There are plenty of compelling reasons not to divorce after infidelity and reasons not to separate in a broader sense. These can range from practical considerations (like quality of life and how divorcing or breaking up might impact any children) to equally legitimate, emotional-driven reasons (like each partner’s happiness).
Ultimately, couples want to know: can a relationship work after cheating occurs? In short, yes. Affair recovery therapy provides a strengths-based framework to help both partners better understand and heal their emotional wounds, rebuild trust and intimacy, and develop strategies for getting the relationship back on track, all of which can be incredibly difficult due to the emotional rollercoaster that is the aftermath of an affair.
If you’re reading this, you probably have a lot of questions. Asking the right questions is the first step toward healing, so keep reading for answers to some of the questions we hear most often.
Will Infidelity Pain Ever Go Away?
When we talk about the pain of affairs, it’s important to remember that both parties are likely to be confused and hurt. An effective therapist will provide a safe environment for both to emote and express their truest feelings. That’s why affair recovery typically requires marriage counseling or couples therapy—not that there isn’t value in some components of individual therapy for infidelity recovery. Individuals who see a couples therapist once they’ve decided to break up can effectively manage the fallout of cheating in a much healthier way than those who don’t.
For many, this will cause more than a little anxiety: for example, wondering what the other person is saying in any one-on-one time they might have with the therapist can be very unnerving. However, it’s crucial for those seeking affair recovery therapy to understand that they’re going to have to trust their therapist, who’s there to support both parties and work on the relationship. After all, they’ve almost certainly dealt with more cases of infidelity than you have, and have a whole arsenal of tools, techniques, and resources specially tailored to this type of recovery. At Well Marriage Center, our team leverages a strengths-based approach to help you navigate the rough waters of affair recovery.
How Do You Heal from Infidelity Trauma?
Once an affair has been revealed, it’s time for the understanding to begin so that healing can take place. An effective therapy plan for infidelity recovery tends to consist of two key stages:
- Stage 1 is all about airing out and validating each partner’s emotions. This stage can be difficult, but it provides an absolutely vital foundation for infidelity recovery. Each party needs to feel their emotions and express their truths, fully and un-rushed, and both need to demonstrate commitment to processing what’s happened. This stage typically leads to a pair of outcomes—the person who cheated needs to atone, unconditionally, and both partners need to express a willingness to begin the healing process and work toward forgiveness.
- In Stage 2, a marriage therapist will help the couple to really explore what’s beneath the surface, like the different factors that may have contributed to the dynamic or led to the affair, many of which hide beneath the surface. For example, has one partner fallen out of love? Was one partner feeling neglected or unappreciated? Has the relationship lost the luster of its honeymoon phase, causing one or both partners to question it? (Occasionally one partner doesn’t outgrow the honeymoon phase when the other does.) This stage isn’t about assigning blame. Rather, it’s about getting all the puzzle pieces out on the table. A therapist will then help the couple to understand how they might be able to reassemble their puzzle and start rebuilding trust.
If you’re considering marriage counseling as a means to working through infidelity and rekindling the relationship, it is fully natural to feel a little hopeless. A therapist qualified to deal with infidelity recovery will anticipate a wide range of emotions, many of which may be new to you, or at least more intense than you’re used to.
There is, however, a general pattern that applies. In many ways, we tend to “grieve” when the relationship reaches a certain state, so the stages of grief also apply to affair recovery:
- Shock/Denial: We know that most people don’t set out to have an affair, which only serves to make it that much more difficult to understand—and process—without the help of a trained therapist. As humans, when we don’t understand something, it often leaves us feeling lost and directionless, which can turn to hopelessness. As a therapist helps to illuminate the reasons or events that led to infidelity, the shock and denial subside. Then, a shift toward finding solutions can begin in earnest. They’ll help you to fully experience your shock, work through your denial, and start down the path toward healing and recovery.
- Anger: Any time someone we consider a best friend and/or trusted confidant lets us down, anger is a fully natural response. Without working through this anger and any associated feelings, it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to move past it. What a lot of people don’t realize is that anger is often considered a secondary emotion, with its true roots in feelings like fear (of losing control, perhaps) or sadness (about the potential demise of a relationship). Your therapist will help you understand this, identify strategies that align with your primary emotions, and provide a foundation to constructively explore these dynamics.
