It’s estimated that a staggering 20-40% of marriages face infidelity, according to an interview published by NPR. Infidelity can have a severe impact on marriages and romantic relationships, not to mention a person’s self worth and mental health, but affair recovery is possible if both partners are committed.
At Well Marriage Center, we believe that marriages and relationships can heal, even after trust has been broken in such a painful way. In this blog, we explore how to heal from infidelity trauma and discuss what you and your partner may experience after an affair.
Why Do Marriages Fail After Infidelity?
Marriages often face challenges after infidelity because affairs break trust. However, not all marriages fail after an affair. There is hope for couples that want to heal their marriage. To understand how, we first have to look at how affairs reflect relationships.
Relationships—especially marriages—are built on trust. Think of the things you might rely on your partner for, or that your partner relies on you for:
- Providing emotional support
- Earning income
- Maintaining your home
- Caring for children and/or pets
- Managing finances
- Planning dates and vacations
- Continuing to build a meaningful life together
Some of these tasks carry more weight than others, but when your partner breaks a major point of trust, it can be difficult to rely on them in other aspects of your relationship. Suddenly, you’re not just worried about loyalty, you may also doubt their ability to handle financial matters, health concerns, and household chores while considering your needs. Partners doubt that they are building anything meaningful together anymore. In other words, after your partner has an affair, it might feel like you’re no longer in a partnership.
Affairs can drastically alter your relationship dynamics. In fact, long term infidelity effects can severely affect both physical and mental health, and affairs can impact people outside of the relationship. When working to heal from an affair, you and your partner may encounter some of the following effects:
- Mental Health: An affair does more than break trust, it can also change how your brain operates. Infidelity may reduce dopamine levels, worsen depression and anxiety, weaken self-esteem, and even cause symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Physical Well-Being: When an affair affects your mental health and household routines, it can be difficult to maintain your physical health. In some cases, victims of infidelity can even be more likely to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse and disordered eating, according to Patient. The constant emotional strain from affaird PTSD damages us physically.
- Altered Relationships: When dealing with an affair, you may experience turmoil in more relationships than with just your partner. If you have children together, it can be difficult to communicate why their parents’ relationship has a different dynamic. If you have overlapping social groups, then your mutual friends may feel the need to choose sides.
While dealing with an affair can be a daunting time in your relationship, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of it. It’s still possible to heal as a couple and build back trust, as long as both of you are willing to put in the time and effort to move forward.
Do You Ever Really Get Over an Affair?
While an affair is a significant moment in a relationship, couples can stay together after infidelity. Hope is very much alive. However, getting to the stage of your relationship where betrayal trauma is no longer the main focus takes time, intentional effort, and possibly professional help.
Before a relationship can get back on track after an affair, the victim must process the 5 stages of grief of infidelity, which are:
Working through these stages can be painful, but it’s necessary to process the emotions of each stage of grief before moving forward. Otherwise, you can find yourself getting stuck in the past and the hurt you experienced. These negative patterns can become part of your deeper psyche, and spill over into future relationships and damage your self-esteem for years or decades to come. Scheduling sessions with a couples therapist can provide a safe space for both you and your partner to express and understand each other’s difficult feelings, which can help you find ways to heal your relationship. You can read more about these stages and this process here.
*Because of the traumatic nature of infidelity, we recommend working with a skilled couples counselor or marriage therapist even if you don’t decide to stay together after the affair. A specialized therapist can help each partner process the hurt and damage, and come out on the other side stronger, without having to carry the baggage forever. However you decide to handle the situation, we’re here to support you and your relationship goals.
How Do I Stop Hurting After an Affair?
One major step to healing after an affair is to understand what went wrong in the relationship. This can be a painful and often triggering process, but uncovering any underlying issues can help you both communicate what you want in your relationship moving forward.
Although forgiveness is the ultimate goal of affair recovery, it likely won’t happen quickly—and that’s okay. As we stated above, infidelity can trigger the grieving process, and it’s important to give each of those emotions the space they require to work through. Working with a neutral third party mediator, like a couples therapist, can help both of you voice your needs and feelings without fear of escalation or retaliation.
Does Affair Guilt Go Away?
Oftentimes, emphasis is placed on the victims of infidelity to forgive their partners, but it’s just as important—if not more so—for the partner that had the affair to work through their emotions. Similar to the stages of emotional betrayal, the partner who had the affair also goes through stages of guilt after cheating: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
The relationship can’t move forward until trust is rebuilt, and that’s difficult to do if the cheater is still resentful or insecure about their ability to stay in a faithful relationship. They often also carry feelings of humiliation, inadequacy and a host of other damaging emotions that can lead to or deepend pre-existing negative coping mechanisms. Working with a skilled therapist can be key in getting to the root of these issues and behaviors.
How To Stop Thinking About an Affair Partner
When infidelity impacts your relationship, it can be hard to stop thinking about the third, “other” person—but the best way to move forward is to give that external person less time in your thoughts. That may sound counterintuitive, but think about it this way: if you spend all of your time thinking about the other person, then they’ll always be at the front of your mind. This obsession can overpower your relationship, even if your intentions are to move past the “other” person.
A common way to help change your mindset is to change your routine with your partner. Starting fresh can remove connections that the other person had to your life. You and your partner can also meet with a marriage counselor to discuss solutions that are specific to your individual challenges.
Rebuilding Trust After Infidelity
Affair recovery is a slow and steady process filled with forward progress, setbacks, and for many couples, the ability to trust each other once again. To give your relationship its best chance at healing, it helps to work with specialized professionals. At Well Marriage Center, we provide support and guidance to help free couples from the past and build a better tomorrow. The path forward starts with a small step together. Schedule an appointment today.