How To Get Over An Affair And Strengthen Your Relationship
Updated March 03, 2020
Reviewer Laura Angers
Infidelity can take a heavy toll on a relationship and not every relationship can survive the anger, hurt, and distrust it brings with it. The decision of whether to stay together or part ways is a deeply personal one and is quite likely one of the most important decisions any couple will ever make.
If the decision is made to keep the relationship going, then the best way forward is for both partners to work on moving past the affair and rebuilding the bonds of their relationship. This is much easier said than done but it is possible with time and plenty of conscious effort.
In this article you'll read about how to get through an affair by first looking at why people cheat and how affairs affect relationships, and what steps you can take to deal with the myriad of negative emotions triggered by infidelity. It is never enough, however, to simply survive the affair. Read on to learn how to strengthen the bond between you and your partner so your relationship can grow from the traumatic experience of infidelity.
Why Do People Cheat?
There really is no easy answer to that question. The fact is, each person's reason for cheating may be completely different from another person's explanation of why they cheated. In the case of repeat cheaters, their rationale for their actions may even be different from one instance of cheating to the next.
Some of the most common reasons for having an affair include:
- Lack of physical and emotional satisfaction in the committed relationship - the couple may have become distant either physically, emotionally, or both.
- Sexual addiction - which may or may not include addiction to pornography.
- Low self-esteem and the need to boost one's self-image.
- Consciously or subconsciously wanting to end the relationship by giving the other person reason to do so.
Additionally, researchers have been trying to come up with general explanations of why affairs happen. Here are a few of them.
1. It could be instinct.
When it comes to cheating, some persons argue that humans are not naturally monogamous in the first place. They, therefore, suggest that it is instinctual to want to be sexually involved with someone other than the person you are in a committed relationship with.
2. Maybe it's genetic.
There are also studies which have found that someone may be predisposed to having an affair based on their genetic makeup. These studies conclude that some persons are particularly sensitive to one of our "feel good" hormones named dopamine which is released during the acts of lying and sneaking around. In effect, some cheaters tend to get a high from their infidelity.
3. There could be a link to depression.
Related to the point above, is the theory that some persons unconsciously use infidelity as a way to self-medicate against depression. Depression has been linked to a chemical imbalance in the body and it has been suggested that this is countered by the hormones released when someone is engaged in an affair.
4. Perhaps testosterone is to blame.
One set of researchers came to the interesting conclusion that the length of a person's index finger (as compared to their ring finger) is an indication of how faithful they are likely to be. The varying lengths, they say, can be attributed to testosterone exposure in the womb with greater exposure leading to a bigger difference in the lengths of the two fingers and an increased tendency toward promiscuity.
How Do Affairs Affect Relationships?
Affairs affect both partners individually and as a couple. Each person will never be the same again and neither will their relationship. Furthermore, when the couple has children, it can be expected that they will be adversely affected by the affair, as well.
How an Affair Can Affect the Uninvolved Partner
For many persons who have had a partner indulge in an affair, feeling hurt and betrayed are just the tip of the iceberg.
Other issues they might face will vary depending on factors such as how invested they were in the relationship; the nature and length of the affair; and their personal views on monogamy.
Some of these issues are:
- Shame and self-blame
- Low self-esteem
- Sadness and emptiness
- Disappointment and annoyance
- Intense anger
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The effects of the affair will likely also be seen in this partner's work and social life. At work, they may no longer find satisfaction in their job and may begin to miss deadlines or make errors in judgement.
They may also become distant from extended family and friends who may, in turn, describe them as becoming uncharacteristically sad, callous or bitter. Of course, there are some persons who will try to hide their true feelings of devastation behind a façade of excessive cheerfulness and exuberance. Close friends and family members are likely to pick up on this, as well.
Effects of an Affair On the Involved Partner
We often think that only the uninvolved partner is negatively affected by an affair. This is not true. There is a range of adverse effects which cheating can have on the involved partner both before and after their unfaithfulness is brought to light. These include the stress of hiding the affair and then having to come clean once confronted about it.
The cheater may also experience feelings of intense guilt for the pain and hurt caused to their partner and the damage done to the relationship. They may begin to suffer from low self-esteem and the inescapable feeling that the affair has branded them for life as being a failure and untrustworthy. Self-loathing for having had an affair can also lead to feelings of unworthiness and depression.
Ways in Which an Affair Affects the Relationship
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 35 percent of all marriages in the US end in divorce. No doubt, infidelity contributes its fair share to that figure due to the various ways in which it impacts a relationship.