- Bargaining: After the shock and anger subside, the reality of the situation starts to really set in. No one wants to feel like their time, energy, and love have been all for naught, so it’s natural to begin rationalizing the situation in an attempt to recapture a better dynamic. At a certain point, the human brain can’t resist trying to provide answers. “Maybe if I would have [done Thing X], this never would have happened.” Responses like these are often reactive, and are not the epiphanies they may seem. Bargaining is just our natural way, perhaps, of seeking explanations for things that feel unexplainable. A therapist will anticipate this, and work to keep things on a productive course.
- Depression: In the context of infidelity recovery, depression can take on a number of forms. For some people, the loss of trust is simply going to hurt, and hurt pretty severely, leading to hopelessness that leads them to disengage or shut down. A trained therapist will help to dissipate the fog of depression. Like shock/denial and anger, depression is a completely natural response—and your therapist will be prepared to help you process it in a healthy way.
- Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean giving up, or absolving the other party of responsibility full stop. It simply means acknowledging the reality of the situation, by moving beyond the shock, anger, bargaining, and depression. Finally, acceptance can take many forms, but once you’re able to accept that the affair happened—and caused hurt—and you’re ready and willing to work toward recovering the relationship, then you’re on the right path.
How Can I Help My Partner Heal After Infidelity?
If a partner who cheated is asking this question, that’s a really good sign. It indicates that they’re not just committed to atoning in order to resolve their own feelings of guilt and get things back to normal. And it shows something really vital: that the person who cheated knows they hurt their partner and they want, more than anything, to help them to recover. If you’re looking for signs your marriage will survive infidelity, this certainly counts.
This won’t always be easy, though. Some individuals experience traumatic infidelity syndrome, a form of PTSD that can be tough to shake without the help of a trained professional. Specific trauma-related symptoms a therapist will look for include:
- Unresolved anger or mood swings
- Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks
- Heightened anxiety
- Difficulty trusting intimate partners (and others)
- Emotional detachment or numbness
- Aversion to future commitment
- Persistent worrying or defensiveness
- Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating, foggy thinking
Not only will a qualified marriage counselor be able to identify these symptoms, but they’ll also know the best strategies for helping their patients to understand them, process them, and start building better patterns and habits.
Does therapy help with cheating?
Therapy can absolutely help, especially if you turn to a therapist who specializes in infidelity or affair recovery. However, if you don’t know what to expect in couples therapy after infidelity, it can cause a great deal of discomfort and anxiety. Here are a few of the key ways a therapist can help couples after an affair, which also serve as the primary goals for couples therapy after infidelity:
- They can help you understand how the affair happened, and help you rekindle the spark of intimacy. A therapist will help both parties understand and process their own—and their partner’s—feelings. Then, they’ll help the couple to explore how their dynamic may have shifted over time, and what factors they can identify that may have contributed to the affair. This will often involve exploring a range of issues in the relationship, from diminished intimacy or interest to ongoing resentment or difficulties with healthy communication.
- They can uncover—and help you process—previous wounds. No relationship forms in a vacuum: both partners have histories, including past relationships and traumas. Within the context of a relationship, especially marriage, partners’ past traumas can inadvertently creep into the relationship and alter its dynamic. A therapist will provide the right environment for these root issues to be uncovered and processed.
- They will offer impartial insights and guidance. When emotions are high, it can be tremendously difficult to be impartial. A therapist who specializes in infidelity recovery will bring a structured approach, based on research and established best practices, to keep conversations productive and prevent either partner from feeling unheard or even attacked.
- They’ll help each partner learn more about themselves. As much as we might try to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent, we don’t always realize our own unhealthy patterns. This is true whether they involve relationship-building, communication, trust, commitment, or any other number of factors. A therapist’s approach to infidelity recovery can help one or both partners to better understand how they might be unconsciously sabotaging themselves or the marriage.
- They’ll help you establish better communication, openness, and trust. These are lifelong skills that provide the foundation for personal growth and a healthier overall relationship. You can expect to be introduced to some new techniques that won’t just help you recover from infidelity, but have an even greater understanding of each other moving forward.
- They’ll help you understand and manage infidelity symptoms. Especially while the emotional wounds are still fresh, it requires a decent amount of work—and professional support—to take inventory of the various symptoms of infidelity. Some will be evident, since you’re already exploring the option of infidelity recovery counseling. Others may not be so easy to identify and diagnose. Think of therapy as a roadmap for making these discoveries, processing them, and developing strategies for moving forward.
