I get a lot of emails asking for advice on “working things out after an affair or cheating.” This is a pretty loaded phrase. Many of the people asking for this advice really want help with a wide range of issues. They want to know how to demand that the affair stop immediately. They want to know how to make sure that the affair is really over. They want to know how to restore the trust and communication. They’re asking me how to work through the awkwardness and pain that is the big elephant in the center of the room. Basically, they just want steps to begin feeling better and moving forward. I’ll try to offer this in the following article.
What Must Happen Before You Can Begin Working Things Out After Cheating Or An Affair: There are some things which must occur to free you up to focus on rebuilding. You can’t do this if you’re worrying that the cheating is still going on or if you know that you must still watch your spouse like a hawk. So, you must make very clear that you will not tolerate any additional contact with the person with whom he cheated (or cheating with any one else in the future.) And, he must be willing to prove that this is the case by giving you full access to whatever you need to give you piece of mind. I understand that much of the time, the cheating happens at work and in this economy, you can’t ask your spouse to just up and quit his or her job. But, he can request a transfer or only communicate via email and fax as much as he can. He must welcome your dropping into the office and make it very clear that he’s remorseful and is committed to fixing his marriage. (I’m using the pronoun “he” here for convenience, but this goes for whichever spouse cheated.)
Once The Foundation Is Built, Get To Work: Once you know for sure that your spouse is no longer cheating and is committing to working through the aftermath of the affair, then you have to make your own commitment that you are willing to do what needs to be done to restore the intimacy and trust. This is a huge leap of faith and a lot to ask, I know. It’s very scary to think that he / she may cheat again or that you’re going to leave yourself vulnerable and the marriage may end up falling apart in the end anyway.
These fears must just propel you forward to work harder to ensure that these things don’t actually happen. In order to become truly intimate and closely bonded again, you will have to be vulnerable and open again. If you hold back, you’re only going to get a certain percentage of what the marriage could really be. And this small percentage is likely going to be fulfilling enough to make you truly happy. That doesn’t mean that you have to say you are ready to move on when you aren’t. Take all the time that you need and don’t feel rushed and pressured. The healing process often doesn’t follow a logical path or can’t be given a time frame. Explain to your spouse that if you take some steps backward it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them or aren’t committed, it just means that you’re healing and some struggles just go hand in hand with healing. In truth, your spouse has dealt you a difficult blow and they must show you some patience as you come through this.
Defining Exactly What You Need (Even If You Actually Need To Provide Some Of It For Yourself): Often an affair creates very awkward silences and struggles with conversation. Often, no one wants to really talk about their spouse actually having sex with another person, actually chasing another person, or having intimate connections with someone else. Yet, you are going to have these questions to which you are dying to know the answer. Your spouse knows that these answers will cause you pain and will dig a deeper hole for them so they will naturally want to hold back. Sometimes you’ll read this as a lack of commitment or deception. That’s why it’s so important to keep the communication open even if it’s painful. This must be done to clear up awkward misunderstandings.
Along that same train of thought, you must accept that your spouse can not read your mind. So many people will tell me things like “well, he should know that I need him to do this. It’s just common sense.” Often, this is true for you but not for them. If your spouse were so good at reading the little nuances of feelings or with listening to and communicating needs, would you be here? Often, you will just have to lay it out, very clearly, for them. If you need them to check in, or reassure you, or to include you when they take longer trips, or complement you more, then don’t sell yourself short by keeping quiet. By all means tell them and explain that you’re going to start communicating very specifically so that things improve.
Finally, I have to mention that sometimes to really work through an affair and to fully heal, we have to provide some things for ourselves. There are so often self esteem and self doubt issues that keep us from truly being happy and secure. It’s that nagging little voice that taunts you with things like “face it, you can’t keep a man,” or “know that he’s just going to cheat again,” or “you’re not young and sexy enough anymore.” You must quiet these voices and you must do whatever you have to do to learn that you are more than enough. Whether that means improving your body image, confidence, sexual prowess, or practicing positive self talk, do whatever you need to do because until you do, you will always doubt yourself and this often leads to self sabotage.
I understand that working through an affair can be difficult and painful, but it can be so worth it. I now understand myself, my husband, our marriage, and our intimacy on a much deeper level and I no longer worry that he will cheat again. You can read a very personal story on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com