how to communicate with your spouse after an affair

How To Communicate With Your Spouse After An Affair

The revelation of infidelity, whether by disclosure or discovery, is a life-shattering event. It can elicit emotions and reactions you never thought you were capable of. And talking about the affair might be paralyzing to you both.

The irony of the topic “communication after an affair” is that marriages vulnerable to infidelity are often characterized by poor communication. Now, after the crisis of infidelity, couples need to double-down and talk while feeling rage, resentment, shame, and guilt – circumstances that would challenge even model communicators.

If you are the betrayed spouse and have learned of your spouse’s infidelity, you have two choices as a couple: stay together or split. If the decision is to stay together, the question then becomes how. You either continue with your back turned to the ongoing infidelity, or you pull up your bootstraps and get to work.

Statistics on Surviving of Marriage After an Affair.

Once you have had the air kicked out of you by an affair, you may naturally think it’s impossible to survive it. But, even though infidelity accounts for 20-40% of divorces in America, the survival rate for marriages affected by infidelity is much higher.

When men cheat, the survival rate is 75%. When women cheat, the rate is 65%. Why the difference? One reason may be that men are less likely than women to form an emotional attachment to the affair partner.

What do these statistics tell you if you are experiencing the aftermath of infidelity?

First, despite the gravity of the betrayal, couples aren’t always quick to call it quits.

Second, by implication, if you are willing to learn how to communicate with your spouse after an affair, you can survive it. You can even rise above it.

There are a lot of people affected by an affair — those having the affair, the betrayed spouse, children, family, and friends. And every person has a unique set of emotions and personal risks because of a choice that two people made. (Yes, even the “lying, cheating you-know-whats” have deep emotions, risks, and fears related to their actions.)

If you and your spouse decide to go forward together, you will both have to uphold your responsibility for healthy communication. 

Learning how to communicate with your spouse after an affair is not a punishment belonging to the cheating spouse. It is the mutual responsibility of two people who believe there is an entity more significant than the infidelity. And that entity — the marriage — is worth fighting to save.

Post-affair communication can be effective if the couple can hang in there and stay connected during the painful conversation. If you are the betrayed spouse, the thought of feeling anything but anger toward someone who has so violated your trust may make your skin crawl. Staying connected is challenging to say the least.

How to communicate with your spouse after an affair if you are the betraying spouse.

If you are the betraying spouse, you may have a different block to connection. You have, after all, been “connecting” with someone outside your marriage. And if you have built an emotional tie with the affair partner, you may not want or know how to disengage. You may care for both your spouse and your affair partner and feel confused about choosing between them.

If the decision is to save your marriage, you will have no choice but to end the affair and commit entirely to your spouse. Rebuilding trust is a long, uncomfortable process with no guarantees. And it will take your full determination to succeed.

Perhaps the ugliest part of rebuilding trust is willingly and completely answering any and all questions from your spouse. You have to become an agent of healing for the wounds you have caused. And you have to help the two of you get to where you can talk about the affair without all the pain.

Knowing how to communicate with your spouse after an affair is easier if you embrace empathy as your non-negotiable. You will need to listen — actively listen — to the pain you have caused and how it is affecting your spouse’s life. And you may have to listen to your spouse describe the same pain over and over for what may lend new meaning to “forever.”

Know that your spouse is going to be listening for an expression of remorse and regret in every last thing you say. Your job is to deliver.

Apologizing doesn’t have to be groveling. It just has to be genuine…and repeated. An effective apology demonstrates you understand the pain your actions caused. The best apology does not include any excuses or point a scintilla of blame at your spouse, even though your spouse may have contributed to marital unhappiness.

How to communicate with your spouse after an affair if you are the betrayed spouse.

If you are the betrayed spouse, you undoubtedly feel the full range of negative emotions. You may feel overwhelmed, even frightened, by their unpredictability. You may be too angry to follow tips on how to communicate with your spouse after an affair and feel justified about taking out your rage on your spouse. After all, they’ve hurt you deeply, aren’t you entitled to hurt them back?

It’s natural that you would think the responsibility for communication — heck, for everything — belongs with your cheating spouse. As if you haven’t suffered enough, now you have to figure out how to communicate with your spouse after an affair? You’ll probably find the situation totally unfair, an insult to injury.

Your challenge will be to keep a check on your anger. You will be asking a lot of deeply probing questions that will be painful and embarrassing for your spouse to answer. If you go into attack mode, you probably won’t get the honesty and transparency you want.

Remember…you are striving for connection and ultimately renewed (or new) intimacy. You may be discussing something that has happened in the past, but you are communicating in the present. And you are trying to protect your chance at a future. As you talk to your spouse, you’ll need to keep your intention at the forefront of your mind which is easier said than done.

How you communicate with your spouse after an affair will be most productive if you use it as an opportunity to describe the impact of the affair on you. Discuss your anger and underlying hurt — what triggers it, how it interferes with your life and health, how it underlies other emotions. Discuss your doubts and fears. Discuss the negative effects on your self-esteem and self-worth.

You will also need to practice active listening — just as you expect your spouse to do. Yes, your spouse has to accept full responsibility for choosing an affair as a way to deal with marital or personal unhappiness. But you may have both played a role that led to an unhappy relationship.

If you are going to go forward as a couple, you will both need to share, listen, and be heard

Because your internal rage will take a long time to diminish, set a time limit for talking about the affair. Be careful not to let it consume your life. Regardless of your spouse’s cheating, there are still two of you trying to recreate one marriage. You will have a better chance of getting the transparency you want and the empathy you need if you don’t broadside your spouse. Leave some space for the positives to make an appearance.

Finally, it’s important for both of you to acknowledge the difficult, sensitive nature of your post-affair situation. If communication was less than optimal leading up to the affair, it will be even more difficult now.

For this reason, seeking a therapist team that specializes in marriage and infidelity issues is advisable. Instead of trying to navigate this dark, frightening territory alone, you can focus on your personal responsibility under the guidance of experts. They will help you ask the right questions, answer questions with thoughtful honesty, and listen with an intention to reconnect.

They will also help you bridge the space between you with renewed promise.

Infidelity may leave you feeling alone and lonely. But learning how to communicate with your spouse after an affair isn’t something you need to do alone.

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats