Roughly 50% of all marriages experience infidelity and the result is devastating. Betrayed partners often develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms because being on the other end of an affair makes you lose all sense of normalcy and control. Similarly, those in combat or natural disasters lose all sense of normalcy and control and develop PTSD. Therefore, while surviving infidelity is possible, it can be quite the feat. Before going further, let me define my terms.
What is surviving infidelity?
Surviving infidelity is the process of healing emotionally, mentally, and sexually both individually and as a couple. Surviving doesn’t imply simply moving through an affair. Rather, it includes thoroughly addressing the profound impact of the affair on the relationship so the couple can experience true healing.
Surviving Infidelity - Top 7 Steps
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1-End all contact
The first step is often the most difficult. If the wayward partner wants to save their marriage, they must cease all contact with their lover. This includes no text messages, no social media follows, no phone calls, and no meetings. The new lover is a drug addiction. Therefore, any contact with them will keep the addiction alive. Ceasing all contact with them may require a change in jobs, gym membership, Churches, neighborhoods, and even states. They must do whatever it takes to never have contact with their lover again because the risk of an affair will always be there.
2-Open all accounts
Next, the wayward partner must open all accounts and passwords with their betrayed partner to prove they have no more contact with their lover. How else is the betrayed partner going to trust the wayward partner is no longer in contact with their lover? Every new contact the wayward partner has with their lover re-traumatizes the betrayed partner. Also, opening all accounts and passwords won't work if the wayward partner does it begrudgingly and with anger. How dare you get angry about needing to open your accounts! Look at how much you have devastated your partner! You're completely untrustworthy right now! The wayward partner must open all accounts with a good attitude to show they're willing to do whatever it takes to save the marriage.
3-Expose the affair
If the wayward partner refuses to end all contact with their lover or refuses to willingly open all accounts to prove they have no more contact, the next step is exposure. When someone is in an affair they are not thinking straight because they are under the drug addiction of the affair. An affair creates an artificial utopia where the relationship is insulated from everyday stress and problems. Therefore, one of the best ways to burst the affair bubble is to expose it by letting everyone know about it. Usually, the more the wayward partner gets contacted by people they care about regarding their infidelity the more likely they'll snap back to reality and realize how horrible they're behaving.
4-Get a separation
If exposure doesn't create enough social pressure for the wayward partner to end the affair the next step is separation. The separation should include zero contact between the betrayed and wayward partner. If kids are involved then perhaps a friend or family member can be in charge of carpooling them back and forth for visitation. A separation is recommended for two reasons. First, it provides protection to the betrayed partner from the continual emotional abuse of the active affair. Second, it provides the wayward partner an opportunity to experience life without their spouse to determine if that's really what they want. If after 3-6 months the wayward partner still won't end the affair, divorce them!
The recommendations of exposing the infidelity and getting a separation if the wayward partner won't end the affair gives power and control back to the betrayed partner. Regaining a sense of control is vital to emotional healing. The worst thing a betrayed partner can do is tolerate ongoing contact with the lover on any level because it will continually retraumatize them and enable their wayward partner.
If the wayward partner ends all contact with their lover and willingly opens all accounts, the next step is sincere repentance for their betrayal. While the wayward partner may have been unhappy in the marriage prior to the infidelity, it was still their choice to have an affair. The repentance must center around their choice to violate their marital vows and betray their partner, regardless of how unhappy they may have been. Sincere remorse is vital for the betrayed partner to begin the healing process. Without true remorse the marriage will not be able to recover.
Triggers are a huge part of surviving infidelity. The betrayed partner can be watching a movie with an affair scene and get triggered. They can be listening to a song about cheating and get triggered. They can see the outfit they wore the day they discovered the affair and get triggered. Getting triggered is part of the symptoms of PTSD and are frequent following an affair. How the triggers are handled is paramount. For many couples, the triggers are handled poorly and drive the couple further apart. Usually, when triggered the betrayed partner explodes with anger and the wayward partner explodes with defensiveness in return. However, if handled well, triggers can become micro healing opportunities for the relationship.
The first step to managing triggers well is the betrayed partner must discern which triggers to share and which ones to work through on their own. Some triggers may be mild and don't need to be shared while others may be significant and need to be discussed. The second step is the betrayed partner needs to de-flood after getting triggered before discussing it. De-flooding includes doing whatever lowers their heart rate and gets them out of fight or flight, such as taking a bath, exercising, taking a nap, listening to music, reading a book, talking to a friend, etc. Third, bring up the trigger to the wayward partner calmly without attacking, such as "today I was listening to the radio and the song Lyin Eyes came on and it brought back all the pain and betrayal of the affair." Fourth, the wayward partner must respond with empathy and support, such as "that must have felt horrible for you, I'm so sorry for betraying you and devastating you like I did." If triggers are handled sensitively like this they will decrease with time. If they are handled poorly, they will increase with time.
