Infidelity hurts in a way that no other injury does. In part because it’s intentional, so it cuts to the core of who you are and what you are worth, and because it comes from someone you love and trust. Worse, it shakes your beliefs about justice, fairness, and how the world works. Affairs aren’t supposed to happen!
Recovering from an affair, and healing after infidelity and betrayal is possible, and those who do so are stronger and happier with themselves and their lives than they were before disclosure. Regardless of your journey – everyone’s infidelity story is wildly different, yet strikingly similar – healing can only happen if you take these five steps. And no, forgiving the betrayer is not one of them.
Is it Possible to Forgive Infidelity?
You may have heard that in order to feel better, heal, and move on after infidelity, you need to forgive, that is not actually true. While there is power and freedom in forgiveness, rushing to forgive is not what you need right now, nor is it a magic bullet that will set you free. More on that in next week’s show, but for now, take forgiveness off your radar. While forgiving infidelity is possible, true forgiveness can only take place under certain circumstances and while you are in shock, hurt, or grieving, attempting to forgive can do more harm than good.
What to do After Infidelity and Betrayal
Right now, the only thing to do is decide. Do you want to heal from infidelity and betrayal? I know you are in excruciating pain, and that the rug has been completely pulled out from under you, but what do you want to do with this horrendous experience?
What do you want this experience to mean in the larger context of your life? No judgment, but do you want to make this the worst thing that ever happened to you, the best, or something in between? I get that from this vantage point you might not really know or care, but intention is powerful, and unless you intend to heal, you won’t.
Steps to Recover After Infidelity
The five steps you need to take if you want to heal and recover from infidelity and betrayal are:
- Take all the time you need.
- Decide what you want.
- Reclaim who you are
- Be brutally honest, and
- Seek coaching or counseling but keep the spotlight on you.
Let’s break these down, one step at a time.
How Long Does it Take to Heal from Infidelity and Betrayal?
The first step is to take all the time you need. Recovering from infidelity takes 18 months to 2 years and is a process that must be moved through and felt fully. Let yourself grieve and rage, while at the same time keeping sight of the fact that yes, you do want to heal.
Other people, such as your cheating spouse, may push you to make decisions, but you are not tied to anyone else’s timetable except your own. Remember that the unfaithful partner knew about their actions long before you knew about them and is months or years ahead of you in terms of processing.
Be gentle with yourself, sit with your emotions, thoughts, and feelings, and decide not to decide anything for a while.
What Should I do After Infidelity?
The second step is figuring out what you want. Do you want to work on your marriage? Do you want to divorce? Do you want to change careers, go back to school, move states, or find a different place to live? You suddenly hold all the cards and have the power to make decisions exclusively for you. Most people have never had the opportunity to create their life entirely from scratch. While it is equal parts intimidating and thrilling, this is your opportunity to decide how you want life to look going forward.
Remember step one? Deciding, visualizing, imagining, and planning does not necessarily mean taking action. Take all the time you need to figure out what you want. Think through different scenarios, imagine what it would be like if, and let yourself dream.
Learning to Trust After Infidelity
The third step is reclaiming yourself. Who are you? What are your core values? How do you want to move through life both in terms of expressing and being? Unless you know who you are, how will you know if you can trust yourself?
Now is your chance to remember who you are, exclusive of your labels, roles, scripts, and bad habits that you have fallen into over time. Are you a bitter, exhausted person who sucks the life out of a room, or are you the kind of person who moves through life with freshness, grace, and connection?
Now is the time to be who you are and to remember who you were, before the world told you who to be, before life got in the way. Reclaim that person.
Lying and Honesty After Betrayal
The next step is to be brutally honest – with yourself. Do you really want what you say you want, or are you doing what you think you should do or want? We all have thoughts, feelings, and a knowingness within, but oftentimes we ignore what it in favor of something we think we are supposed to do. This is the only life you’ve got. It’s already fallen apart, so why not use this opportunity to speak your truth fully?
Can a Relationship Recover After Infidelity or Betrayal?
Coaching, counseling, or another type of outside intervention is a must if you want to heal from infidelity and betrayal. Especially if you want your relationship to survive the cheating. But there’s one key to successful coaching or counseling that nobody ever talks about. Taking responsibility for your own healing.
I don’t care how badly you want to recover after the affair, and for your partner to change, you cannot force or help another person to change. In fact, the more responsibility you take for another person’s healing, the more you inhibit their healing.
Read that again.
If you really want to make your marriage work, you need to focus on yourself and not on your partner. Yes, I know that you didn’t do anything wrong, that you did not cause this, and that the one who cheated has much more to deal with in terms of self-reflection and understanding than you do, but that doesn’t matter! You can only heal you! You cannot care more about your partner’s healing than they do or they will not heal!
When you work as a team, you must keep the spotlight on you. Focus on your experience, your emotions, what you are feeling, thinking, or are triggered by. Difficult? Youbetcha! But if you want your marriage to work (or even if you don’t) you’ve got to focus on you. Your growth, your aha moments, your healing, your understanding of the situation, and leave your cheating partner’s growth alone.
Stages of Healing After Infidelity
Healing from infidelity and betrayal is a long road that requires perseverance, the ability to sit with uncomfortable emotions, and the ability to be vulnerable in the face of uncertainty. But it can be done. Especially if healing is what you want.
Take your time, feel your feelings, figure out what you want, reclaim who you were before life got in the way, be brutally honest with yourself, and keep the focus on you – not on your partner. When you do, healing is inevitable. And then, and only then, can you even begin to think about forgiving.