Your spouse cheated. Now what? Infidelity is a huge crisis for any relationship. And in a crisis, we resort to basic survival skills and react on emotion. Both of you are experiencing extreme emotions which often lead to unpredictable and extreme behavior. However, the immediate actions following discovery of infidelity can be detrimental to long-term healing, should you choose to stay together. If healing is the path you choose, I want you to have the best chance of succeeding. Below are 5 important guidelines to follow in the aftermath of infidelity:
- Be honest. After what could have been days, months, or even years of dishonesty, unfaithful partners are generally blindsided when caught and, therefore, continue to try to lie, avoid answering questions, or only tell parts of the story. Unfortunately, this is self-protective and human nature – human nature that is very detrimental to healing. When truth trickles out slowly, and and the unfaithful partner is caught in more lies, the betrayed partner is always left thinking what else is he/she not telling me? This doubt can hinder healing or prevent reconciliation. If you have been unfaithful, answer every question honestly in order to start rebuilding trust immediately.
- Be cautious who you tell. We all need support from our loved ones when we are in a crisis. If you find out that your spouse has cheated on you, your first instinct may be to reach out for support! I support this 100%. However, there are people who, if you choose to tell them, might not give you good advice or who will have a very difficult time forgiving your spouse even if you forgive them. I ask my clients to think about who those people are in your life that are “friends of your marriage” – people that love you both and will support you in forgiving if you choose to, and will forgive your partner.
- End the affair. Contact with the affair partner has to end. Any further involvement with that person will add to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and healing. Again, this is a difficult step because many people who have affairs are not ready to end that relationship and continue to idealize their connection. Because betrayed spouses often have difficulty believing the affair has been ended, let them listen in on the phone call ending that relationship. Painful for all, yes, but essential in healing.
- Do not make any decisions. Neither the betrayed spouse or the unfaithful spouse should make a quick, knee-jerk decision about staying together or splitting up. Infidelity discovery brings on a roller-coaster of emotions where one day you may feel the two of you can heal and the next day you are screaming, crying, and packing your bags. All of these feelings are valid, but should not be used as indicators of whether or not you can make it as a couple. You are experiencing the stages of grief and will bounce between them as you heal.
- Take care of yourself. Both partners in the marriage are in crisis and feeling extreme emotions and pain. Forgetting to eat, difficulty sleeping, and missing work are all common in the first few weeks following discovery. As much as all of this is normal, you each need to take care of yourself to be able to cope and heal. Lack of sleep and eating, etc, will only make regulating emotions and making decisions more difficult. Take a shower, eat a healthy meal, take a walk in the woods. Don’t forget to breathe.
Infidelity is a crisis like none other and, in fact, is considered a trauma for the betrayed spouse. To heal from any trauma, we all need a guide. These steps are just a beginning in a long road of healing, but one that can have great outcomes. Please feel free to contact me to get even more support.