- Loss of trust - The person who has been cheated on may find it extremely difficult to trust their partner's words and actions in the future. They may find themselves constantly questioning whether they are being told the truth and reading hidden meanings into their partner's actions.
- Loss of intimacy - An affair can have devastating effects on intimacy in a committed relationship. The uninvolved partner can be left feeling like there is a "third person" between the couple with whom he or she has to compete. This can lead to anger, insecurity and nagging doubt that the partner who strayed is sexually unsatisfied with them. These, in turn, can lead to a lowered sex drive which further compounds the issue.
- Loss of unity - After being cheated on, the uninvolved partner can be left thinking that they need to be less invested in the relationship - just in case infidelity happens again. This can make them less willing to engage in decision making with their partner on matters such as money and career path. They may also be unwilling to put any long-term plans in place for them as a couple.
- Strained social relationships - Persons within the couple's social circle of family and friends may react to the news of the affair with anger directed at the cheater. Some of them might show their anger openly while others will take the route of alienating or avoiding the cheater. They may also express disbelief, disappointment, and anger at the uninvolved partner's decision to remain in the relationship.
How an Affair Affects Children
Children are much more perceptive than adults usually realize. Even if the affair is not explicitly mentioned to them, it is likely that children will pick up on the tensions it has caused and be impacted by them.
When a parent cheats, a child is left feeling any or all of the following.
- Afraid that their family unit is in jeopardy. The child may be anxious and scared that the affair will cause their parents to separate.
- Confused by the cheater's actions. Children often see their parents as role models of "correct" behavior and may have difficulty understanding why a parent did something so bad.
- Angry at both parents - not just the cheater. Aside from anger at the unfaithful parent for putting the family structure at risk, the child may direct anger at the uninvolved parent, thinking that they somehow caused or could have prevented the affair.
- Doubtful in their own relationships. As they grow older, the children might be cautious about entering into committed relationships for fear of being cheated on and hurt.
How to Get Past an Affair
Making your relationship really work after an affair is not an easy task and not all couples are up to the soul searching and effort it requires. Couples who do recover from an affair and go on to have a successful relationship usually do so by learning about themselves individually and gaining a better understanding of the dynamics of their relationship as a couple.
Advice for The Uninvolved Partner
Allow Yourself to Grieve
The grieving process is necessary whenever we experience any kind of loss. With an affair, we are grieving the loss of our relationship as we had come to know it. There is also the loss of the future we had envisioned with our partner. Even if you decide to stay together, your vision of the future as a couple will be tinged with memories of the affair.
By allowing yourself to go through the stages of grief, you will come to accept what has happened, what you have lost, and the need to move on with your life.
Face Your Emotions
Trying to hide or deny the anger, hurt and range of other emotions an affair causes can lead to them intensifying. It can also lead to stress and all the ill effects it has on us emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Consider keeping a journal so you can write down your thoughts and how you are feeling as you try to process the emotions brought on by the affair. It may also help to talk to someone you trust and who will listen to you pour your heart out without judgement while encouraging you to take the necessary steps toward healing.
Focus on Yourself
It is very easy to become consumed by all the negative emotions brought on by the affair. Try instead to spend time doing uplifting things to improve your outlook and to help you to relax.
Take up a new hobby or learn a new skill. Get out and about in nature and become more physically active - fresh air and exercise are good for your body and they help to improve your mood, too. Try to set aside time for doing something just for you, just because you deserve it.
Reach Out for Support
Whether we like it or not, the fact is that infidelity is not a rare occurrence. There are others out there who have cheated and who have been cheated on. Consider joining a support group of persons who are also trying to move beyond the effects of cheating.
You may discover ways others have used to help them cope and move on with their lives. There may also be the satisfaction of knowing that by sharing your own story you are helping someone else to heal.
Advice for The Involved Partner
Rebuilding broken trust is one of the main issues facing couples who decide to move on together after an affair. Much of the work in this regard falls to the partner who was involved in the affair, and it all begins with taking responsibility for what you have done and the hurt it has caused.
Own Up to Your Actions
The partner who has been unfaithful must own up to their actions and come clean about them. Casting blame on anyone else (your partner or the person you had the affair with, for instance) means you are unwilling to accept that you were at fault.
You must come to realize that no matter the state of your relationship before the affair, you are the one who made that fateful decision to cheat and acted on it. Once you accept responsibility, you will be able to look honestly at why you cheated and the repercussions it has caused.
