Infidelity does not have to mean the end of a marriage. While an affair is a major crisis in a marriage, many couples stay together after an affair. If you stay together but don't doing the work to heal individually and together, the marriage may continue but never recover.
Real recovery means that intimacy and trust are restored, and the couple thrives again, stronger and better than before the crisis of the affair. Here are my top three ways that marriages can meaningfully recover from infidelity. They must be prioritized in the days, weeks, and months after the affair. If each person takes full responsibility for their part in doing so, slowly but surely you'll experience a restoration of hope that the marriage can not only be saved, but improved.
Restore trust: This comes first. An affair is a crisis of trust and faith. For you, marriage was synonymous with fidelity, right? In order to lay the groundwork for anything else to become possible, trust must be restored and prioritized. Often times, the restoration of trust is required on BOTH sides. The person who had the affair must do their part to remain transparent, accountable for their behaviors and whereabouts, hold space and tolerance for the fears and emotions of their hurt spouse, and be as consistent as humanly possible. Expect a wide range of outbursts from your hurt spouse. They may fluctuate between suspicion and questioning, to tremendous grief, to angry outbursts. Hang tight, say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you've promised to regain your status as an honest and forthcoming person without secrets or agenda from this point forward. Many people are surprised that I also identify what kind of trust the spouse who had the affair needs to build back, too. They may need to trust that their spouse will make changes, too. Sometimes they need to trust that their spouse will refrain from certain behaviors or bad patterns that shook their faith in their spouse and played a role in driving them to step out of their marriage in the first place. Consistency is key. Trust building will take time. We want to see that our spouse will continue to behave in ways that are aligned, congruent, and true to their word, so that we can begin to believe that things can be better and different. 2. Explore the weaknesses in your marriage: Your first marriage together is over -- the one that ended in infidelity. is over. You are now standing on the precipice of the possibility of a new marriage with two partners who have been irrevocably changed. This is fertile ground for everything both partners actually experienced in their marriage with each other, and within themselves in the marriage. I previously wrote a helpful post about it here. Use the questions to guide conversations about how you each contributed to how your marriage ended up here. Take time and space to reflect individually about your personal areas of growth, your desires for yourself and from your partnership, and, step by step, work to establish a new relationship that meaningfully addresses the previous issues. There are also a number of helpful books you can use with your partner, such as The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity or No More Fighting: 20 Minutes A Week to A Stronger Relationship. Another insightful read (or Audible Listen) is "This Is How Your Marriage Ends".
3. Stay hopeful, stay committed, and stay patient: This may seem obvious, but post-affair recovery is hard work that can be discouraging when there aren't early signs of hope and progress. Often it takes a long time for the pain and anger to shift into neutral, then into something viable. Often times it's a wild rollercoaster ride, swinging one minute from feeling absolutely impossible that you'll ever recover, to the next there being some peace and a small win between the two of you. If you shattered a bone in your body it would take time to heal. It would take a lot of care, intervention, and intentional treatment. The healing may also include physical therapy and ongoing changes to how to live your life to accommodate the process of recovery. The same is true for a shattered marriage that's trying to recover and heal. You have to commit to the marriage healing process with the same thoughtful care you would a shattered bone. You have to believe that what you're doing is what's needed. You have to stay the course, forgive yourself any mis-steps, and get back to the treatment plan. One day, you'll be walking again without a limp, and you'll be even stronger for it.
When people ask me, "can a marriage recover from an affair?" My answer is "it depends." It depends on whether the couple is ready to do the work. Whether they're serious and on board with restoring trust, opening the lines of communication, getting vulnerable, and sitting with some uncomfortable truths. Whether they're open to changing in ways they might have been resistant to, and whether they're willing to give up certain things to gain other things.
I never know whether a couple will meaningfully recover. It isn't up to me. Rather, it's up to the two people in that marriage. But with knowledgeable guidance and intervention, the possibility of turning an affair into an opportunity for a new, better marriage exists.
Lauren provides boots-on-the-ground lived experience combined with invaluable professional expertise working with infidelity. She is committed to helping individuals and couples deal with and heal from marital affairs in a highly effective, yet warm and judgment-free style.
Lauren's articles help share much-needed information, and reduce the stigma and shame around the common experience of infidelity. Contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about working together.