Trust is an important element in any relationship, so when that trust is broken after an affair it can be a long and painful journey to get back to the same place.
Trust is the main element of any happy relationship, according to research conducted by Dr. Terri Orbuch, a relationships expert and professor at Oakland University. Dr. Orbuch observed more than 300 couples for over 30 years and found that 92% of the men and 96% of the women all wanted one key thing in a relationship: to feel that their partner would never hurt or deceive them.
Affair recovery will look different for every couple and some relationships can survive an affair, but it’s how you approach the recovery stages that matter and whether you can forgive them and get back to a place of trust.
Whether you decide to stay with your partner or not, there are six key infidelity recovery stages you will go through. From the initial emotional shock, learning how to communicate in a new way, to moving forward with a new life together (if you decide to do so).
There’s no set timeline or detailed map on how to get over an affair, but there are certain stages of healing after infidelity. We explore the six infidelity recovery stages below.
When you first find out about your partner's affair there will, of course, be a mixed bag of emotions, like anger, betrayal, and confusion to name a few. But normally the betrayal is much worse when your partner has made you feel your instincts weren’t right originally.
“Most people aren’t completely blind-sighted by an affair, and they’ll have a feeling that something is off,” says couples therapist Sally Baker. “Normally you'll realize that your intuition was right and you’ll feel even more betrayed.”
However, she goes on to say, “If you can get through these emotions to a point of anger then you’re on the right path — as anger has a lot more traction than despair.”
But Baker says all your responses and emotions are valid, so you need to ride the wave of emotion and not make any rash decisions that you may regret later.
When you’ve found out about an affair it’s normal to mourn the life you had before. Your world has been turned upside down and the future you were planning with your partner might feel like it’s hanging in the balance.
“Your plan A, your fantasy or romantic vision for your relationship has been taken away from you. It’s never anyone’s plan A to be betrayed, or for your relationship to change so rapidly,” explains Baker, “That loss of vision, of your romantic notion, is very painful, because we’ve all been raised on this perfect romantic notion.”
It’s important to go through this phase and give yourself time to understand how and why you’re feeling like this.
Once you’ve dealt with the emotions associated with the affair and you’re healing from infidelity, it's important to communicate with your partner — but it needs to be at the right time and in the right way.
“If you’re going to have discussions it has to be non-judgemental and you have to ask open questions. You also need to be sober and feel as though you’re in a safe environment,” Baker says.
Baker also advises having conversations while on a walk. “There is something about the meditative quality of walking for difficult conversations. Women function better face to face conversations but men find this much harder and are better at talking when they are side by side. So if you’re going to have this difficult conversation walk side by side — then when you ask them an open question it’s less threatening for them.”
Understanding why the affair happened is important if you want your relationship to move forward, for both you and your partner.
Infidelity isn’t always back and white, and it could have arisen because of pressure you were both putting on each other, or a sign of unhappiness on one or both sides of the relationship.
“When you’ve been cheated on you have a certain level of moral high ground, as you’ll feel like you’ve been wronged,” explains Baker, “but at some point, you’ll have to come down from the moral high ground as you can’t start to reconnect or have any chance of taking the relationship forward if you don’t — so you have to be willing to meet in the middle and forgive — to a degree.”
As we already know trust is a really important part of a relationship, so it’s really important to rebuild this trust if you want to reconnect.
“This was a commitment you’ve both made, and somewhere along the lines you’ve lost your way — but what you need to figure out is if there is a way back to the point,” explains Baker.
“The level that you trust someone is about the depths of your ability to be vulnerable with them, so it’s going to take some time.”
Baker goes on to say there isn’t a time scale for getting over infidelity, as it's different for all of us, but learning to trust each other again is one of the first steps to rebuilding your relationship.
Looking to the future can seem daunting when you’ve been through an affair with your partner, but there becomes a point where you have to decide whether you’re able to move forward with your relationship or not.
Baker advises couples therapy, as a therapist could give you a different perspective on your relationship. “The therapist will be able to see the state of your relationship much quicker than you probably will — because you’re in it and you’ve got kids and bills and jobs — you’ve lost track of the primary core reasons of why you got together, so this could be the opportunity to rediscover this.”
Healing from infidelity can be a long road to recovery, but your relationship doesn’t have to end because your partner cheated. Everyone will handle a partner cheating differently, but if you can both work to rebuild mutual trust there is no reason why your relationship can’t get over an affair.