When you first discover an affair, your feelings of rage and sadness can be overwhelming. You are not alone; that is a very natural and normal reaction to the massive betrayal of trust that you’ve experienced. It’s ok to feel hurt and angry, among other things.
Although it may not seem like it right away, many couples are able to go on to have happy and fulfilling relationships after infidelity—if they are willing to put in the work required for affair recovery. It is important to know that the affair will always be a part of the story of your relationship going forward, although it doesn’t always have to be the defining feature. (And likewise, if you decide to split up after discovering infidelity, know you don’t have to carry the baggage forward into future relationships with yourself and others.)
At Well Marriage Center, we’ve helped thousands of individuals and couples dealing with affairs, many of whom successfully rebuilt their relationship after an affair was discovered. The intense feelings of hurt, betrayal, and guilt that occur in the early stages of healing are likely to fade eventually, but there will be a lasting change to the relationship.
Working through these damaging feelings and making changes to your relationship are a big part of how to heal from infidelity trauma. Some couples even report that their relationship improves over what it was like before the affair, after all the work and healing has been done.
Can You Be Traumatized by Infidelity?
Yes, it is not uncommon for cheated-on partners to experience symptoms of trauma when they discover their spouse’s infidelity. These trauma responses, which may go on for months or years, might include:
- Severe anxiety, including shortness of breath and heart palpitations
- Uncontrollable thoughts
- Emotional numbness
- Erratic behaviors or moods
- Sleeping problems, like insomnia or extreme fatigue
- Isolation and withdrawal
- A massive drop in self-worth and self-esteem
For some partners, these trauma responses may be relatively short-lived, but for others, they can last longer and even be debilitating. In these circumstances, a partner may be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some mental health providers use the term post-traumatic infidelity syndrome (PTIS) as a helpful way of referring to these sets of symptoms, although this is not an official diagnosis within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Working with an experienced relationship counselor can be a big asset when navigating these trauma responses. A neutral third party can be an important guide for not only healing the relationship, but for helping the individual partners get additional help if needed. Working with a relationship specialist can help keep the trauma and pain of infidelity from spilling over into each individual’s relationship with themselves, others, or their future relationships.
Does the Hurt of an Affair Ever Go Away?
Like most traumatic experiences, the incredibly strong feelings of hurt and betrayal will decrease over time. When someone first finds out about a partner’s cheating, the shock and pain are often very intense. It’s normal to feel like these are a permanent part of the relationship, and that they will never go away. But as the shock wears off and both partners work through the changes in their relationship, the pain becomes more manageable. In fact, when couples put in the work for marriage counseling, they may find that their relationship is stronger than ever, as the therapist will help them uncover which unmet needs, issues, and other challenges were present before the affair. The therapist will also help each individual tackle problems like communication, trust, intimacy, conflict management, and more through skill building and deep therapeutic work.
How Long Does It Take for a Marriage to Recover from Infidelity?
There is no exact time frame for affair recovery, as every relationship and situation will be different. Marriage or relationship recovery is also not a linear process, where every day is slightly better than the day before. There will be ups and downs as partners navigate and grow together to get beyond the infidelity—some days things could feel great, sometimes months later a difficult time could reemerge. These are all perfectly normal reactions, and they don’t mean that recovery isn’t happening as it should.
In general, especially with the help of a qualified and experienced marriage counselor, many couples find their relationship has recovered anywhere from six months to two years after an affair. Remember, there may be good days before this time, and rough days even afterwards, but this can be a helpful benchmark for time.
Affair Recovery for the Betrayer
It’s common for affair recovery resources to focus on the partner who was cheated on. While obviously this person will be experiencing a huge amount of pain and anger, the partner who did the cheating is just as involved in affair recovery. One of the biggest signs your marriage or relationship will survive infidelity is that BOTH partners are invested in repairing and bettering their relationship.
The partner who had the affair needs to be willing to:
- End the affair
- Talk about what was happening in their life and the relationship that contributed to the affair happening in the first place
- Identify their desire to stay in the relationship, including their reasons not to divorce after infidelity
- Being willing to do the work to win back trust, as well as hear and acknowledge their partner’s pain
Additionally, the cheating partner will likely have their own feelings of shame, anxiety, and guilt after cheating. These emotions need to be dealt with to enable a healthy and happy relationship going forward. Experienced couples therapists can help both partners successfully navigate their feelings.
Well Marriage Center: Your Partner in Affair Recovery
Our experienced couples counselors at Well Marriage Center have helped over 15,000 couples build better relationships. We believe relationships can and do recover after affairs with the right support, and we want to be a reliable partner through the challenges of rebuilding relationship trust. Our counselors focus on your relationship’s strengths and emotional healing to help partners rekindle their loving relationships. We offer in-person or remote appointments for couples or individuals—reach out today to start your healing journey.
*Note, we recommend seeing a couples therapist even if the partner’s decide to dissolve their relationship after the affair discovery. Working through the roller coaster of traumatic emotions for both parties is important to keep the emotional baggage from becoming bigger, negative coping patterns in the future. Our specialists are here to help you through this time, no matter what your situation is.