Healing from Infidelity
   Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW

Parade Magazine, March 18, 2001

   Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the
   monumental task of healing from infidelity.   As a marriage therapist
   for two decades, I've heard countless clients confess that the
   discovery of an affair was the lowest, darkest moment of their entire
   lives.  And because affairs shatter trust, many seriously contemplate
   ending their marriages.

   However, it's important to know that, no matter bleak things might
   seem, it's possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity.
   It's not easy- there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions- but
   years of experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to
   what people in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back
   from the brink of disaster.

   Let the healing begin
   Healing from infidelity involves teamwork; both spouses must be
   fully committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on
   track.  The unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair and do
   whatever it takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse. The
   betrayed spouse must be willing to find ways to manage
   overwhelming emotions so, as a couple, they can begin to sort out
   how the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to
   change so that it never happens again. Although no two people,
   marriages or paths to recovery are identical, it's helpful to know that
   healing typically happens in stages.

   If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you
   will undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions- shock, rage, hurt,
   devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have
   difficulty sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the
   affair. If you are an emotional person, you may cry a lot.  You may
   want to be alone, or conversely, feel at your worst when you are.
   While unpleasant, these reactions are perfectly normal.

   Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never
   improve, it will, but not immediately.  Healing from infidelity takes a
   long time.  Just when you think things are looking up, something
   reminds you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. It's easy to
   feel discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and
   downs are the norm.  Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far

   Although some people are more curious than others, it's very
   common to have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially.
   If you have little interest in the facts, so be it.  However, if
   you need to know what happened, ask.  Although the details may be
   uncomfortable to hear, just knowing your spouse is willing to
   "come clean" helps people recover.  As the unfaithful spouse, you
   might feel tremendous remorse and guilt, and prefer avoiding the
   details entirely, but experience shows that this is a formula for
   disaster.  Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions under
   the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.

   Once there is closure on what actually happened, there is typically a
   need to know why it happened.  Betrayed spouses often believe
   that unless they get to the bottom of things, it could happen again.
   Unfortunately, since the reasons people stray can be quite complex,
   the why's aren't always crystal clear.

   No one forces anyone to be unfaithful.  Infidelity is a decision,
   even if doesn't feel that way.  If you were unfaithful, it's important to
   examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could
   threaten your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel
   attractive? Are you having a mid-life crisis?  Did you grow up in a
   family where infidelity was a way of life? Do you have a sexual

   It's equally important to explore whether your marriage is
   significantly lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes
   people feel so unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional
   or physical connection.  They complain of feeling taken for granted,
   unloved, resentful, or ignored.  Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy
   or sexuality in the marriage.

   If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to
   have an affair, you need to address your feelings openly and
   honestly so that together you can make some changes.   If open
   communication is a problem, consider seeking help from a qualified
   marital therapist or taking a communication skill-building class.
   There are many available through religious organizations,
   community colleges and mental health settings.

   Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the
   willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and
   remorse.  You can't apologize often enough.  You need to tell your
   spouse that you will never commit adultery again.   Although, since
   you are working diligently to repair your relationship, you might
   think your intentions to be monogamous are obvious, they aren't.
   Tell your spouse of your plans to take your commitment to your
   marriage to heart.  This will be particularly important during the early
   stages of recovery when mistrust is rampant.

   Conversely, talking about the affair can't be the only thing you do.
   Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the
   importance of both talking about their difficulties and spending time
   together without discussing painful topics.  They intentionally
   create opportunities to reconnect and their nurture their friendship.
   They take walks, go out to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual
   interests and so on. Betrayed spouses will be more interested in
   spending discussion-free time after the initial shock of the affair has

   Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness,
   which is frequently the last step in the healing process. The
   unfaithful spouse can do everything right- be forthcoming, express
   remorse, listen lovingly and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage
   won't mend unless the betrayed person forgives his or her spouse
   and the unfaithful spouse forgives him or herself.  Forgiveness
   opens the door to real intimacy and connection.

   But forgiveness doesn't just happen.  It is a conscious decision to
   stop blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If
   the past has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to
   having more love in your life? Decide to forgive today.

2001 Copyright - Michele Weiner-Davis.  All rights reserved.

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