Last month (linked below) we wrote about how to affair proof your relationship, but what do you do if the affair has already happened? How do you recover and restore from betrayal? If you are in the midst of an affair that your partner is not aware of, we are not going to tell you what action to take. However, we can offer advice about what to do if both partners are aware of the indiscretion and are committed to going through the pain to repair the relationship.
Healing from a physical or emotional affair is hard work and takes a solid commitment from both people. Research has shown it takes a year or more for a relationship to regain steady ground but, if you dive into the pain head first, the relationship can be even stronger than where it began. The reason for the pain is in order for the relationship to heal both partners need to commit to being vulnerable, honest, and open about their fears, hurts, needs, and insecurities. The person who has been betrayed needs the freedom to talk about the situation over and over again. The other person needs to be patient and fight the urge to let the embarrassment come out as anger and frustration.
Ask most people what they most desire in a relationship and they will mention TRUST. Trust is perhaps the key component of a successful, long-term relationship and the equation below explains why.
These two words are really interchangeable. As cops, trusting your colleagues is essential to feeling safe on the job. You need to know whoever has your back will not do anything to jeopardize your life or well-being, your reputation, or your career. An officer who cannot be trusted to join the fray when things go bad, or whose words and actions threaten your professional credibility, can find himself saddled with a bad reputation that is nearly unshakable.
Imagine how unsafe it must feel for someone whose spouse has had an affair. Can they ever trust their spouse's fidelity again? What has happened that they do not know about? Have they been exposed to diseases? Who is this person they thought they knew? Restoring a sense of trust, a sense of safety, to the relationship is going to take a long time. You must commit to however long it takes, and however hard the road is, before trust and safety are restored.
The most obvious, but often neglected, first step in healing from an affair is to end all contact with the "other person" forever. This means no text messages, IMs, phone calls, emails, etc. If you work with this person, know that your partner may have a hard time building back trust in you if your job brings you into contact with that "other person." Often during our week we spend more time with people on the job than we do with family and friends which may feed into your partner's insecurities. Also, when someone has an affair one of the hardest parts of the betrayal is all the visuals the mind creates of you being with the "other person." Continued contact with that person may make the visuals more intense.
A conversation that may need to take place is about how the affair ended, with full disclosure about prior means of contacting the "other person" (pay as you go phone, private email accounts, ect), and that you will be honest if the "other person" continues to pursue you. If you work with the person you will need to discuss what to do about the job. If the relationship is going to succeed your partner needs to know they are more important than your job. If you work for a large agency switching departments or precincts may be an option. If it is smaller, you and your partner may decide you need to work elsewhere. If this is not possible, know you will need to work even harder to rebuild and maintain trust.
Discover the Reason
When most couples enter counseling after an affair, they are surprised when the therapist tells them the affair is a symptom of a greater problem. Begin discovering the dynamic in the relationship that opened one person up to an affair. The reason why a person began to have contact emotionally or physically with another person needs to be examined gently but thoroughly. Affairs do not occur in a vacuum.
However, never place blame on your partner for your indiscretion. There may have been problems in the relationship that contributed to your openness to an affair but they do not excuse the affair.
Promise Full Disclosure
Full disclosure is crucial. The betrayed person is going to have many questions about the affair and what happened, where it happened, why it happened, how it happened, etc. They will probably want to know all the details. Knowing the details hurts; not knowing, and letting the mind fill in the blanks, hurts even more.
If it is you who had the affair, then you must promise full disclosure. Your partner is going to ask questions that make you uncomfortable and whose answers are going to cause them pain. Answer them anyway. Remember, the pain of not knowing is far worse than of knowing. Your partner may also ask the same questions over and over, even though they have heard the answers many times before. Understand that this is normal; some people process information immediately and completely the first time they hear it while others may need repetition to fully assimilate the details. If they need to ask, you need to answer. Becoming angry or impatient with the healing process will only set you back to the beginning.
Consider Outside Counsel
Overcoming an affair may be more than the two of you can handle by yourselves. You may need to swallow your pride and turn to outside counsel, such as a professional therapist, a spiritual leader, or a trusted and successful couple you both know. Seeking the wisdom of others demonstrates the wisdom of self.
Restoring a relationship after a physical or emotional affair takes time and a commitment to honesty, vulnerability, and being willing to go through the pain. Remember that research has shown that if a couple commits to a year of pain the relationship will generally be stronger than where it began. The above tips are not a cure, but a jumping off point. We wish you much success in restoring what was almost lost.