Can You Ever Fully Recover from an Affair?

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:

  • Flashbacks
  • 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. 





How Long Does the Shock of Infidelity Last?

As much as we wish the shock of infidelity didn’t linger—for weeks, months, or even years—it does. How quickly or slowly affair recovery takes will depend on factors like:

  • Your support system as you work through the pain of betrayal
  • How you and your partner choose to discuss and process the affair
  • The state of your relationship before you discovered the infidelity
  • How severe the affair was (i.e., how long it lasted, what happened, who it was with, etc.)
  • Whether or not you seek professional help from a couples therapist or marriage counselor

If you’ve just recently found out about your partner’s infidelity, please know you are not alone. A relationship or marriage is never the same after infidelity, and recovery can be a distressing process. Permit yourself space to be upset and angry, as this kind of pain cuts deep and leaves unseen emotional scars. No one should pressure you to “get over it” or expect you to heal at a rate faster than you’re capable of. 

Eventually—no rush, though—you’ll find yourself wondering how to heal from infidelity trauma. Can you ever fully recover from infidelity, or is the pain permanent? Let’s explore what to expect in the aftermath of this kind of betrayal. 

Does the Pain of Being Cheated On Ever Go Away?

Although infidelity is emotionally devastating, it is possible to recover and ease your pain over time. However, expect a bumpy ride to peace after such a betrayal. If you’re hoping to forget about the infidelity and never think about it again—that’s a little less likely. 

While that may be upsetting to hear, it’s healthy to acknowledge this before you begin processing your rollercoaster of emotions and find a way forward. Infidelity has a lasting impact, even if you choose to forgive your partner and continue your relationship. 

Sometimes, even after you’ve decided to stay together, you’ll still experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also called post-infidelity stress disorder (PISD). Various infidelity PTSD triggers can bring up painful reminders of what happened, even as you try to forget. You may experience symptoms like:

  • Extreme fluctuation between feeling numb and feeling angry/vengeful
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Severe self-blame and reduced self-esteem
  • A sense of powerlessness
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping
  • Being overly vigilant and on the lookout for another betrayal
  • Complete inability to trust your partner and others in your life
  • Flashbacks to the infidelity discovery, or visualizations of the infidelity if you never witnessed it

How Long Does Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder Last?

Similar to the initial shock of betrayal, infidelity PTSD may be present for only a few weeks or months, while for others, it may take much longer to fully recover. This stress can severely affect your mental and physical health, which is why it’s crucial to seek help if you are experiencing symptoms.

This stage is where a therapist or counselor can be highly beneficial. These professionals will work with you to develop strategies for managing your symptoms and navigating your infidelity-related emotions. As the chaotic storm of feelings rages within you, a counselor can act as your lighthouse, showing you the least destructive path to regain some sense of normalcy.

How Does a Betrayed Spouse Heal?

Regularly attending individual and couples therapy sessions is the best way to heal from infidelity.  Trying to recover without a professional third party is possible, but neutral, experienced guidance from a therapist will encourage healing.

For example, at Well Marriage Center, here are some of the techniques we use to help folks move past the open-wound stage of infidelity:

  • Encourage Open Communication – Our counselors provide a safe and non-judgmental space for affected couples or individuals to untangle their feelings and experiences after infidelity.
  • Promote Self-Care – We help our clients identify ways to care for themselves during this difficult time, like exercising, journaling, and spending time with friends and family.
  • Foster Healing and Forgiveness – At Well Marriage Center, we take a strengths-based approach to counseling. This means we start with conversations about a couple’s strengths, the things they admire about each other, and any good memories that stand out. We find that this method opens up discussions about how each person perceives their relationship and why the infidelity happened in the first place.
  • Tackle Underlying Issues –  Affairs usually indicate some underlying problems in a relationship. Has one partner felt ignored and sought attention elsewhere? Has sex been challenging lately? Is there some sort of addiction in the picture? Identifying these root causes is vital to the recovery process.
  • Develop a Plan for Rebuilding Trust – If both partners are willing to move forward in the relationship after infidelity, there needs to be a plan to rebuild trust. Increasing communication, practicing empathy, and focusing on the future should all be part of such a plan. Our therapists can help you set up and achieve these goals.