The seventh step to surviving infidelity is understanding what caused it in the first place. The decision to have an affair is 100% the wayward partner's fault; however, the climate in the marriage that increased their susceptibility is usually both partner's fault. So, unpacking this information is vital. Did the wayward partner not feel emotionally or sexually fulfilled? Did they feel neglected? Did they feel continually criticized? What was it that increased their susceptibility? Understanding this and making necessary changes is vital to decrease affair risk moving forward.
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Top 8 Causes of Infidelity
A key to surviving infidelity is gaining confidence there will be no more future affairs. Everyone is susceptible to having an affair if put in the right situation. Acknowledging this dangerous potential will help you develop appropriate boundaries. The list below highlights eight things that may heighten susceptibility to developing an affair. As you read through the list consider what changes you and your partner need to make.
The first risk factor is going through a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one, career, home, etc. When people go through traumatic events, their whole world gets disoriented. Their value system often gets turned upside down. All their hopes in life get crushed and they go through a period where nothing seems to matter.
A second risk factor is someone who tends to not share everything they're thinking and feeling. If you tend to withhold information from your partner in general, when something crooked creeps in, like an affair or attraction to someone else, you're more likely not to share that also.
3-Need for adoration
A third risk factor is someone who needs adoration. This is the person who wants to feel like they're special, cherished, and the center of someone's world. When someone has this need, it puts them at higher risk for an affair because an affair is the ultimate sensation of feeling worshipped and adored.
A fourth risk factor is stress. When you're under too much stress you become fatigued. When you become fatigued your will power to resist inappropriate impulses with others goes down. So, the more depleted you are, the more likely you'll act on sexual or emotional impulses and cross boundaries. Also, the more stressed you are the more you'll look for escape and affairs are often a powerful one.
A fifth risk factor is if you have unmet needs in your marriage. Unmet needs can range from a desire for emotional intimacy, affection, sex, etc. When your needs go unmet in marriage you can feel like you're starving. The longer you feel like you're starving the higher your risk becomes for looking elsewhere to get fed.
The more you travel alone, the more at risk you are for having an affair. When you travel alone you're anonymous and no one knows what you do. The more anonymous you feel, the more likely you'll do things you never would dream of doing otherwise. Lack of accountability often increases wayward behavior.
Number seven is alcohol. When you drink you're more likely to act out in all sorts of ways, including sexually. People tend to do and say things while intoxicated they never would do while sober. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions; therefore, it can lower your inhibitions toward having an affair too.
The eighth risk factor is sharing emotional distress with someone of the opposite gender other than your spouse. When you share emotional distress with someone you build intimacy and walls come down. Therefore, the more sharing occurs the more likely you'll start developing feelings for the person.
In summary, part of surviving infidelity is building confidence that future affairs won't occur. The top eight things that may increase affair risk to watch out for include going through a traumatic event, not being forthcoming, having a need for adoration, life stress, unmet needs, travelling alone, drinking excessively, and emotional disclosure.
For further reading check out the articles below.
Article on is my marriage over
Article on should I get a divorce
Article on how to save your marriage
Article on how to fix a broken relationship
Take my FREE Relationship Audit Quiz here to see how healthy your relationship is.
Leave a comment below on what else you would recommend for surviving infidelity.
Hi Melanie, very sorry to hear about this. To be on the safe side, it’s always helpful to process through this type of event with a therapist with your partner to unpack all the angles and potential issues around it. Also, be sure to sign up for my free masterclass in this article on the top affair recovery mistakes to avoid. Best! Dr. Wyatt
My partner cheated and was so drunk/high that they claim they were not themselves and deeply regret it. It was virtual and happened in a matter of minutes, they claim to have been so drunk that they truly did not think of their actions, themselves, me, or anything other than the screen in front of them.
I am struggling to move on as I feel there is no “why” they cheated. They claim it had nothing to do with me and they have been very remorseful apologetic and open. I even tried to express how I might have contributed and they’re adamant that I didn’t. They have chosen to give up alcohol, as they see that as the root of the problem and that they’re not capable of cheating again.
Is this realistic? Or is there some information my partner still needs to discover about themselves for recovery to be possible?
Hi Mike, very sorry to hear of the betrayal. The climate in the relationship that increased the susceptibility of an affair is often both partners fault. However, the choice to cross the line and cheat is only the wayward partner’s fault. I would recommend meeting with your physician and with a counselor to sift through the possible causes and solutions.
Hi Dr.Wyatt these is not the first time I’ve been through this however I do take some blame my wife has for years told me what she’s needed and not once did I make it my number 1 priority there for it had happened I do however love my wife more then anything in the world and we worked on this and we are in a much better place but the pain never leaves my head and effects me in more ways then 1 such as the bed room I’ve released even after 3 months of doing steps and madly in love with her I had a E.D problem or not able to climax in better terms although I’m very attractive this is the only problem I seem to face and can not get over is there any help
Thanks for your honesty Rudy and desire to make things right! Hope my site helps you on that path.
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