6 Steps To Help Move Past Infidelity
Evan was a happily married professor whose students often came to office hours asking for advice and recommendations for graduate work. With two kids and no intention of straying from his marriage, he certainly considered it unethical to have a relationship with a student.
But his resolve slipped with a woman, not his student, who made an appointment to explore grad school options in the department. She was at a crossroads, recently divorced and looking for ways to increase her income. Perhaps it was the combination of her neediness and her looks that led Evan to accept her first invitation for coffee.
Their affair had gone on for a month when his wife, Kelly, found a telltale text. The affair hurt her to the core, and Evan felt awful. He came to me for advice on repairing the breach he’d created.
I wanted to speak separately to each of them. Broadsided when she found the text, Kelly would have packed up and left if it weren’t for the children, ages five and nine. Having taken time out from her career to stay at home while the children were young, she didn’t have an income at the moment. And Evan’s pleading and remorse suggested that leaving might be throwing away her marriage just to salve her devastated pride.
Is rebuilding trust in your marriage possible after betrayal? The answer, as I told Evan and Kelly, is YES. Here are the six steps couples can take to successfully move past infidelity:
1. The offender needs to come completely clean and purge every remnant of the affair and every connection with the paramour.
That means cutting off all lines of communication with the source of betrayal, whether that’s an individual, prostitutes, pornography, or some other temptation.
2. The guilty spouse needs to show remorse and affirm his commitment to the marriage.
He must admit wrongdoing and humbly accept any emotions his spouse expresses.
3. You should wait.
The initial wound is so deep that it disables rational decision-making, and most experts say to wait months before deciding to end the marriage, even if the urge is to flee immediately. You may want to avoid talking about the affair during this waiting period, allowing emotions to cool, or you may wish to talk.
4. When the initial trauma subsides, talk it through.
If the marriage is to survive, the partners need to be direct in asking and answering questions about the betrayal. Be aware that some lines of inquiry might exacerbate pain rather than resolve it. But if the wounded spouse requires information, it is pertinent.
5. Build transparency into the marriage.
To reconstruct trust, the unfaithful party (and ideally both partners) must not just be honest, but transparent. Honesty is what couples expect when their relationships maintain their original high level of trust. Honesty is simply describing events and feelings completely and accurately. Once that has been violated, something more is needed.
Transparency allows the hurt partner, if she chooses, to corroborate her spouse’s assertions. For example, an errant husband could give his wife passwords and access to his cell phone, calendar, and credit card purchases. More important than her actually checking these sources is the offender’s willingness to open up every corner of his communication, time, and expenditures. Her ability to spot-check at will allows her to rebuild confidence in her partner’s truthfulness.
For Evan, the repairs really began when he started incorporating phone calls to Kelly throughout his day. When he got to work, he’d phone. When he left his office to head to class, another call. After class, a third call, and before coming home, another phone call. Evan volunteered to touch base with Kelly like this to prove that he cared enough to connect, to reassure her that she was his first priority, and to confirm that he wasn’t where he shouldn’t be. These calls became part of his wife’s and his daily routines. Even if all he said in one of these calls was, “This morning I read two journal articles and prepared for my afternoon class,” connection to Kelly shaped Evan’s day. With a quick “Hey, Kel, how was your yoga class?” he showed that he remembered his wife’s schedule and cared about her life.
6. At some point—perhaps after the marriage regains its equilibrium— the couple needs to address the problems in the relationship and in the straying individual that led to the betrayal.
This is best done with a therapist or a support network. Sorting through deeper problems is not a do-it-yourself project.
Evan and Kelly worked through their feelings about the affair in counseling. Confirming honesty was essential. Evan’s stealth and the violation of trust had hurt Kelly. But before this lapse, the relationship was solid, and since deception wasn’t an ingrained pattern, rebuilding was easier.
This article was excerpted from Diane Medved’s new book Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage, available now.