Victims of infidelity can feel like being on an emotional roller coaster. Most couples caught up in the tragedy of an affair tell me that they’ve never felt such intense emotions.
For instance, many betrayed partners ruminate about the infidelity and ask, “How could my partner do this to me?” or “I have so much anger and resentment that it scares me. I can never trust them again.”
On the other hand, the wayward partner often says, “I used to beg my partner for more attention and I get that from my lover. I’m not sure my spouse will ever trust me again, no matter what I do to prove myself.”
Learning to trust again
Learning to trust again after betrayal is a slow process and extremely challenging. That said, there is reason to be hopeful under certain conditions. However, both partners must first accept that they each have work to do to recover from the pain.
In “The Science of Trust” Dr. John Gottman explains that restoring trust is an action rather than a belief. It’s more about what your partner does than what they say. According to Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, author of “Healing from Infidelity,” and Dr. Gottman, both partners must follow certain crucial steps to get past mistrust and resentment after betrayal.
The Tasks of the Betrayer
The unfaithful partner must:
- Be honest, use full disclosure about the affair, and find a way to atone or express remorse
- Deal with the traumatic feelings after the discovery and be willing to ask and answer questions
- Must end the affair
- Be willing to apologize for cheating in a sincere way and promise not to repeat it
Additionally, if you are the betrayer, you must focus on transparency and restoring your partner’s faith in you. This might range from daily check-ins to reassuring them by saying things like “I love you and I won’t cheat again. I don’t want to lose you.”
If you are a betrayer, ask yourself: what can I do to restore my partner’s trust? This might mean apologizing often or giving details about the betrayal. Most of all, you must demonstrate empathy by saying things like “I get it. I understand why you would feel this way. If I were in your position, I would struggle as well.”
The Tasks of the Betrayed Partner
The partner who is betrayed must remember to be kind to themselves, especially when they’re having a bad day and ruminating about their partner’s infidelity. For instance, you could be cleaning out your closet and see the shirt that you wore when you found out about the betrayal and suddenly go into a tailspin. During these times, try to remember that recovering from the trauma of betrayal takes time and it’s fraught with inevitable ups and downs.
Also, the betrayed partner should:
- Express your feelings to your spouse, but be sure to avoid accusations. Try to use “I” messages such as, “I feel deeply hurt by your actions and I’m not sure I can ever trust you again.”
- Avoid rehashing all of the events around the affair. Marathon talk sessions about it may deepen the wounds.
- Find a way to forgive or at least accept their partner’s actions and work towards forgiveness.
Lastly, remember that whatever you think or feel after experiencing your partner’s infidelity is normal, according to Weiner-Davis. She says, “In some ways finding out about infidelity feels like learning about the death of a loved one. You are in shock. And you are grieving the loss of the dream you treasured of a loving marriage to a faithful partner. The lies, the deceit, the betrayal, all go a long way to destroy trust and hope.”
Tasks for Both Partners
- Both partners need to talk about intense feelings respectfully without blame, judgment, criticism, and contempt.
- Partners need to find a way to connect emotionally and sexually or attach by risking more physical intimacy. Dr. Gottman explains, “Without the presence of sexual intimacy, that is pleasurable to both, the relationship can’t begin again.”
- They also need to be more attuned and to spend regular time together. This includes rituals of connection such as daily walks or eating meals without screens.
Ways to Move Ahead with Self-Compassion
Many of the spouses that I’ve talked to who have endured the trauma of infidelity have benefitted from a self-care routine that is consistent and soothing. Everyone’s ideas about this are different but usually include taking care of your body and some form of mindfulness practice such as meditation or yoga.
Further, recovering from an affair always takes the expertise of a trained therapist and a willingness to express hurt feelings in a safe setting that can facilitate healing. Find a specialist trained in the Gottman Method near you.
Has your relationship experienced a sexual or emotional affair? The Gottman Institute is currently seeking couples for an international study on affair recovery. For more information, please click here.