Words that describe reconciliation include ‘repair’, ‘heal’, ‘fix’ ‘rebuild’ and ‘restore’.
Sometimes these terms even have a place at the international level, when two or more countries in conflict can find reconciliation after a war.
The same can be said for partners whose relationship has been rocked by an affair. “War” may seem to be a strong word to apply to this situation. But just as in war, infidelity involves people who have very different perspectives.
Despite having ongoing differences and difficulty, it is possible for couples to find forgiveness and reconcile after an affair.
Here’s how this can happen:
Be Honest with Each Other
First, regardless of who was unfaithful, be honest with yourself and your partner if you have decided to, or you are considering leaving the relationship.
Assuming neither of you wants to end the relationship, mutual honesty is vital.
If you are the one who cheated, you need to be honest with your partner about what happened. Along with disclosing everything (except for the ‘gory sexual details’) that happened between you and the outside person, you must answer your partner’s questions quickly and to their full satisfaction.
Of course, this won’t be easy for you, but your discomfort is very minor compared to how your partner is feeling. Your partner is likely to be in tremendous pain and it would be normal for them to ask you the same questions over and over again, as though they can’t remember what you’ve already said.
The fact is, if your partner was traumatized by the betrayal, they may not be capable of remembering. So your partner will need to hear you answer the same question again and again.
If you were betrayed, you need to be honest and open about your thoughts and feelings. Avoid the mistake of tying to bury what’s on your mind because it will be harder to express it later, plus you may forget something important. Don’t worry about being annoying or a burden to your partner.
Rather, you need to be frank about how the affair has affected you. Be assertive about expressing your thoughts and emotions. Ask as many questions as many times as you need to. You have every right to do so.
And be honest with yourself. Don’t hold back – otherwise you may end up resenting yourself, months or years later. If you’re hesitant about asking questions, ask yourself “…what do I have to lose?”
Build a Framework to Rebuild Trust
Both of you, separately and together, will need to work very hard to build a framework for repairing your relationship. Both of you need to agree to the conditions outlined in your framework in order to move forward.
Here are some suggestions on elements of a framework. You may have more, less or different aspects in your framework:
- If you were betrayed, you may need to have access to your partner’s phone and computer. If you’re the cheater and you object to this, see the next section “Create Acts of Trust” to understand why this may be necessary.
- Agreeing to attend couples therapy can be very helpful with expediting the rebuilding of trust and repairing intimacy.
- Agree on who-what-when-how to tell others and how to preserve friendships and family relationships.
- Agree on what-when-how to talk to your children if you need to.
- Agree not to discuss the ‘gory details’ like sexual behaviors. This only makes recovery more difficult. If you’re the cheater, simply refuse to give details. The best place to address this issue is the confidential environment of a therapist’s office.
- If you cheated, be very clear on the nature of any possible future or ongoing interactions you must have with the outside person. Be clear about any outside consequences such as complications at work or potential legal problems.
- Agree to schedule times of day to discuss affair-related issues and for how long. One hour per day is a suggested maximum. Beyond this, take time-outs to rest and recuperate.
Create Acts of Trust
If you cheated, you will have to take actions that show you are serious about repairing the relationship. Try to ‘put yourself in your partner’s shoes’ and think about what you would need.
Your partner will naturally need (and deserves) to see lots of tangible evidence of your commitment to the relationship before you can begin to regain their trust. And they have every right to ask or even to demand that you provide what they need.
Unless you have to work with or otherwise professionally communicate with the outside person, you must stop all communication and contact with that person. Not only must you assure your partner that you are doing this you will probably have to prove it.
This could mean, for example, giving your partner total access to your phone, computer, all email and Facebook accounts and all passwords to these and any other communication devices you use, and to provide this to your partner anytime they ask or as soon as possible.
This helps your partner to begin believing that the affair is no longer occurring. And you’re offering to do this without being asked can help them to trust you a little more.
You may have to have medical testing done to make sure you did not contract a sexually transmitted disease. If you have had sex with your partner during or after a sexual affair, your partner will likely need to be tested. If you had sex with your partner during the affair, the work required to rebuild trust around this issue can be especially challenging.
Have New Shared Experiences
As you both begin to rebuild the relationship, having new shared experiences will be important. Although it’s part of the recovery process, this means more than having a “date night” once a week.
Instead, both of you need to be willing to put all of your energy into restoring the relationship. That means prioritizing your time together over other commitments, except your children, of course.
Most likely the emotional distance between the two of you has existed for quite a while. Now you need to rediscover each other in order to rebuild the relationship. This happens best when you are together.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation Won’t Happen Overnight
Reconciliation does not happen overnight. Recovering from an affair is never easy. The pain and emotions usually run deep for both partners. Depending on the underlying problems that led up to the affair, repairing a relationship devastated by infidelity can take (12) to (24) months of consistent hard work and dedication by both partners.
Be willing to take the time necessary for the process to occur and don’t rush things. Even though you may want a quick resolution to the situation, the damage caused by the affair will not heal overnight.
Both of you have to put in the work. Sometimes this happens together, sometimes you have to work alone on the relationship.
Especially for the one who cheated, this means becoming an “open book” for your partner. For the betrayed partner this means being honest with yourself and your partner about how the affair affected you and what you need from them to trust again.
Through this process, over time, couples who once found themselves very far apart—in a virtual war—can eventually find forgiveness.
Recovery from an affair can happen faster and be less painful with the help and guidance of a professional therapist. During counseling the therapist will help each of you express deeper feelings that may have never been addressed; help you understand why the affair really happened; help you develop a recovery plan, and guide you toward healing and reconciliation.
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