couple fighting
Mental Health

The Ultimate Guide to Affair Recovery

What do you do when your worst nightmare comes true, and you wake up one day only to discover that your spouse has had an affair? Maybe you already saw the signs that your spouse was having an affair. Or maybe it feels like a bomb has been dropped out of nowhere. Regardless of how you found out about the affair, it is painful.

You may find thoughts racing through your mind. You find yourself replaying thoughts and images of your husband or wife touching, kissing, having sex with, and connecting intimately with someone else. You find yourself obsessing over the details, trying to make sense of what has occurred. There is also a part of you that does not want to know what happened because knowing the details might make it even more painful.

Discovering the Affair

The gut-wrenching shock and agony of finding infidelity in your marriage is difficult to put into words. It’s an extremely challenging and emotionally traumatic experience. While there are many different types of affairs and betrayals, the grief and pain is very real, and the road to affair recovery can be very intimidating.

Whether you have recently admitted to having an affair or were on the receiving end of the confession or discovery and are still reeling from shock and devastation, the pain is immense. You may be suffering doubt and dismay as a result of the affair’s disclosure, or you may be asking questions you’ve never asked before.

As the betrayed spouse, you may find yourself start to question your reality. Everything you thought you knew about your life suddenly feels unsure:

  • Was anything real between me and my spouse?
  • Am I not good enough? Attractive enough?
  • Was I not good enough sexually?
  • How did I not see this coming?
  • Do they still have feelings for the affair partner?
  • Is my marriage over?
  • How can I ever forgive them?
  • What else has my spouse been lying about?
  • Can I ever trust my spouse again?
  • Can I ever heal from this?

To make matters worse, the one person you want reassurance from the most is the one whose word has proven themselves untrustworthy. You are in so much pain and don’t know who to turn to.

As the betraying spouse, your world has also been shattered. For the first, time you are faced with the consequences of the decisions that were made while engaging in infidelity. You are now facing the truth and the impact of your choices. And because of that, you find yourself with many questions too.

  • Why did I do this?
  • Can my marriage be saved?
  • Do I want to stay in my marriage?
  • How do I support and reassure my spouse?
  • Will they ever trust me again?
  • Who can I talk to about this?

In the midst of recovering from the affair, you can feel so overwhelmed. At times, it may even feel that it would be easier just to walk away. You begin to think that maybe walking away would save you and your spouse from more pain.

If any of this rings true for you, know that you are not alone. All of these thoughts are normal, and these questions do need to be answered. Although you may feel hopeless right now, there is hope and a pathway to healing. The road to affair recovery will take willingness and repentance, but you and your spouse can recover from an affair by responding to this tragedy quickly and intentionally.

couple who just discovered an affair

What is infidelity?

At its foundation, infidelity is deception. An affair is a betrayal of trust involving another person that violates the marriage covenant. It could include:

  • Physical contact that expresses romance, physical attraction, or sexual desire through holding hands, hugging, kissing, intercourse, etc.
  • Emotional attachment between two people that is much like closeness and emotional intimacy found in marriage.
  • Online affair that includes sexual and/or emotional undertones carried out through chat, webcam, email, text, social media, or other forms of online communication.

Whether it was a physical or emotional affair, the use of pornography, or simply a one-night stand, the result is the same. Infidelity is a traumatic experience. infidelity wipes away our sense of trust and safety with the one person who matters most. As a result, our world is turned upside down.

The good news is that marriage counselors have found that couples who choose to recover and rebuild their marriages after infidelity tend to have stronger, more loving, and mutually understanding relationships than they did before.

Things to Consider

Whether you are the betrayed spouse or the spouse who has done the betrayal, there are a few things to keep in mind before making any decisions about moving forward:

  • You do not have to make any decisions immediately. Before making any decisions about whether to heal the marriage or end it, it is important to give yourself the space to tend to your pain. When we make hasty decisions in the midst of intense and painful emotions, we put ourselves at risk for making unwise decisions we could later regret.
  • You cannot do this alone. Whether you are the betrayed spouse of the betrayer, it is important to find healthy support. During a time where the one person you would normally confide in does not feel safe or trustworthy, it is crucial to find individuals you can feel safe with and supported by. This could be a mentor, counselor, pastor, or trusted friend. The key is to find someone who can walk with you through the healing process of affair recovery and remain unbiased, supporting you with whatever you need.
  • It is okay to take your time. The discovery of an affair is traumatic. Give yourself the space to tend to your heart, identifying your emotions, and grieving the impact of the affair. The revelation of an affair can lead to a wide range of emotions (fear, anger, insecurity, depression, etc.). Make it a priority to listen to your body. If it needs rest, give it rest. If you are the betraying spouse, it is important to be honest and truthful. However, it is wise to take your time and seek guidance before jumping into all the details. It is important to be truthful, patient, and to seek guidance on how to engage in full disclosure in a safe way.
couple in counseling for an affair

Betrayed Spouse: First Steps of Affair Recovery

There is no doubt that discovering your spouse’s affair has inflicted severe emotional trauma. As a result, you could be experiencing many of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of anger, resentment, shame, or hopelessness

While all these symptoms would be expected and normal, there are some things you can do that will give you a better chance to heal after affair discovery.