Listen to Your Partner
You must allow your partner to talk about how the affair has affected them. You will have to really listen to what they are saying in order to fully grasp how hurt your partner is by the affair. Expect anger, disappointment, bewilderment, and an urgent need to know "why" the affair happened.
If your partner says they need time on their own to process what has happened, listen to that, too, and give them some space for a while. You can reassure them that you are willing to wait and to begin working on repairing the relationship whenever they are ready.
Apologize for The Pain You Caused
The next step for the involved partner in getting over an affair is to apologize and you should expect that you will have to do this more than once. Your apology should be heartfelt, thoughtful and clearly state all that you are apologizing for. It should include specific apologies for the ways your partner has told you they were affected by the affair.
It may help to write down your apology so that you can reread and rework it to ensure it says what you really want to say. Along with the apology, ensure that your spouse knows that you are grateful to them for even considering staying in the relationship. After all, it is up to them whether you survive the affair as a couple.
Make A Clean Break
Ending the affair is not usually enough. You will need to end all contact with the person you had the affair with. Let them know it is over and let them know why - that you have revealed the affair to your partner and you are focusing on rebuilding a committed relationship with them.
If your affair was with a coworker, you should ensure that any interaction with them from now on is only for business. Two options worth considering (and which will help to put your partner's mind at ease) are getting a transfer or getting a new job to limit or eliminate contact with your paramour.
Importantly, you must share with your partner the details of the steps you have taken to completely sever ties with the persons you cheated on them with.
Show You Have Nothing More to Hide
Honestly answer any questions your partner asks about the affair without delving into explicit sexual details. They need these answers as a part of their own healing process. Being truthful and open about what happened will also do you a world of good by helping to relieve you of the burden of secrecy.
You may have to give up some of your privacy in order to show your partner that your sneaking around days are behind you. You can volunteer to share passwords to your phone, computer, and social media accounts; always tell your partner where you will be going and with whom; and ensure that you always answer your phone when it rings in their presence.
How to Strengthen Your Relationship After an Affair
Take The Time to Reconnect
The connection you had with each other which grew into the committed relationship you shared will have to be restored - and it will take time. Set aside time for just the two of you when you can both focus solely on each other. Share your expectations with each other in a non-confrontational way. During this time the person who had the affair must emphasize that they are ready to fully recommit to and save the relationship no matter what it takes.
Discuss your hopes for how the relationship will grow after this setback and how each of you can contribute to that growth. Be open, honest and unafraid of letting your vulnerabilities show. Eye contact is important here as it helps to show you are not holding anything back.
When it comes to reconnecting physically after an affair, the unfaithful partner will have to dedicate themselves to reassuring their partner that he or she is their number one priority. Insisting on intimacy might send the wrong message, so you will have to let the uninvolved partner set the pace.
If you are in the midst of coming to terms with infidelity's impact on you and your relationship, sessions with a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) can help. The therapist provides a safe place for both of you to examine the reasons behind the affair, the effects it has had on your relationship, and the gamut of emotions you are feeling.
They can guide you both through the grieving process and provide encouragement as you pursue ways to rebuild trust and reconnect with each other emotionally and physically. Apart from suggesting coping strategies for dealing with negative emotions, a trained therapist can also introduce you to various techniques to make you a better listener or better able to articulate to your partner what you are feeling.
Couples counseling is the preferred approach but you may opt for individual counseling if you feel that is what is best for you or if your partner is resistant to attending sessions with the therapist. The relationship will benefit either way. Plus, if you have children who are showing signs of being affected by the affair, family therapy is also an option to consider. You can click here for help locating a therapist who is ready, willing and trained to help.
After making it through all the stages of the healing process, a final step is to let go. Letting go for the person who was cheated on means that even though you will never be able to forget what happened, you have found the capacity to forgive your partner. For the person who cheated, letting go may mean not allowing yourself to be forever burdened by guilt.
As a couple, you will need to let go of the past and embrace the present strides you are making in strengthening your relationship. This is when you will be able to once again focus on your future together with clarity and a good measure of certainty.
Letting go allows you to get to the point where your relationship feels strong again and perhaps even stronger than it was before.
Everyone (both cheaters and those cheated on) works through the effects of an affair in their own way. The one inescapable fact for all is, perhaps, that it will take time. Couples who decide to stick together after an affair can never be sure of how their relationship will turn out in the long run - they simply have to work at it and have faith in it.
If you feel your relationship is worth fighting for, then don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist for professional help and guidance. It is very possible for something good to come from the affair - the growth of your commitment to each other.