NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Infidelity: How to Save Your Relationship After You Have Had an Affair

In my last article, I focused on how an injured partner can cope with intrusive thoughts and emotions after finding out about a spouse's affair.  In this article, I'm discussing what the unfaithful partner can do to try to save the relationship (see my articles: Coping With Infidelity).

Infidelity: How to Save Your Relationship an Affair

Research on infidelity reveals that 20-40% of all marriages experience some form of infidelity.  In my opinion, this is a very high number and more research needs to be done to determine why so many people cheat on their partners and what, if anything, can be done in terms of prevention.

Generally, the research reveals that men tend to cheat more than women, but women also cheat.  This article assumes that either a man or a woman is capable of cheating.

After an affair has been discovered, if the relationship is to survive, the partner who cheated has certain responsibilities, especially during the initial stage of this process.

For the Partner Who Cheated:
If you're the partner who cheated, at a minimum, you need to be willing to do the following:
  • Be Honest With Your Partner About the Infidelity: Assuming that you want to save your relationship, with time and effort, a relationship can survive infidelity if both partners are willing. What often ruins a relationship is when the partner who cheated lies about it--even when his or her partner shows evidence that the affair has been discovered.  If you want to save your relationship, rather than lying or having the truth come out piecemeal over time, answer your partner's questions honestly, thoroughly and patiently.  This isn't the time to get defensive or to become avoidant.  You owe it to your partner to be open about what happened and answer whatever questions s/he might have. If, on the other hand, you no longer want to be in your relationship, then, as difficult as it might be, you need to be honest about this and communicate this to your partner.  Sometimes, people who cheat do it unconsciously as a way to getting out of the relationship because they don't know how to tell their partner that they no longer want to be in the relationship.  Instead of communicating directly with their partner, they "act out" by having an affair.  Rather than "acting out," you need to be honest, direct (although considerate and tactful) and talk to your partner as soon as you realize you no longer want to be in the relationship.  
  • Take Responsibility For the Affair: Rather than making up excuses, take full responsibility for having the affair--regardless of the state of your relationship at the time.  Making excuses, blaming your partner or being defensive will only exacerbate the problem.  
  • Show Genuine Remorse: You have caused your partner a lot of pain and put your relationship at risk.  Don't expect to be forgiven the first, second, third or tenth time that you apologize for the affair.  You might need to apologize many, many times.  Also, your partner might not be ready to accept your apology for a while.  Surviving infidelity is a process and you will need to be sincere in showing your remorse and commitment to the relationship.  This can take months or years.  
  • Be Attuned and Empathetic to Your Partner's Pain: If you want to save your relationship, you need to show that you're attuned to your partner's feelings and that you care.  This will probably mean that you're going to be on the receiving end of your partner's rage, hurt and sadness for however long it takes your partner to forgive you--assuming that s/he does eventually forgive you.  Be willing to take in your partner's emotions.  This is not the time to try to sweep your partner's feelings under the rug or rush him or her to "move on."  Infidelity is a serious breach and a betrayal.  Unless you can show that you're emotionally present to your partner's pain, your relationship probably won't work out. 
  • Don't Dismiss Your Partner's Emotional Reaction: Related to being attuned and empathetic, don't dismiss your partner's reaction to discovering the affair.  Don't tell your partner that s/he is overreacting.  This will only reveal that you're not attuned to your partner's feelings.  Likewise, telling your partner that the "other woman" or "other man" meant nothing to you and you don't understand why your partner is so upset, will make you sound like you're being dismissive.  Even if it's true that the other person meant little or nothing to you, you have to understand that this sounds like you're making excuses and minimizing your partner's emotions. Your partner's response to this could rightfully be, "If she [he] meant nothing to you, why did you do it and risk our relationship?" If, on the other hand, your partner asks you about  your feelings towards the person you had the affair with, that's different--you can respond honestly about that.  In that case, you're responding to your partner rather than trying to minimize the affair.  Remember: Everyone is unique in terms of how s/he reacts to discovering infidelity and how long it takes (if ever) to forgive.
  • Cut Off All Ties With the Person You Cheated With: If you're serious about saving your relationship, you must cut off all ties with the "other woman" or "other man."  This is non-negotiable.  No exceptions.  You can't try to salvage your relationship while you maintain a connection with the other person.  If the other person contacts you about reconnecting to resume the affair or "to be friends," you maintain your stance that there can be no contact.  You must let your partner know that the other person contacted you so that your partner doesn't discover this on his or her own.  That would make matters worse because it would look like you're trying to hide things.
  • Deal With Triggers That Lead to Cheating: As part of your self reflection about your behavior, consider whether there are certain triggers that lead to your cheating.  For instance, if you know that drinking or drugging lead to cheating on your partner, get professional help for these issues.  If you continue to indulge in substances that usually precede cheating, you will leave yourself vulnerable to cheating and possibly lose your relationship.  Boredom is another possible trigger.  Another example is that if you know that going to certain places makes you vulnerable to cheating, avoid those places if you can or, if you can't, make a plan as to what you will do to avoid cheating and stick with that plan.  Ditto for certain online sites.  Don't delude yourself into thinking that you can be "strong" and deal with triggers.  You will only be kidding yourself, and there's too much at stake to put yourself and your relationship at risk (see my article: The Allure of the Extramarital Affair).
  • Be Willing to Demonstrate Your Accountability to Your Partner: Whether this means that you allow your partner to have access to your phone, email or other online accounts, you need to show your partner that you're willing to be an open book.  If your partner wants you to call him or her when you're working late at the office or on a business trip, do it.  Do whatever is necessary to try to regain your partner's trust (see my article: Learning to Trust Again After an Affair).
  • Work Actively to Repair and Rekindle Your Relationship: Beyond everything else that has already been mentioned above, you need to be willing to do major work on your relationship if it is going to survive.  You need to find meaningful ways to show your partner that you love him or her and that s/he is the most important person in the world to you.  If the two of you have been emotionally disconnected, find ways (once your partner is ready and willing) to reconnect emotionally.
Recognize that, ultimately, even if you're very committed to salvaging your relationship, it will be up to your partner to decide if s/he wants to remain in the relationship.  For many people, infidelity is beyond what they can forgive, and you might have to accept this as the consequence of your behavior.

Sometimes couples rush to put the pain behind them without going through the necessary emotional process of dealing with the betrayal and breach of trust.  Then, later on, they discover that just telling each other that they're "moving on" or "starting over" isn't enough.  The problem might have been swept under the rug, but it's still there.

Getting Help in Therapy
Depending upon the underlying issues that caused you to cheat, you might need individual therapy and, if and when your partner is ready, couple therapy.

Coping with the guilt and shame about an affair as well as triggering behavior can be very challenging on your own (see my article: Healing Shame in Therapy and Learning to Forgive Yourself).

Don't underestimate how easy it would be to resume an affair or start a new one, especially if you're not dealing with the root cause of your problem.  

A skilled psychotherapist, who has experience working with partners who cheat, can help you to get to the root of your problem and develop the necessary skills to remain faithful in your relationship.

Many couples, who decide they want to remain in their relationship after an affair, don't make it because they get stuck in a negative cycle and they don't know how to change it.

A skilled EFT therapist (Emotionally Focused Therapy) can help you and your partner to overcome the negative cycle so that you can rebuild trust and rekindle your relationship.

Getting help in therapy could make the difference between saving your relationship or breaking up.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused (EFT) therapist for couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples to survive infidelity.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.