Your spouse is devastated to learn that you have been unfaithful, but you are determined to save your marriage. You’ve apologized profusely, you have taken full responsibility for your actions. You have promised that it will never happen again.
These steps, while necessary, are not enough for full recovery. Many spouses make the mistake of believing that after the initial shock, hurt and anger are over, the pain will just fade away — that they can simply pick up the pieces and get on with their lives. Only later do they discover the lingering feelings of betrayal and mistrust that … slowly – but surely – destroy your relationship.
If you sincerely want to regain the trust and intimacy you and your spouse once had, you must follow certain steps. They are not always easy, but these steps go a long way in healing the hurt the affair has caused, and putting your relationship on the right path.
1. Be completely honest with your spouse from now on
You must be truthful and open about anything your spouse has a reasonable right to know. This includes your work schedule, your activities with friends, your spending habits and so on.
You might be tempted to think that telling a little white lie now and then is harmless, especially if it has nothing to do with being unfaithful. But, your spouse is more likely than ever to detect any signs of deception or evasiveness on your part. And if you get caught in a lie, no matter how trivial, your spouse will wonder what else you may be lying about.
2. Answer non-vivid questions your spouse has about the affair
Yes, this will be uncomfortable and embarrassing. It’s normal for you to want to put the affair in the past and move on. Besides, you think your spouse is already hurt and angry. Wouldn’t learning more about the affair make those feelings even worse?
There are two categories of questions that the betrayed spouse usually wants to ask. One category of questions make the affair more vivid — puts pictures in your spouse’s mind. Questions like, “What color hair did s/he have?” or, “Where her breasts bigger than mine?” — these kinds of questions further hurt the betrayed spouse — even if they want to know. “Did you do this with her, did you do that?” The betrayed spouse is intensely curious to these details, but in the long run only burn the hurt more deeply. We advise avoiding questions that make the affair more vivid.
The other category of questions are general, non-pictorial questions. “Do you still love her, still think of her” or, “Do you have any mementos from her?” The offending spouse should answer any and all of these questions.
There also needs to be a time when there is a formal ending to all questions about the affair. The affair will need to stop being fed in order for it to be put in the past where it should stay. Continuing to ask questions about the affair for years will only hurt the two of you and not allow the affair to die. Our suggestion is to formally stop all questions 3 months after finding out about the affair. Going much beyond that will impede healing.
3. End all contact with your ex-lover
You might protest that this step is unreasonable if you see your ex-lover at work or some other place where running into each other is unavoidable. However, the temptation to resume the affair may prove too strong, no matter how well-intentioned you are.
Furthermore, your spouse will never be comfortable knowing that your ex-lover is still in the picture. So, do whatever it takes to avoid that person, even if that means changing your job or moving to a new area.
4. Make amends to your spouse
This crucial step is overlooked far too often. Maybe you think that merely saying “I’m sorry” is sufficient. Or you believe that nothing really can make up for the hurt you have caused. But that is no reason not to try.
The best way to make amends is simply to ask your spouse what you can do. Ideally, it will be something that reaffirms your love and brings the two of you closer together. Perhaps it will be something that your spouse has always wanted from you – being a better listener, for example – that you somehow failed to provide.
Recovering from an affair takes commitment and effort by both spouses. Following these steps will help make that recovery more lasting and meaningful.