Finding out that your partner has been unfaithful is one of the most difficult things anyone might have to deal with in a relationship. Your mind shifts furiously from questions about why they would do this, to questioning your relationship, to wondering if you even really know who your partner is.
Learning about an affair in your relationship brings up many questions, and leaves you spiraling in disbelief and hurt. Should you leave your partner? Do you give them a chance to explain themselves? What was going so wrong for us that they felt the need to cheat? At this point you have many questions and few answers. So, what do you do?
Your First Steps
After working with hundreds of couples dealing with the fallout from a betrayal, I have found specific steps that if taken, can give your relationship the best chance of survival:
Step #1: Don’t Make any Big Decisions Right Now
Your emotions are spinning out of control, and rightfully so. This is not the time when you want to make serious life-altering choices that could have consequences for decades to come. Give yourself the gift of time. I advise my couples to not make any decisions about the fate of their relationship within the first 90 days after the discovery of an affair.
You are simply too emotionally raw to allow yourself to think clearly and consider all the options and outcomes that could come with a final decision about staying together. You want to give yourself time to get some answers to the questions that consume your thinking.
Step #2: Reach Out for Professional Help
Dealing with affairs and the implications they present to your relationship is simply too difficult to do alone. I have worked with many couples who waited months or even years before seeking help to deal with an affair. These couples have often done irreparable damage to their relationships since learning of the affair and have a much more difficult time repairing and rebuilding.
I advise you to seek out a professional that has a specialty in working with couples dealing with affairs. There is so much misinformation about affairs—even in the therapy community—and it truly takes a specialist that knows the ins and outs of affair recovery. This professional will help you to chart a course for personal recovery and will help you make decisions about how to move forward in your relationship.
Step #3: Focus on Yourself
You will need to personally recover from this betrayal regardless of whether you chose to stay in and work on your relationship. Individual recovery is a must and times like this call for large amounts of dedicated self-care. Do what you can to take care of yourself physically. Eat well, try to get plenty of rest (sleeping may be hard at this point), and try to go about your daily routine as you normally would.
When your life has just been flipped upside down, you need to establish a sense of normalcy and grounding to make it through the next few weeks and months. If you normally exercise in the mornings, do it. If you usually take the kids to school and go shopping on Mondays, make sure you stick with your routine. Making yourself get up and go can be hard at first, but you will start to feel much better if you can keep yourself moving and living as you normally do.
Step #4: Don’t Make Assumptions
When you don’t know the answers to burning questions, you rely on your mind to help you fill in the blanks. You tell yourself that you know why this happened, or that you know how your partner looks at you or at your relationship. Remind yourself that you can’t be sure right now. While you may have evidence to support your assumptions, we can’t make huge decisions about our lives, our children’s lives and our relationship based on mere assumptions.
Step #5: Ask the Right Questions
You just learned about a very hurtful action your partner took. It makes perfect sense that you would want to know more about the specifics of a betrayal. While it is perfectly normal to ask questions about whathas happened, it won’t be as helpful as asking about why this has happened.
Switching from the “detective questions” to the more “investigative questions” will allow you to make sense of why your partner did what they did. I have worked with far too many couples that stayed stuck in the phase of trying to understand what happened and these couples often never make the shift to understand the meaning of the discretion.
Take Action Now!
Reaching out for help as soon as an affair is uncovered is the best thing you can do. Working with a professional to help you chart a course for personal and relational recovery can make all the difference.
Greg Douglas, LPC specializes in Affair Recovery and Couples Counseling. Greg helps couples and individuals dealing with the fallout of affairs on a daily basis and would be happy to learn more about your needs for recovery.
If you have just discovered an affair and need help, please reach out to Newberg Counseling & Wellness at (503) 994-8424 or visit the profile of our marriage therapy specialist, Greg Douglas.