If you made the mistake of cheating and got caught, you may now be asking the question, "now what?"
Your marriage does not necessarily have to end because you had an affair. Even though admitting an affair to your spouse will cause much heartache and anger, your marriage can survive. This will only happen if you truly regret your decision to cheat and if you are not just having regrets that you got caught.
Or, if you decide to confess an affair, you are doing it for the right reasons, not just to get rid of your own guilt.
Some people use affairs as a cowardly way to end the marriage. Or, there is such immense unhappiness that an affair has developed to fill the void. Regardless of the reasons, some marriages will be salvageable and some might come to an end.
"Not every marriage touched by infidelity can or should be saved. Sometimes too much damage has been done, or both partners aren't committed. Painful as it is, it's important to acknowledge when this is the case." From MayoClinic.com, Infidelity: Mending Your Marriage After an Affair
To rebuild your marriage and heal the hurt and mistrust your spouse feels after you cheated, you will have several particulars that you need to accomplish:
- Stop Cheating. This sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised how hard it is for people to end the affair once and for all. You must really end it! Do not have any contact whatsoever with the other person.
- Stop Lying. Quit making excuses for the affair. Do not try to justify your adultery. There is no justification for cheating.
- Accept Responsibility. Do not blame your spouse. You had a choice. You could have ended your marriage before cheating, but you decided to have an affair. That's on your shoulders alone. Apologize to your spouse.
- Make a Decision. Decide if you want to stay married. Find out if your spouse wants to stay married. If you both want to save your marriage, then your marriage isn't doomed. You both have a common goal.
- Be Honest. You must be honest, with both yourself and with your spouse if you want to move forward. You will have to untangle the web of lies that were likely woven in order to cover up an affair. Now is the time for complete transparency, directness and openness in order to help your relationship get to solid ground.
- Keep Your Promises. If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Be dependable and don't break your promises. You can't help your spouse rebuild trust if you are not dependable and reliable.
- Be Open. Your spouse's trust level is low. Be open to letting your spouse know where you are, who you are with and so on. Do not be secretive or evasive.
- Give Your Spouse Some Space. It is okay to take a "timeout" if emotions are running high or one of you is emotionally triggered. This does not mean you or your spouse will take off for an extended period of time. It just means that things need to cool down before you can be around each other again or talk about difficult topics.
- Spend Time With Your Spouse. Along with letting your spouse have some alone time, you need to have together time too. Plan date nights and when your spouse is ready, have an evening or weekend away together.
- Be Patient. Do not expect your spouse to trust you again right away. It will take time to regain your spouse's trust.
- Agree to Get Professional Help. If your spouse wants to see a marriage counselor, say yes. Saying no shows you really aren't serious about rebuilding your marriage. You need to be open to discussing and identifying issues and problems in your own personal life and in your marriage. Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy is a good modality for working through the pain of infidelity and to help rebuild new ways of interacting with each other.
- Accept the End of Your Marriage. Even if you stay together, your marriage as you knew it ended with the affair. Build your new marriage together with honesty and love and look to your future together, not to the past.
- Be Willing to Forgive. You need to forgive yourself. This doesn't mean you can let yourself off the hook but you don't need to carry buckets of guilt for the rest of your life.
"Never, ever encourage your partner to 'get over it.' Instead, be available to hear your partner’s pain and take it in. Don’t wait in dread for her to bring it up again. Instead, open conversations yourself that let your partner know that you’re continuing to think about the affair and that you won’t leave her alone to carry the pain. Be totally present to hear her anger and sorrow for as long as it takes, which may feel like forever. If you want your partner to let go of her pain, then you have to hold it." From Janis Abrahms Spring in After the Affair
You (or you both) may have been unhappy in your marriage for a long time. Cheating is not the answer as it is sure to make things worse, even if it felt good in the beginning. It is the courageous choice to see if you can honor your vows and do the necessary work to heal your relationship and move forward.
Article updated by Marni Feuerman