Has someone’s cheatin’ heart hurt you? These strategies will help couples who’ve suffered a physical or emotional infidelity work through it and possibly repair their relationship. From The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have: How Couples Who Change Together Stay Together, by Dr. Steven Craig.
In order to help you work through any infidelity issues you may face in your relationship, below you will find a list of suggestions for couples to use when confronting such breaches of trust. This list, which I’ve adapted from the book After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., is specifically designed for couples to use when they have experienced a physical or emotional infidelity. It can, however, be used as a template for coping with any of the forms of infidelity I’ve identified here. (A more expansive description of how to survive infidelity in your relationship can be found in Dr. Spring’s extremely helpful book.)
Six Steps for Overcoming Infidelity
Step 1: Understand that you will experience a wide range of feelings and that all of them are normal. When a spouse discovers that his or her partner has engaged in any type of aberrant behavior, the range of emotion he or she experiences can be tremendous and can include any or all of the following feelings:
1. A loss of identity: “Who are you if you do this, and who am I if I am in a relationship with you?”
2. A loss of feeling special: “I thought we had something special, but now I feel like we have nothing.”
3. A loss of self-respect: “I’ll grovel or do anything to repair this relationship” or “I’ve become mean-spirited in order to punish my spouse for this behavior.”
4. Anger at yourself for missing the clues: “How could I have been so stupid?”
5. Feeling emotionally out of control: “How do I stop myself from constantly thinking about this and endlessly worrying about it?”
6. A fundamental loss of stability: “I used to believe I had a pretty good handle on the world I live in, but now I feel like I have absolutely no idea what is right, wrong, or even what to do next.”
7. Anger or confusion regarding your religious faith or sense of purpose in life: “How could God have abandoned me this way?” or “Why would God punish me in this way’
8. A profound sense of isolation or loneliness: “I can’t share this with anyone, and even if I did, no one could possibly understand my despair or fix it.”
9. Loss of hope: “I’ll never experience true love again and I’ll never trust again.”
Step 2: Embrace those feelings and talk with your partner or a therapist about each of them. It is important to explore each of those feelings and to engage your partner in that discussion. Avoiding these feelings or denying them only makes them stronger and puts a further wedge in your relationship. Since the infidelity involved withholding information, in order to fix things everything must now be shared between spouses.
If your spouse refuses to discuss the subject in any meaningful or productive way, it is best to seek counseling to help you identify and work through these feelings. I must point out, however, that if your spouse refuses to discuss the subject, that doesn’t bode well for your relationship. As I mentioned above, repairing the damage done in these circumstances usually has to be done together. It’s not impossible to do it alone, but your spouse’s refusal to join you in the repair process typically only makes matters worse.
Step 3: Give a name to each of those feelings and make a commitment to identifying them and working through them every time they occur. The difference between this step and step two is that in this step you have to commit to digging deeply into those feelings and working through them productively. Since the feelings associated with infidelity are so severe, merely identifying them is not enough. You must explore them and cleanse them from your mind (and heart) in a healthy way or they will continue to invade your psyche and damage you and your relationship. As painful as it may be to discuss these feelings over and over, it is imperative that you and your spouse share a common language about the incident and sew together, one at a time, the frayed ends of your trust.
Step 4: Decide whether to recommit to the relationship or quit. In time, regardless of the infraction, you have to make a conscious decision either to stay in the relationship or get out. Given the volatile emotions attached to this decision, this can be a difficult step. However, it has to be a conscious, stated choice that you commit to wholeheartedly. Just as you can’t be half pregnant, you can’t be half committed to your relationship. If you choose to stay, you must remain true to that course. This doesn’t mean you have to feel completely content with your decision; it just means that if you pick the recommitment path, you have to stick with it even when you feel frightened or angry. Think of it this way: when you commit to mending the relationship, this commitment becomes the cornerstone of rebuilding the relationship. If you waffle on this decision as you go along, you are, in a way, knocking down the new foundation over and over again. This is especially problematic when you are in the process of attempting to rebuild trust.
Step 5: Commit to rebuilding trust and repairing the relationship in whatever way is necessary. There are two parts to this step:
1. Agree to specific changes in behavior. Building trust takes time, but it begins with changes in behavior. The spouse who is responsible for the breach of trust must not only recognize his or her unhealthy behavior, but also actively change that behavior.
2. Agree to change the interpersonal dynamics of the relationship. No relationship is perfect and no spouse is without fault. Even if the infidelity that occurred was beyond your control, there are still things you can do to improve the way you behave in the relationship. Dig deep within yourself and consider what behaviors you engage in that undermine the overall health of your relationship. You are still an active participant in your relationship, which means you always have room to grow as well.
Step Six: Forgive your partner. In the end, in order for your relationship to recover fully from this event, you have to find a way to forgive your partner. There are many ways to accomplish this, and everyone has to find his or her own way of getting there. However, in order for the wound to be fully healed, this step has to occur, even if it takes many years.
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