- They’ll offer specific perspectives and tactics for each partner. While a large portion of infidelity recovery therapy will be a joint conversation between the therapist and both parties, a therapist also knows the value of 1:1 discussions with each partner. This helps each partner to feel a little more comfortable exploring thoughts and feelings they might not be sure how to discuss with their partner in the room. For the person who committed the affair, for example, this includes helping them understand the impact of their infidelity on their betrayed spouse, as well as how to atone after cheating.
Trying to solve such monumental marriage problems on your own isn’t just difficult, it’s really not recommended. Working with a marriage counselor helps you avoid falling into unproductive traps, like arguing over who’s most to blame—or, at the other end of the spectrum, falsely thinking that everything will be OK without putting in the work.
If you’re at either end of that spectrum or somewhere in the middle, you’re certainly not alone.
You would probably be surprised how many couples decide to seek out a qualified counselor only once they’ve realized that the blame cycles and rose-colored glasses aren’t helping them to process and move beyond marital issues. In many cases, they discover how the right therapy environment can empower both partners to express themselves truly, feel their feelings fully, and develop mutual empathy.
We know that surviving infidelity isn’t always easy, but we also understand that the emotional rollercoaster you’re on can be scary and exhausting.
How Successful Is Marriage Counseling After Infidelity?
Despite how scary it can feel, marriage counseling is effective more often than not. According to one study, around 70% of couples are able to stay together after infidelity—with many coming out the other side feeling like their relationship has, in fact, been strengthened through infidelity recovery therapy.
Now, these results aren’t instant, and will likely take weeks if not months. Therapists know this and will help couples understand what to expect, including various milestones they’ll try to achieve along the way. At Well Marriage Center, our affair recovery program has helped over 1,000 couples get their marriages back on track. If you’re willing to put in the time, we’ll be right there with you.
What Are Signs Your Marriage Will Survive Infidelity?
Because infidelity recovery doesn’t occur overnight, it can be tough to believe in the process when it’s first getting underway. There are some signs you can look for as indicators that your marriage has a good chance of surviving infidelity. Here are a few examples:
- Genuine apologies have been made, and both partners are committed to saving the marriage.
- Both partners are willing to admit their own faults, and acknowledge their partners’.
- Both partners express a willingness to attend therapy, even though they know it will involve uncomfortable conversations and tricky emotions.
- Both partners express a belief/hope that the marriage will be saved.
- Both partners are willing to learn better ways to communicate and navigate conflicts.
If you’re looking for help, that in itself is a really encouraging sign and an important first step. At Well Marriage Center, we have physical locations as well as telehealth options, in order to make marriage counseling accessible to you when you need it. After all, finding an effective marriage counselor shouldn’t have to add any additional stress to the situation.
What Type of Therapy Is Best for Infidelity?
For couples that are committed to rebuilding the trust necessary to keep their marriage alive, infidelity or affair recovery therapy is an ideal place to start. At Well Marriage Center, our affair recovery therapists use a strengths-based approach to marriage counseling.
In other words, we take a glass half-full approach. Infidelity occurred (and it hurt), but focusing on what made you fall in love in the first place provides a better foundation for understanding and recovery than dwelling on either partner’s fallibility or rushing to assign blame. Instead, we take a patient, honest, and hopeful approach.
What Type of Therapist Should I See for Infidelity?
We recommend looking for a therapist or counselor who is experienced in infidelity or affair recovery. From there, it’s important to find a therapist whose core values about the sanctity of marriage and definition of “success” are in alignment with your own.
Any therapist you meet with should start off by discussing these very topics, not just to ensure a suitable fit but also to help you understand exactly what to expect over the course of your counseling program. This can include developing objectives together, thinking about what kind of timeline to expect, and more.
Ready to Take the First Step?
Whether you’re looking for marriage counseling, affair recovery, or even individual counseling, the team at Well Marriage Center is here to help. We know infidelity recovery can be an emotionally-charged, life-altering endeavor, but we believe there’s hope. That’s why our team is so motivated to empower individuals and couples with the tools and skills they need to rebuild trust and rekindle the love that originally brought them together.
We’re ready when you are. Reach out to schedule an appointment today.