January 28, 2021

Surviving Infidelity: Strategies From a Therapist

by | Jan 28, 2021 | Family Issues

Infidelity is one of the most painful experiences to endure. The feelings of confusion, shock, anger, and hurt can be overwhelming and insurmountable. For many, this betrayal can incredibly traumatic.

Although difficult, infidelity does not have to be a relationship death sentence. If you decide you want to stay with your partner, it is possible to survive the infidelity and rebuild the relationship following an affair.

Additionally, certain strategies can help you navigate the complexities of infidelity and come out the other side stronger, both individually and as a couple.  

Don’t Make Any Immediate Decisions 

Learning your partner has been unfaithful will likely bring up strong emotions.

Any feelings that come up (like confusion, anger, hurt, or sadness) are normal and valid. Yet these overwhelming feelings can drive you to want to act immediately.

Unfortunately, when we are emotionally flooded, we don’t always make the best decisions. Instead, the decisions made in the height of emotion are usually impulsive and reactive. It is important to not assume the way you feel today is how you will always feel.

Pausing and waiting until the initial shock has subsided will allow your logical mind to come back on board. Only then will you be able to think through any potential decisions in a balanced way.

Talk to Your Partner

Discovering your partner’s infidelity may cause you to want to shut them out completely.

Too often couples fail to thoroughly discuss the infidelity, and instead end up individually coping rather than as a couple.

Coping in quiet too often leads to further emotional distancing.

For other couples, talking about the infidelity can feel impossible, and it sort of gets swept under the rug. Then, the infidelity becomes an unresolved trauma, which can cast a dark shadow over the relationship. Although difficult, an essential part of surviving infidelity is the actual talking, which can lead to a better understanding of what led your partner to cheat.

Set aside some time to clearly and calmly talk with your partner. This is your chance to ask any questions you might have and for you and your partner to discuss how to move forward.

Other pertinent areas of discussion might include:

  • How to prevent the reoccurrence of infidelity
  • Creating a shared vision of the meaning of infidelity and monogamy  
  • Exploring expectations for moving forward in the relationship

Know It Is Not About You 

Being betrayed by someone with whom you previously trusted can really throw you for a loop. You may find it leads you to question everything, including yourself.

It is hugely common to start to question what you did wrong to make your partner want to stray. Sadly, this will only make you feel worse, and won’t really give you any useful information. This is because your partner’s infidelity was not actually about you. 

It is essential to disavow the idea that you were responsible, in any way, for your partner’s betrayal. Separating yourself from the choice your partner made will allow for accountability to lie where it should – with your partner. 

Practice Self-Care

Discovering infidelity in your relationship can turn your world upside. It can easily become the sole focus, taking attention away from anything else. 

Yet to survive infidelity it is vital to maintain some semblance life balance.

Making self-care a priority will allow you to shift the focus back to your own wellbeing, regardless of the state of your relationship.

Focusing on your needs will help you sustain the energy needed to work on your relationship.

There are many ways to practice self-care including:

  • Taking care of basic health needs – getting enough sleep and adequately nourishing your body
  • Engaging in activities you enjoy – this could be anything from painting to reading to gardening.
  • Move your body – physical activity is one of the greatest tools for improving mental health.  

Practice Patience with Your Feelings

Patience is key to working through infidelity.

Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, for however long you feel it.

It may seem easier to push your feelings away or deny their existence, but that will only prolong the process. Giving yourself the permission to fully feel your feelings is the only way they will begin to dissipate.

You will go through many emotional ups and downs. Some days you might feel healed and like you are moving past the infidelity only to wake up the next day feeling the sting of it all over again.

There is no timeline when working through the challenging emotional experience of infidelity, so have patience. 

Practice Kindness for Your Partner

After a betrayal, it is natural to want to withhold any gestures of kindness towards your partner. This is because it can feel like kindness is a sign of forgiveness. Or, for some, being betrayed by a partner can bring a sense of entitlement, almost like a free pass to be hurtful or disrespectful. Although understandable, it isn’t helpful to withhold kindness from your partner if you want the relationship to survive the infidelity.

Some tips for cultivating kindness when you have been hurt are:

  • Make the first move – because partners often mirror each other’s moods, tones, and body language, it may be difficult extend a kind gesture if your partner isn’t displaying similar behavior.  But instead of waiting on your partner, make the first move and see what happens.  Chances are your partner will extend kindness back.
  • Fake it – this may sound unhelpful at first, but behavior frequently proceeds feelings and emotions. So, while you may not actually be experiencing kind feelings towards your partner, acting as though you do may help bring about authentic feelings.  
  • Remember it can be both – throughout the process of healing from infidelity, you may find yourself feeling conflicting feelings about your partner. For example, maybe you find yourself wanting a hug from your partner but hesitate to ask because you are still angry, hurt, etc. This can be confusing. But remember, it can be both – you can be angry/hurt/etc. and still experience loving or affectionate feelings toward your partner.  

Seek Professional Help

If you can, seeking professional help can be hugely helpful for surviving an infidelity.

Ideally, both you and your partner would participate in therapy together. A professional can help you work through the intense emotions brought on by the infidelity as well as address the needs of both partners.

Couples counseling for infidelity often also involves:

  • Improving communication skills
  • Building conflict tolerance
  • Exploration of attachment styles
  • Addressing any codependence issues
  • Increasing the capacity for honesty
  • Encouraging personal responsibility 

If your partner is unwilling to attend therapy, you can still benefit in working with a counselor or therapist on an individual level to help you move through the difficult experience and determine the best course of action for your life and overall wellbeing.  

Know You Are Not Alone

Infidelity is common.

In fact, a study conducted by the Kinsey Institute in 2010 showed 1 in 5 people in relationships will be unfaithful. 

But tracking the prevalence of infidelity is challenging for a few reasons. Infidelity is a subjective term in that people may define it differently.

Some only consider a sexual relationship to be an infidelity, while others may include emotional relationships.

Additionally, gathering precise numbers is tricky because some people may be unwilling to be honest about their infidelity, ensuring gaps in any data collected.

Nonetheless, the knowledge that infidelity occurs in many relationships may help you feel less alone and perhaps, help you open up to those around you.    

Forgive

Forgiveness may feel impossible, especially in the early stages of recovering from infidelity.

Moving toward forgiveness may take time, so any expectations of achieving forgiveness early on should be dispelled. And while forgiveness may be the most challenging part of the process, it is essential if your relationship is to survive infidelity.

The following things could be helpful in achieving forgiveness:  

  • Radical acceptance – radical acceptance is a helpful tool when it comes to things that are out of our control. Radically accepting something does not mean you like it, agree with it, condone it, etc. It simply means choosing to see reality for what it is, without judgment. Practicing radical acceptance is a good stepping stone toward forgiveness in that it can help you not sit in the spiral of negative thoughts about your partner, your relationship, or yourself.  It frees the mind to identify what you do have control over.  Essentially, radical acceptance is like saying “it is what it is and now what can I do.   
  • Identify what you need in order to forgive – maybe you need to hear your partner make amends for the infidelity, or maybe you need to reconnect with your partner on an emotional level before you can forgive. Get clear on what you need or what might help you forgive, and remember, what you need might change and evolve as you move through the healing process.
  • Know that forgiveness is for the past – forgiving your partner means you are forgiving their past behavior and are willing to work through the pain of infidelity. Forgiving is not saying the past behavior was OK, nor is it giving permission for similar behavior in the future.   

Although surviving infidelity is a complex process, it does not have to mean divorce. If both partners are open, willing, and committed, a new, and even stronger relationship can be formed. 

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Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

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