You’ve decided to salvage your marriage after an affair. It’s not going to be easy to sift through the wreckage and there will be no quick fixes. Re-establishing trust after a monumental transgression is grueling, but with grit and determination you can rebuild. The saying, “What you have done, you will do again,” in the context of infidelity means: once a cheater always a cheater. I reject that belief, having one affair is not the same as being a serial cheater.
Of course you don’t have a guarantee that your partner will never cheat again, but you never had a guarantee to begin with. No human is above falling. If you were the faithful spouse, it is crucial you understand the infidelity wasn’t your fault. You are not responsible for your spouse’s actions and poor decisions. There is no magic recipe for healing, but these twelve steps can be instrumental in the process of rebuilding.
- Forgiveness– There is nothing fair about forgiveness; it is a costly gift the betrayed spouse offers to the unfaithful one. Healing will take time and you will most likely need the assistance of a counselor. Therapy can help you flesh out the affair narrative and get you the answers you need to move forward in order to forgive.
- Recommitment– Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship. The higher the commitment level, the more likely you will be to stay together when the storm winds blow. Trust can be re-established, love can be revived, but once you throw in the commitment towel, the relationship is essentially dead.
- Affair Termination– If the primary relationship is to survive, the affair must be terminated abruptly. No explanation is needed. If you work closely with the affair partner, transfer to another department or change jobs altogether. Block rather than delete phone numbers and email addresses.
- Disclosure– As a therapist, I advocate for full disclosure of the affair so the faithful partner can make informed decisions, such as seeing a doctor for STD testing. A word of caution however, you will need to balance your partner’s full disclosure with your ability to cope once the specifics come out. Any communication from the affair partner should be divulged to your spouse immediately.
- Secrets– Affairs thrive in secrets and marriages thrive in transparency. When all secrets are on the table, you know who and what you are up against and you are better able to move forward in the healing process. Sharing social media accounts and passcodes for phones, iPads and bank accounts assists in recovering trust. Agree to never change the passwords without consulting with the other partner.
- Remembrance– Emerson Eggerichs introduces the 80:20 ratio in his book Love and Respect. This concept says that 80 percent of the marriage can be categorized as good or great while 20 percent is troubling. Many times (pre-affair) couples are focused on everything wrong with each other. As you pursue healing, make a conscious decision to remember the good, get the derailed back on track, forgive the flaws and make new memories.
- Romance– You can sabotage your marriage by spending more time on the things that annoy you. In doing so, you water the weeds and strangle the romance. If you want your reconstruction efforts to be fruitful you will have to make a deliberate choice to revive the passion through flirting, laughing, kissing, and when going on dates- staying off the cell phones.
- Counseling– Attending weekly sessions will provide you both with the support you need in order to re-launch a better than ever marriage. It also provides a safe place to voice your opinions and concerns about the affair while examining the causes of the unfaithfulness.
- Partnership– Marriage is a partnership, which means one person does not hold too much or all of the power. Both parties should contribute meaningfully to the relationship while respecting each other’s contributions.
- Grief– One of the best gifts you can give to yourself is permission to grieve the death of your marriage as it was. Set up a support system of friends who will allow you to lament freely. Journaling can provide the outlet to express intense emotions so you do not grow bitter. Whatever you do, stay with your grief work for as long as it takes. There are simply no short cuts.
- Boundaries– Trust can be re-established, but getting there will take time, patience and boundaries. Explore those boundaries together so both of you are clear on what you are expecting. If you were the unfaithful spouse, engage a friend or pastor as an accountability partner; your spouse cannot police all of your actions. Finally, commit to a new and higher standard of sexual conduct.
- Bonding Time– Initiate a nightly routine of “pillow talk” before going to sleep. This is a good opportunity to strengthen your emotional bond as you recount the day, talk about future plans, pray, or read a devotional together.