About Affairs

03 Jan

The Six “R’s” of Healing an Affair

You might be surprised  at how upset your partner is about your affair.    The amount of rage, and hatred directed at you can seem overwhelming, as well as the depression and withdrawal that your partner might also be experiencing.  Although you both might want to work it out, you can find yourselves tossed about in  a turbulent sea of emotions.  You may feel desperate for a way to fix things, and have no idea how.  Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind during this time.  If you try to stay as calm as possible and focus on these “6 “R’s” you stand a very good chance of helping your relationship heal.

Responsibility:  This might not seem fair, but the first step in healing is taking complete responsibility for the affair.  It doesn’t matter what was going on in the marriage that may have contributed; you and you alone made the decision to go outside of the relationship.  Your first emotional task is to make sure, that you repeatedly convey this to your partner.  If this does seem unfair because you also have complaints about your marriage, remember that  your partner is not  in any condition to consider these issues  during the aftermath of the discovery.

Relinquishing Your Affair Partner:   Can you really and completely let this person go, forever?  It is important to be honest with yourself and take time to really think it over.  During the initial crisis of discovery, you might want to do everything you can to convince your partner that the other person meant absolutely nothing to you, but this is rarely true.  This is work to do on your own, perhaps with an individual therapist.  Your spouse is not someone who can support you in an honest exploration of the other relationship.  If you really can’t let the other person go you need to be honest about that.  However, with that relationship continuing there is not enough safety for your primary relationship to heal.   Although you might think you are protecting your partner from further pain, continuing to lie about the other relationship is like planting land mines in your marriage.  Ignoring your attachment to the other person and convincing yourself you can just cut them off without saying goodbye and not allowing yourself to be sad for a while about the ending will make it impossible for your to be fully emotionally present for your partner.

Remorse:  A heartfelt apology can seem like so little in the face of your partner’s pain, but it can be very soothing.  Your apologies counteract your partner’s feelings that she is not important to you and that you don’t care about her feelings.  It is important to understand that the effects of the apology might not last beyond a few minutes. You might have to apologize many times before it can feel real to your partner.

Reassurance:  Like remorse, reassurance may have to be offered again and again.  The two things that your partner needs most when they are triggered about the affair are the heartfelt apology and reassurance.  They need to be reassured that you love them and they are the most important person in the world to you, that you are committed to doing what it takes to heal together, and  that your partner is the one you want, not the other person.  Again, this might not seem like much in the face of your partner’s panic and rage, but it is extremely important that you offer it again and again.

Reliability:  Trust has been broken.  Trust can be reestablished over time in this way:  say what you are going to do and then do it.  Keep agreements.  Don’t make promises you are not absolutely sure you can keep.  If you have a meeting time and are going to be late, even ten minutes, call.

Realistic Attitude:  The reality is that things will be difficult for the two of you for a long time.  The average time it takes to heal an affair is two years.  Be prepared to keep doing the same things over and over for a while without getting much in return  For an affair of any significance, it takes about six months for the initial rage to die down.  Pressuring your partner to “think positive,” or  “move forward” will probably make things worse. Either they will become more angry, or yield to the pressure, feeling like they can no longer be real with you. That could lead to emotional disconnection.

Replenishing:  Self care is crucial at this time. Agreements about not processing the affair after bedtime might be hard to stick to in the beginning, but the body will adapt and restore it’s natural sleep pattern sooner if you do so.   Lack of sleep and poor nutrition severely limit your body’s ability to process difficult emotions.  Continue your regular exercise program.  There are nutritional supplements that can support the body during times of stress and trauma.  Allow good times to happen without worrying that the two of you are “in denial.”

The “Six R’s” provide a solid foundation progress into the heart of healing.  To learn about this read “Why Being Good Won’t Heal an Affair.”

The things I am talking about are very difficult to stay committed to on your own.  You partner might very likely be pushing your buttons left and right in an attempt to get back at you.  Marriage counseling can be very helpful in supporting the process of healing from affairs, and later addressing underlying issues in the marriage that may have contributed to their occurrence.

One Response to “The Six “R’s” of Healing an Affair”

  1. 1
    Anonymous Says:

    Is anyone married to a man who will actually do this stuff after having an affair? I wish mine would.

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Susan Berger is a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA and Walnut Creek, CA (lic. # MFC21193) | 121 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 | 1415 Oakland Blvd, Ste. 100, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
photography by Bethanie Hines