Infidelity is one of the most common crises a relationship can face and is often a traumatizing event for all involved. Affairs often invoke feelings of betrayal, anger, shame, and distrust. Many feel the damage caused is irrevocable and permanent. However, with every pain in life there is always a source of healing and recovery. With proper tools and support, your relationship can be stronger, healthier, and more honest moving forward. Infidelity does not have to be a death sentence to a relationship if approached with maturity and active effort.
Affairs, just like relationships, are all unique and there is not a standard template for how they develop or end. Anyone in relationships, from strong and healthy to highly conflictual, can experience infidelity. There is no one-size-fits-all rule for how they start, but there are safeguards to help protect and restore relationships after they end.
Here are my top tips for infidelity recovery:
Self-Care: Regardless of if you decide to stay with your partner or leave, the most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself. This is a time when you need to make sure you are taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. Take time to exercise, eat healthy, surround yourself with good people, meditate, and do things that you see as fun. Whenever life throws a curve ball, it is time to slow down and focus on taking care of yourself. I recommend doubling up on self-care activities any time after a major crisis.
Don’t Make Any Sudden Changes: Many to go into fight or flight mode when they are faced with the uncovering of infidelity. I urge both partners to take time to be still before making any changes that may appear permanent. Don’t be quick to change the locks, bank accounts, and create custody agreements. Really examine the potential for growth and healing in the recovery of your relationship and for yourself.
Time: Give yourself, your partner, and your relationship time. Healing is not an overnight process. Take the time to relearn and grow. I recommend reevaluating circumstances every 90 days.
Communicate and Access Professional Help: This is the time to discuss what you want and understand what your partner wants. Every relationship enters power struggles where good communication is typically the first to go. Sometimes we don’t know what we want or need due to unconscious blockages. Even the best communicators lose their skills when in crisis. A good therapist can help you and your partner navigate your wants and needs in a healthy way. Remember, therapists are not one-size-fits-all. Do your research to find the right professional for you as you navigate this new space.
Renegotiate the Relationship: The only thing constant in this world is change. A lot of people enter relationships with the assumption that a good relationship happens naturally, that the agreements (said and unsaid) today will be the agreements of tomorrow, and conflict is a sign that the relationship is broken. The reality is that all relationships are going to face conflict, have cracks, need to be renegotiated, and even meet dealbreakers. Agreements and safeguards need to be discussed on a regular basis.
Things to negotiate: Is it time to think about non-monogamy? If monogamy is a desire of all parties, what are the safeguards that need to be put in place to make sure this happens? What are the consequences if such an action were to happen again? What are the repairs that must happen on both parts?
Repair cannot be done by one partner alone; it has to be collaborative. Know that with work and time your relationship can be even stronger than before.
Renée BurwellLCSW, MPA, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
She holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology from Spelman College, a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California, a Post Graduate Certificate in Sex Therapy and Education from the University of Michigan, and is AASECT certified as a sex therapist.