In Part V of this series, we explored how a Betrayed Spouse can begin the process of recovering a marriage after an affair, as well as some cautions about pitfalls such as false recovery. Part VI will cover how a Betrayed Spouse can navigate recovering the marriage from infidelity.
Healing From The Affair During Marital Recovery
Recovering a marriage from infidelity takes time, effort, and consistency. Recovery may well be one of the most difficult things you will attempt as a couple. One of the most important – and difficult – aspects of recovery is achieving healing for each spouse individually as well as healing the marriage.
Healing Yourself As The Betrayed Spouse
There are five stages of normal grief. They were first proposed by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” We spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage more or less intensely. The five stages do not necessarily occur in order. We often move between stages.
Infidelity can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Independent counselling can help by providing techniques and methods to overcome PTSD and help you move on. Some areas have support groups for those suffering from PTSD.
Work towards letting go of the anger. While short term anger is a coping mechanism for releasing tension and letting off steam, long term it is unhealthy and can be downright destructive to your mental and emotional health. If you carry the anger long enough, it may cause you to physically hurt yourself, or someone else.
Along with forgiving the Wayward Spouse, try to forgive the affair partner. This does not mean you need to inform them of your forgiveness, just that for your own mental health and well being, that you let go of the hurt and resentment.
Surround yourself with a support team. Your spouse can play an important part in your recovery, but if they do not co-operate, seek out friends and family. A specialised support group such as Marriage Advocates can give you advice and sympathy from a ‘been there, done that’ point of view.
Take a look across the entire spectrum of your life, rather than focusing on the period that encompassed the affair. Think on your achievements, about times when others have praised you or expressed admiration. Take pride in your personal skills and abilities. Appreciate your personal morals and ethics. When the ‘stinking thinking’ starts, tell that inner voice that you, not your circumstances, define yourself.
If both the Wayward and Betrayed Spouse want to reconcile, there may be a period when the Betrayed Spouse fears that the Wayward Spouse will not have the patience to hang on until the Betrayed Spouse regains trust and acceptance. It is natural to be concerned about it but, while easier to say than do, try not to get to hung up and concerned over this. The experience of being the Betrayed Spouse will have made you much stronger and, frankly, if your spouse cannot wait, perhaps it is best s/he let go. After all, what happens the next time things get tough? All you can do as the Betrayed Spouse is encourage your spouse when you see s/he is making an attempt and continue to be honest.
As the architect of your own healing, do be patient and gentle with yourself. There is no other way to heal than with lashings of time, and that cannot be hurried up.
Helping The Wayward Spouse To Heal
Do not use resentment as a punishment. There comes a time where you will have to either be all in for the marriage, or call it quits. It is not fair to anyone to dangle the affair as leverage, discipline, punishment, or to keep the wayward spouse off balance. In early recovery, the Wayward Spouse doesn’t have a lot to hope in, and to hold onto. Shame, guilt and other emotions are the reasons for that.
Notice efforts by the Wayward Spouse to help you heal and feel safe again. Encourage the Wayward Spouse to forgive him/herself. Be available to talk about the affair, but do not encourage dwelling on the hurt and pain. Show you are safe to talk to, and that you love him/her.
- Do not expect your wayward spouse to read your mind. Practise loving, radical honesty, even when it feels uncomfortable.
- Do not excuse the affair. Infidelity is absolutely wrong; you don’t need to temper that.
- Do not make promises.
- Do ask the questions you need to ask, even the detailed ones.
- Do be honest about the hurt and anger you are experiencing.
- Do be honest about what you cannot do – if approaching or in the midst of intimacy and you cannot stop the mind movies, then stop, don’t pretend.
- Do ask for what you need: passwords, cell phone, email, keylogger, etc.
- Do take it one day at a time. Leave speculation for later.
- Do urge your wayward spouse to get help, either independent counseling or marriage counseling. Starting a thread on Marriage Advocates may also be beneficial.
- Do help your wayward spouse find support – family, close friends, pastors, etc.
- If emotion gets the better of you and you say or do hurtful things, apologise for the things – but not for feeling hurt.
- After allowing time to feel the hurt, vent the anger, watch to see the good work, etc. realise that there is never going to be a “good” time to decide to forgive. There is not going to be a magic day when you wake up not hurting, with no memory, and can say, “I forgive you.” Choose to forgive…over and over…because real forgiveness is not some one-time trite statement.
- Once the decision to restore the marriage is made, make it a WE thing, complete with exploring the things WE have done or not done that hurt the marriage.
- Choose to see your spouse, not just the affair.
