It used to be that sexual infidelity, once discovered, had just one outcome: the marriage ended. But recently experts have been looking at infidelity in a different way.
The noted therapist, Dr Esther Perel has published a ground-breaking book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. There is now a whole new way of looking at infidelity, one that says that couples can take this difficult moment and use it to propel their marriage into a whole new relationship.
If you and your partner wish to move forward with healing from infidelity, here is a treatment plan to help you open up the second chapter of love, passion, trust and honesty in your marriage.
Enlist the help of a qualified marriage counselor
It may be of great help to you and your partner to unpack the before, during and after of the affair under the guidance of a marriage counselor.
This person will help facilitate the painful discussions that you are going to have as you explore what this affair means in the context of your life. If you are reluctant to consult a therapist, there are plenty of books available that can serve as supporting materials for your conversations with your spouse.
Step one. The affair must end
The person having the affair must end the affair immediately. The philanderer must cut things off, preferably by a phone call, email or text.
It is not a good idea for them to go speak to the third party by themselves, no matter how much they will try and convince you that it is only fair, they don’t want to hurt the third party, etc etc. Guess what?
They don’t get a choice in how this goes, because they have already caused enough hurt.
The risk that the third party will try and seduce the philanderer back into the relationship will be high, and the philanderer may be feeling weak and succumb. The affair should be ended with a phone call, email, of text. No discussion. All ties must be cut; this is not a situation where “we can just stay friends” is a viable option.
If you know the third party, i.e., she is part of your circle of friends or colleagues, you may have to move to get her out of your lives.
A commitment to honesty
The philanderer must commit to being completely honest about the affair and willing to answer all of the spouse’s questions.
There is a need for this transparency, as your spouse’s imagination may be running rampant and she needs the concrete details to quiet her mind (even if they are going to hurt her, which they will).
The philanderer will have to deal with these questions coming up again and again, maybe even years later.
Sorry, but this is the price to pay for the infidelity and the healing you wish to take place.
The philanderer may have to accept that his spouse will want access to his email accounts, texts, messages for a time. Yes, it seems petty and juvenile, but if you want to rebuild trust, this is part of the treatment plan.
A commitment to honest communication about what led to the affair
This is going to be at the heart of your discussions.
The why of stepping out of the marriage is important to know so that you can rebuild a new marriage addressing this weak spot.
Was it merely a question of boredom? Have you fallen out of love? Is there unexpressed anger in your relationship? Was the philanderer seduced? If so, why was he unable to say no to the third party? Have you been ignoring each other’s emotional and physical needs? How’s your sense of connection?
As you discuss your reasons, be thinking about ways you can improve these areas of discontent.
This is a situation where the philanderer does not get to point the finger at the spouse or accuse them of being the reason they strayed.
Healing can only occur if the philanderer apologizes for the pain and sorrow they have inflicted on their spouse. They will need to apologize, again and again, each time the spouse expresses how hurt she is.
This is not a moment for the philanderer to say “I’ve already said I’m sorry a thousand times!”. If they have to say it 1,001 times, that’s the path towards healing.
For the betrayed spouse
Discuss the affair from a place of hurt, not a place of anger.
It is perfectly legitimate to be angry at your straying spouse. And you will be, certainly in the initial days after the discovery of the affair. But as time goes on, your discussions will be more helpful and healing if you approach them as a hurt person, and not as an angry person.
Your anger, if continually expressed, will only serve to put your partner on the defensive and not pull any empathy out of him.
But your hurt and pain will allow him to offer his apologies and comfort towards you, which is much more effective at helping you cross over this difficult moment in your marriage.
Rebuilding self-esteem for the betrayed spouse
You are hurt and questioning your desirability.
In order to reclaim a new chapter in your marriage, you will need to rebuild your self-esteem that has taken a hit by your spouse’s actions.
To do this, practice clear and intelligent thinking despite the strong emotions you are now feeling.
Believe that your marriage is worth saving and that you are worth the love your spouse wants to reignite with you. Know that you will recover, even if it takes time and that there will be difficult moments.
Identify what you want your new marriage to look like
You don’t want to just stay married. You want to have a marriage that is happy, meaningful, and joyful.
Talk about your priorities, how you can achieve these, and what needs to change in order to have a fantastic second chapter in your married life.