Practicing Good Self-Care

The discovery of an affair can be one of the most difficult experiences you could go through. This is why self-care is so important. If you do not take good care of yourself, everything else will be more challenging. It will be difficult to make good decisions. Your ability to prevent symptoms of anxiety and depression will lessen. And you will not be able to care for those who depend on you or keep up with basic responsibilities.

You will need to care for yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Physically:

  • Give your body the fuel it needs by eating food with proper nutrients and drinking plenty of water.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep (7-8 hours). Make an appointment with your doctor if you are having difficulty sleeping.
  • Find ways to get your body moving when you can. Exercise has proven benefits when it comes to decreasing stress and anxiety.

Spiritually:

  • Spend time with God. Seek his care, comfort, and wisdom in the midst of your pain.
  • Connect with trusted others at church or small groups who can provide support and care.
  • Spend time in nature, enjoying the beauty and solitude.

Mentally:

  • Seek out resources that can give you information and guidance on affair recovery and caring for yourself well.
  • Give yourself a break from the crises of affair recovery by engaging in life-giving activities or hobbies from time to time.

Emotionally:

  • Identify how you are feeling and take time to let it matter.
  • Find support through a trusted mentor, pastor, or counselor. You cannot do this alone.

Develop Healthy Boundaries

While walking through affair recovery, you will not be able to control what your spouse does, however, you can and should maintain boundaries that will help keep you safe and prevent more pain from occurring.

  • Request Complete Transparency. It can be helpful, at times, to request permission to have access to your spouse’s phone history, email, and social media accounts. It will also be helpful to have a plan for handling any unexpected contact from the affair partner(s). Seeking guidance from a counselor can be helpful in navigating affair recovery and determining healthy accountability for you and your spouse.
  • Only ask questions that will be helpful to you. You are going to have many questions for your spouse. It will be important for you to be honest with yourself about what questions will be helpful or harmful to you and your healing process. Seek guidance from trusted and objective support about which questions to ask. This can help protect you from further and unnecessary pain.  

Betraying Spouse: First Steps to Affair Recovery

  • End the affair. Stop all contact with the affair partner(s). You will need to be honest with yourself and your spouse about any potential future contact with the affair partner. It will also be critical to disclose any attempted contact. This will aid in setting the first building blocks to restoring trust.
  • Practice good self-care. It is not uncommon to experience grief, shame, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. It is important to take the time to care about your feelings. They matter. Remember that your spouse may not always be available to care for your pain due to overwhelming emotions they may be experiencing. Find trusted individuals that can help support, care, and provide accountability as you navigate affair recovery.
  • Make choices that build trust. Seek to understand what led to the affair. Find a counselor who can help you navigate this so you can safeguard yourself from anything like this happening in the future while also showing your spouse that you are committed to healing. Show up for your spouse with compassion and empathy. Make efforts to listen and understand the impact your actions have had on your spouse. It is normal for your spouse to be watching for any inconsistencies. It is important to make choices that show you are trustworthy as you are your spouse are working to build trust again. This can include being transparent, allowing access to phone records and social media accounts, and answering questions openly and honestly.

Hope After an Affair

couple recovering from an affair

You may feel there is no hope for your marriage. You may feel the pain is too much and therefore impossible to restore the relationship you once had. However, research shows it is possible to restore your marriage. It is even possible to build an even better and stronger relationship with your spouse if you are willing to put in the work. Depending on a variety of factors, 18 to 24 months is realistic. For some couples, it may take longer and for others, it may take less time. Seeking professional help as you navigate affair recovery will be essential. A trained professional can help you navigate through the trauma, understand what and why the affair happened, and help lead you through each stage of recovery.

Much like cleaning out a severe wound, there is a process for healing when infidelity has occurred. Placing duct tape over the wound will only stop the blood for a few minutes. It will not heal the wound.  Similarly, there is a process for helping couples and individuals in navigating the aftermath of an affair so that they can move forward in a healthy and fulfilling way. The good news is that recovery can be accomplished. And because of the work and commitment being placed into the relationship, your marriage can be better and stronger than it was before.

Leslie is a licensed professional counselor. She works as a therapist at a marriage intensive retreat center. She is also a foster mom and police wife. Her and her husband live in Missouri with their two teenage sons and three dogs.

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