Most of my calls about infidelity are from husbands who have been discovered cheating on their wives. While the circumstances of the extramarital relationship vary considerably– ranging from single moments of indiscretion to multi-year affairs with a friend of the family– the call for help is the same. If you are in a similar situation, this likely describes your circumstances as well.
Typically, the affair has been discovered by accident, not intentionally revealed. Perhaps you left your phone unlocked, or your computer unattended and logged in. Your wife stumbles on the truth and is devastated.
You have likely been up all night for a few days listening to your wife cycle through disbelief, rage, and deep hurt. Maybe you’ve been cycling between panic, denial, and an earnest effort to convince her that things are not as bad as they seem.
The one truth you see crystal clear is this: despite your undeniable betrayal by cheating, you want her to understand that you never meant to end the marriage.
Despite how dire things feel, I can reassure you that this doesn’t have to be the end. In my many years of clinical experience working with couples, I have noticed a common path for couples who are able to recover from cheating and infidelity.
Step 1: Have faith in your marriage and your partner
There is no denying that cheating is a serious moment in your marriage, but it does not have to be the end. I have helped hundreds of couples move through the crisis of infidelity and emerge more deeply intimate and happier in their marriage than they have ever been. When that happens, it is the direct result of the couple’s willingness to face the issues between them that have gone unexamined head-on, with courage.
As you find your way through this early crisis, it is critical that you maintain faith in your partner and your marriage. It will be challenging, but with the strength of your commitment and help from a professional, you can overcome this challenge.
Step 2: Honor her feelings and give her time to express them
In the beginning, the fallout from cheating or infidelity will be an all-consuming experience. It is important to create enough space and time to talk about what happened. In these early days, it is your wife’s need to come to grips with what happened that will dominate the conversation.
Your own inclination might be to be defensive, or to deny, minimize or explain away the affair. If your relationship with your partner has been challenging for a while, you may even feel the inclination to explain how she is to blame.
Here is my advice: Don’t.
Now is not the time for those discussions. The full story will emerge through therapy, but right now her confidence in you is in crisis. Her world is shattered and she needs to be heard.
Step 3: Come to Couple’s therapy
As the first few days of the crisis pass, the inevitable question becomes: what do we do now?
This is not a question that most couples can navigate effectively on their own. A couple’s therapist is a necessary third party for the kind of healing that is required after infidelity. As such, focus on scheduling couple’s therapy. Your wife may be eager to come, or she may be too angry at first, feeling convinced that there is nothing to save. If this is the case, share with her that you understand how badly you injured her and that you want to give her an environment where you both can talk about what really happened with someone who can guide you through it.
A good couple’s therapist can help you stabilize, explore, and ultimately heal your relationship.
Step 4: Trust the process
If you’ve never been in therapy before, you may not know what to expect. The first order of business will be to rebuild trust, so that we are able to explore the root causes of your infidelity. Both of these can make you feel vulnerable and emotional.
In therapy, everyone’s feelings and experiences matter. Through our work together we will discover why the infidelity happened and how to create a healthier, more stable relationship on the other side. The process will be revealing; you may be surprised by the truth that comes out.
These conversations, though sometimes uncomfortable will strengthen your relationship so that it can not only withstand this crisis but also create deeper intimacy for years to come.
Trust the process, it is worth it.
Step 5: Heal and be healed.
Problems in a marriage, including infidelity, don’t come from nowhere. When the intimacy and trust in a relationship is strong enough, this kind of betrayal doesn’t occur. Infidelity occurs in the presence of preexisting distance and disengagement. In therapy, we will discover these truths about your marriage and how you and your wife can forge a deeper connection than ever.
The purpose of couple’s therapy is not to “get things back to the way they were”. It is, instead, to create more a deeply rooted, happier, and more intimate relationship than you have ever had before.
Don’t try to do this alone.
Reach out today for support. You can contact me here.