair has to agree to be accountable and create a safe and open environment by letting their partner know where they are. Some marriage and family therapists suggest that you get a GPS enabled cell phone and tracking software for your spouse so she can verify your whereabouts. You must replace deception of any kind with honesty.
  1. Because trust has been violated, the story of the affair has to be told to the spouse. The only way to tear down the wall of deception is to have an open window — no secrets. Usually, the deceived partner will want all of the details. They may want to go to the places where affair events occurred. They will feel a need to put all of the missing pieces together and get answers to his or her questions. The partner who had the affair must be patient and willing to share every bit of requested information, understanding that this is one important way to rebuild intimacy.
  1. Figure out where weaknesses are in your marriage relationship and begin to work on them. Spending time and resources with a marriage counselor is one of the important steps in this evaluation process.
  2. Discuss what being faithful and committed in your marriage means to you. Just because an extamarital relationship is not sexual does not mean you are not having an affair. In fact, many women whose husbands had affairs are much more concerned about the intimacy and the emotional ties of an affair than they are about sex.
  3. Finally, understand that this is a very difficult process and you may need to seek the help of a professional or a clergy member to work through your issues. Seeking help does not indicate a weakness. It suggests rather a need to develop some new tools to deal with situations in your life and in your marriage relationship. Finding that you need tools that you don't have is a common part of life; it is no difference in the most important relationship in your life.

Opening a window onto the secrets that a spouse has kept from the other, being willing to be patient and accountable through the healing process, and slowly and carefully rebuilding trust and intimacy into a damaged marriage relationship eventually brings peace and healing when a marriage has been rocked by an affair.