9 Tips For Overcoming An Affair In Your Marriage
If you’ve already done it, you can probably look back with sage insight at the seemingly interminable agony of saving your marriage. If you are in the throes of it, you most likely see little but “impossible,” “How?” and “Why?” before you. Overcoming an affair in your marriage – six words that read quickly but imply an inexhaustible commitment – is no easy feat.
By the time you reach out to Dr. Google for relationship advice, chances are you are already struggling with questions, maybe even doubts.
And what you find may sound too black-and-white for the reality you’re actually living.
“Stick it out!”
“Once a cheater, always a cheater!”
“Get the hell out!”
The truth of outside guidance is that you will inevitably find what you (think you) want to find. There will always be “what you want to hear” waiting around the corner of a couple clicks.
But something as consequential as overcoming an affair in your marriage – or not – warrants trust beneath emotional impulse.
No matter what you ultimately choose to do with your marriage, you are going to be called to the plate with painfully employed courage. There will be no easy way out. No easy way to stay.
So dare to search for guidance that recognizes the gray that spreads between the absolutes of black and white.
After all, when your trust has been shattered (even within yourself), you will instinctively seek “trustworthy” and “constant” in every encounter.
You will also want to know that someone out there can help you navigate through all the shades of gray. Clarity and lifetime decisions rarely come as V-8 moments.
So let’s get real and talk from the trenches.
Here are 9 tips for overcoming an affair in your marriage.
Give yourself and your spouse permission to feel everything.
It doesn’t matter which side of the betrayal you’re on. You’re going to feel to the point where you’re sure you won’t survive it.You will.You’re going to feel emotions you may have never felt before. And you’re going to feel them to a degree you will wonder if you can control.
Overcoming an affair in your marriage when your former ally is now, at best, a stranger and, at worst, an enemy?
How are you supposed to do that when one of you is steeped in anger and hurt and the other is steeped in shame and indecision?
Allowing yourselves to feel your emotions isn’t a license to act on them.
It’s a validation of their natural existence and an invitation for them to sit at the table, without risk of expulsion.
As intense and unpredictable as those emotions are in the beginning, they will play key roles in the later stages of healing.
Emotions are powerful messengers.
Recognize them. Acknowledge them. Embrace them. Listen to them. Learn from them.
The bigger the decision feels…don’t make it…
Each of you is going to have thoughts of throwing in the towel, however different your reasons.
If you are the betrayed spouse, rage and repulsion may make you want a divorce yesterday.
If you are the cheating spouse, you may feel so much futility that you’re inclined to simply give up.
You may also have a long list of grievances that fueled your vulnerability to an affair. And now you may feel “unentitled” to expressing them or working to resolve them.
Even if you need some time apart to cool off and seek reliable counsel, don’t rush to end your marriage.
And definitely don’t do anything you will regret later.
If you are the cheating spouse, there is one big decision you do need to make.
There is one decision that only one of you can make.
If you are the cheating spouse, only you can decide to end your affair.
This is the one exception to making big decisions early on.
There is no way for you to work on saving your marriage if you are maintaining a relationship with someone else.
But here’s the acknowledgment you will rarely read in the lines of casual advice:
Affairs involve at least three people – the affair partners and a betrayed spouse…or two.
And affairs run different courses of length, intensity, and emotional involvement.
The decision to end an affair and work on your marriage may be far more complex than unfriending a partner and avoiding drive-bys.
If you have been involved in your affair for months or years, you may have eased into the typical details of an established relationship.
You may even confuse your obligations to the two “commitments” you are maintaining.
And there is “someone else” who, however culpable, is also a person with feelings, expectations…and decisions to make.
Yeah, it’s messy. And terribly complicated. And gut-wrenching. And consequential no matter the outcome.
This is the point where the next tip may be more critical than simply helpful.
Get help NOW, no matter where you believe your marriage is headed.
If ever there were something that was bigger than your ability to handle it on your own, overcoming an affair in your marriage is it.
Between emotions zipping erratically like the Snitch in Quidditch and life-altering options flooding your minds, you both need an anchor. Your marriage needs an anchor.
This is the time to lay what little trust you have left in the hands of experts who deal with the infidelity journey. Single. Day.
Keep this journey out of the public eye.
It’s tempting. And, in our modern times, it’s natural.“Post it! Tell the world what you had for breakfast…and what you’re lying, cheating spouse did to ruin your life!”
Trust me. Don’t.
Find a confidante who is unbiased, trustworthy with your confidence, and a soft place to land.
But keep it off social media, especially if you have children. The tributaries of gossip will reach them in no time.
Be prepared to examine the affair.
Cheating spouse? Be prepared for the questions.
And be prepared to answer them. Over. And over. And over.
Betrayed spouse? Be prepared for the answers.
And be prepared for the truth that not all questions are in the best interest of your healing.
This is a very uncomfortable stage that can seemingly go on forever.
It’s also a stage that needs boundaries – timing, location, containment, etc.
Without question, this is where professional guidance is indispensable.
Be prepared to examine your marriage…and to take ownership of your role in it.
If you are the betrayed spouse, you may think you get carte blanche to focus only on the affair. After all, you’re not responsible for your spouse’s choice to stray.
But this work is about overcoming an affair in your marriage. And, if you are going to save – or reinvent – that marriage, you need to take a hard look at it.
Both of you need to own your contributions to putting your marriage on the threshold of infidelity.
That means the countless little things – the commissions, the omissions, the silent seething, the defensiveness, all of it.
Here is where you will step out of the darkness of infidelity and into the sunrise of hope for your marriage.
Here is where you have the opportunity to create the marriage you should have created from the beginning.
Be willing and prepared to forgive.
If you are at the start of this long journey, forgiveness will seem a long way off, if not altogether impossible.
If you have read this far, however, you have hopefully started to see that there is need – and room – for healing throughout.
And there is need – and room – for forgiveness Each to the other. Each to oneself. Both to the marriage.
And both, as well, to the affair partner, who is often dismissed as invisible, save for the damage caused.
The choice I told you to avoid making in haste early on is a choice you still have to make.
If you are going to stay in your marriage, then give your marriage your all. Give it every chance to become what it always yearned to be.
And celebrate the hard-won victories – because they are hard-won, and they are most certainly victories.
Overcoming an affair in your marriage is one of the most unimaginable mountains a couple can ever climb.
And, even when a marriage doesn’t survive infidelity, there are still healing, climbing, and “overcoming” that must be done in order to thrive.
The magic of hardship is that there is always a gift of opportunity and growth buried within it.
Like Michelangelo said about creating his masterpiece David, you have to see what lies within the stone…and carve to set it free.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.