- Do make some sort of commitment to the marriage to help your wayward spouse feel that his/her efforts are not all in vain, even if only a commitment that “I will stay and work on the marriage for the next 12 months.”
- Do not hold the ‘get out of the marriage free’ card indefinitely after starting recovery.
- Do work honestly on your ‘50%’ of the marriage. Discuss what you do that hurts the marriage, and work on removing those things.
- Give up thoughts of vengeance.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
Like everything to do with infidelity, there is no set pattern of events, just a general guide. Generally, experts agree that full healing can take place in two years, with some couples taking longer and others recovering sooner. The length of time it takes is directly related to what happens immediately after the affair is discovered.
A Typical Timeline for Recovery
* Trauma – Discovery to 6 months: During this phase, the Betrayed Spouse will be in shock and experiencing significant emotional trauma as a result of finding out about the affair. Often Betrayed Spouses feel angry, vengeful, and hopeless. This phase is a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from loss and grief, to rage and frustration, and can be accompanied by bouts of tears. Both the Wayward Spouse and the Betrayed Spouse struggle to think clearly during this phase, and they may experience physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight or concentration.
* Issues Clarification – 3 to 6 months. It is during this time that couples begin to examine in more detail what led to the affair. Although there is still some emotional instability, they want to understand why the affair happened. The sooner couples can begin this process, the sooner they can work towards change to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Learning about, and resolving this can be vital during this extremely psychologically stressful time.
* Addressing the Problem – 6 months to 1 year. This is when the real work begins. As the emotions become more manageable, spouses tackle the difficult task of working on the issues in the marriage that made it so unfulfilling. There will be highs and lows, but they will be much less frequent.
Once the roughest patches are in the past, there is time for the couple to embrace the new relationship they have created. Hopefully, by working together, they will have developed stronger, and more genuine bonds. Trust may still be difficult for the Betrayed Spouse, and each will have difficult days accepting that the previous life they knew has been changed forever. There will be days where both spouses still struggle to understand why the affair happened. But by practising techniques and utilising new tools, couples can continue to develop an open, honest and new relationship, free of the encumbrances of the affair.
Tools For Affair Recovery
Recovery is an exciting time. It is some of the hardest work you will ever do in your marriage. Some days can be challenging beyond your belief; others can be sweeter than you ever dreamed your marriage could be.
This is when you will need patience, love, forgiveness, trust, learn ‘acting as if,’ becoming friends, getting to know yourself and your spouse again, learning what you missed the first time, learning what is different. Expecting to see more and react less. Observing the process and enjoying the good. Recognizing that you will not, and should not reclaim the marriage you once had. You will be better served by relinquishing the old relationship and building a new one. After all, who would want to return to a marriage that was so bad it resulted in an affair?
- During recovery, remember to laugh. Find humour in unlikely events. Laughing releases endorphins, which are natures ‘feel good’ hormones. Enjoy being together. Try to find one thing every day to make your spouse laugh.
- Find new activities to do together. Couples that play together, stay together. Common interests give you common topics of conversation.
- Set a date night. It can be as costly or as inexpensive as your budget allows. Studies show that couples who spend between 5-20 hours a week together without other people (including children) are more likely to have a happy, successful marriage.
- Make plans together. Short-, medium- and long-terms goals give you a common focus, and provide a intimate topic of conversation.
- Be courteous. Treat each other at least as well as a complete stranger. Remembering to say thank you keeps the relationship friendly and lets the other one know you care.
- Be open and honest about your feelings. A small argument can turn into a major row if you pretend nothing is wrong.
- Practise the Policy of Joint Agreement. Remember to use safe negotiations.
- Discuss ‘just compensation.’ This will differ from couple to couple, and for some will not be necessary. Some Betrayed Spouses ask for a monetary sum akin to that spent on the affair partner for their own discretionary use. Some ask for a holiday, or a break for some couple time, and bonding. For some, it is Extraordinary Precautions and an apology. Only you can decide.
It doesn’t take two to five years to ‘recover a marriage’ from an affair. That is a general rule of thumb, and making it sacrosanct is missing the point. It usually takes three to six months to get on the road to a happy marriage if each person works on it for the rest of their life. This applies to any marital recovery, with or without an affair.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Surprise! You’re in Recovery. Now what?
Forgiving the OP
The Betrayed Spouses Role After The Affair
First Aid For The Betrayed – Richard Alan
Surviving an Affair – Dr. W. Harley
The 5 Love Languages – Dr. G. Chapman
Boundaries – Cloud and Townsend
31 Reasons To Stop Your Affair – Affair Recovery Centre