Remember, as you’re exploring the internet looking for tips on affair recovery, everyone’s process is unique. Reading about the experiences of others can be helpful, but at the end of the day, this is your story. You decide the final outcome. And if that decision feels overwhelming—Well Marriage Center is here for you. 

Whenever you’re ready, you can visit our appointment-scheduling page to get started on your healing journey. Our intake coordinator, Melinda, is available to answer any questions and to connect you with one of our licensed therapists. We’ll start with an extended 90-minute session to understand the scope of your circumstances and make a plan for moving forward. 

Please know that there is hope after such a traumatic experience, and we want to help you find it.





Surviving an Affair

Can my marriage really survive an affair?

This is the most common question we get at Well Marriage Center.

The answer is Yes.

More and more, we see couples making the choice to try and save their marriages instead of hitting the auto-pilot for divorce. All of our counselors are very skilled at helping couples navigate the emotional roller coaster ride that an affair throws them onto.

We asked one of our marriage counselors to write her thoughts about how she helps couples work through an affair.

“Getting off the Roller Coaster”

In our first session with couples we ask them to describe their strengths, admirations of the relationship, and memories that stand out as good.

I love this part of our assessment as it gives me an idea of how the couple perceives their relationship. Brian and Joan came to me after Joan discovered Brian was in the midst of a year-long affair. The impact was devastating…for both Joan and Brian.

Joan had an intense reaction during the assessment portion of their strengths.  She was confused, sad, and angry. A common impact of discovering an affair is that memories of the relationship become contaminated by this new information.

Joan had begun to question their history in a way that hindered her from seeing any strengths or good in their relationship. She said “How can we have any strengths if an affair was going on? I don’t admire anything about this marriage!”

Joan is not alone.  The aftermath of an affair is very painful and confusing.

Most couples will describe this experience as an “emotional rollercoaster,” where the victim has intense emotional ups and downs, a preoccupation with the violation, blaming, self-doubt, fear, and loss of rationality.

Problems that existed in the relationship prior to the discovery may become more intensified. You may start to look at your life from a very different set of eyes, eyes that are more suspicious and less likely to trust without evidence.

No one likes to feel out of control or as if they can’t trust their own mind and instincts. I empathize with the level of discomfort that comes with mistrust and encourage couples to process that emotion rather than creating methods that foster false trust (checking emails, texts, phone records, etc.).

A false trust method is anything that finishes the message “I trust you if…”

At that point trust is only intact if there is a way to measure it. Joan felt these attempts gave her more safety in the marriage but instead it created an element of control in the marriage that Brian eventually resented.

Most couples may entertain the idea of separation at this stage in order to cope with the roller coaster. However, it is important to avoid turning a disruption into a tragedy by making permanent decisions about your marriage during the roller coaster stage.

When emotions are this high it is difficult to make a decision you’ll find peace with for the rest of your life.

When I see a couple experiencing this type of disruption I take great care in validating the victim and educating the offender about the roller coaster phase. Rather than diving into the easier but more destructive ways of establishing trust, I teach couples how to adopt appropriate levels of transparency.

What a couple really wants at this stage is to feel understood. The victim in particular is looking for accountability and validation. Convincing the victim they are loved can often make things worse because words have lost their power.

In Joan and Brian’s case, when Joan was feeling triggered or having a rough day with the preoccupation of her thoughts, Brian attempted to sooth her by trying to convince her not worry because he loved her so much. Joan became angry and felt that he did not understand her pain.

Through supportive marriage counseling, Joan learned to verbalize what she was feeling and why she was feeling it. She learned to communicate to Brian what she needed.

It is the victim’s goal to help the offender understand their pain.

Joan and Brian were instructed to make this a regular practice in order for Joan to heal. Several times a week they carved out time for Joan to verbalize what she felt, while Brian listened, validated, took responsibility, and apologized.

Joan’s emotional reactivity was less intense when she felt Brian was authentic in his understanding of her pain. She believed that if he really understood her pain, he would be less likely to violate trust again. And she’s right.

Joan and Brian worked extremely hard over the course of about 9 months and learned to listen, support, and communicate with each other in a rich and authentic way. They have both been able to step off the emotional roller coaster and have both, separately, decided that they want to stay together and strengthen their marriage.

If you and your spouse are recovering from an affair there is reason for hope. Rebuilding trust is a process but it’s possible with tenderness of the heart and forgiveness.  Yes, your marriage can survive an affair.

(Read more about our approach with Affairs here)