How to Overcome an Affair
In a previous article How to Survive Infidelity in your Relationship I discussed the ‘rules’ and basic steps that need to be followed for a couple to try and restore their relationship after an affair. In this article, I explore further how the betrayed spouse can learn to manage the resentment, overcome affair, and continual thoughts they have about the infidelity.
Surprisingly, many couples will choose to work to keep a relationship after an affair has come to light. Initially, when couples get together, they usually state that if the other has an affair, then the relationship will be over. This tends to be the case in a relationship that is short in length but more often, when couples have been together for many years, and often created a family together, they will choose to try to work through the affair.
Discovered the Affair
When the affair is first discovered, there is often a great deal of shock, even if there was suspicion, and then follows a cycle of feelings that can leave the betrayed person feeling like they are going crazy.
Often people who find themselves in this situation will tell me that they need reassurance that they are ‘normal’ because their feelings are so heightened and can be dramatically different from one moment to the next. They may be relaxed one moment and speaking normally to their partner and the next moment they are sobbing and screaming hysterically at them. This is normal and as long as you are doing the right things, it will pass.
So how do you move on? Firstly, accepting that it is a big deal, is incredibly hurtful and will take time to work through. For many people it can shake the very foundations of their self-view. For others, they lay blame firmly at the feet of their partner and need to exact revenge without taking any share of the responsibility for repairing the relationship.
It is incredibly important to realise that you are not to blame. It was not your choice or decision and you are not responsible for your partner’s actions. It is also important to accept that the relationship being vulnerable to an affair is the responsibility of both partners. This can be tough as you didn’t choose to do the wrong thing but you can’t repair the relationship and have a healthy relationship if you are not willing to look at the foundations.
That being said, there are a number of challenges for the betrayed partner that often get in the way of being able to help work on repairing the relationship. Recurring thoughts of your partner with the other person, a sense of resentment that they are getting away with it, a feeling of being stupid in other people’s eyes for staying, questioning whether they loved the other person, associating special dates with the infidelity and the questioning of “what was wrong with me”?
These are common thoughts that arise for many people. It is important that you talk to your partner about these as much as possible initially to get the answers you require. After you have exhausted that avenue, if the thoughts are still there (and they usually are), then you need to find strategies to work through them yourself.
Many people will tell me this isn’t fair because the other person did the wrong thing and they are the one that is paying the bigger price. No it’s not fair but it isn’t a choice.
Strategies to help overcome resentment and negative thinking
1. Have a good friend or family member that you can speak to safely. Use them to talk about your feelings and doubts. You are not after answers from them, it is just a safe avenue to be heard and unload what is running through your head.
2. Keep up your hobbies and interests. If you had none, then now is a great time to try and find something for you to enjoy. It is about having other distractions so that every moment is not dedicated to thinking about the affair. It is also important to try and make yourself feel good doing other activities.
3. Focus on what you and your partner are doing well now. What is different and good about the relationship? Look for the positives each day. If you and your partner are working on fixing the relationship, then they should be doing some positive things so try and be in the moment with them and look for these.
4. If you continually have the same thoughts running through your head, then write them down. Look at the thoughts you are having and see if there is a trigger for these thoughts. Are they realistic and real or are you looking for problems and imaging scenarios?
5. Don’t allow the negative thoughts to run away and take control. It is important to not try and push them down, but you can’t allow them control either. When you get a negative thought, allow yourself 10 seconds to reflect on it and then try and think of a positive in your life at that moment. Sometimes even a non-negative will do. Keep thinking of positives until the negative thought has faded.
6. When a negative thought strikes, stop, breath slowly and focus on what you were thinking about immediately before the thought, then try and think about the thought before that and so on. This is both distracting and can be helpful in identifying triggers.
7. Get your partner to write you a love letter. Seems strange perhaps but many people who are genuinely trying to repair their relationship after an affair have said they find a great deal of comfort in this. Your partner can say all the right things but they are not with you every moment and this is often when the doubts set in. Having a letter to be able to carry with you and read through in a bad moment can be a big help.
8. Try and create new memories and habits together. If you ate dinner in front of television, then starting eating at the table, if you always did chores on the weekends, carve out some couple time to go for a walk. Creating new, healthy habits is important for the relationship but is also helpful in terms of recovery as there are a lot more good memories to fall back on in difficult moments.
Overcoming an affair is traumatic and can take a long time. Don’t be critical of yourself and think you should be ‘getting over’ it quickly. If you have a good day and then a bad day, that is OK. If you have lots of bad moments and one good moment, then that is progress. There is no set time limit to recovery. Allow yourself to feel but be aware that you can help yourself move in the right direction by trying the techniques above.
If in doubt, seek help. Often a third party helping you to navigate the problems as they arise can make the difference between overcoming and affair and creating a great relationship, and giving up because it is too hard.