The partner who was caught in infidelity could be feeling shame, anger, and regret or just any number of circumstances could have led to the discovery of the affair, but now both partners know about it. The partner who has now found out about the other’s infidelity is undoubtedly struggling with emotions ranging from sadness to hurt to disappointment to rage to inadequacy to anger to disbelief.“
Are these feelings normal? How can I even begin to process what has just happened? Will my life ever stop spiraling out of control?” ratification, and no remorse if they are trying to make excuses or blame the other partner. “What do I do now? Will they ever forgive me?”
For a more in-depth discussion of these feelings and thoughts, join us here.
i) I just found out that my partner had an affair – now what? Are all these feelings normal?
ii) My partner just found out that I had an affair – now what? What do I do now?
Most likely, one of the first things that the partner will do is think back over the past few weeks or months to see if they missed any signs that their partner was cheating. This is a healthy thing to do up to the point where the partner begins blaming themselves for missing what they believe are the signs because the unfaithful partner made their own choices in those moments to be unfaithful, completely independent of the signs. However, recognizing the signs is an important part of the healing process later on because it will highlight the areas of both of your lives that need accountability in place.
The partner who has discovered the infidelity could feel paralyzed by the shock and sadness they are feeling and have difficulty thinking about how to even carry on a daily routine. There are many layers to this trauma, as discussed here. Beginning individual therapy sessions with a counselor who specializes in infidelity and betrayal trauma will be instrumental in processing the multifaceted traumas that the partner is feeling, ranging from existential trauma to relational and emotional trauma. This therapist will be able to empathize and provide perspective to the partner, helping them take small steps to reclaim their inner world.
The unfaithful partner has some comprehensive soul-searching to do, hopefully resulting in the immediate breaking off of the affair relationship for good. The guilt, shame, regret, and even entitlement that they could be feeling at this time is best processed with an individual therapist specializing in this area.
There will likely be very practical logistical conversations that need to take place around living situations, childcare, or household finances, which could be very difficult conversations to have at such a turbulent time, but both partners need to focus on the task at hand even if they do not want to be cordial at this time.
i) guilt, shame, entitlement, etc. that the betrayer goes through
ii) Shattered Inner World – Feeling that your four core beliefs (the world is benign and a source of pleasure; the world is meaningful, controllable, and just; people are trustworthy and worth relating to; and the self is worthy, lovable, good, and competent) are being threatened.
iii) Life Crisis – The disparity between belief and reality that develops after the discovery of the infidelity.
iv) Existential Trauma –Questioning the core beliefs around which they have created meaning and their ability to make sound decisions.
v) Emotional Trauma – This involves the patterns of emotional abuse (lying, deceiving, manipulating) used by the unfaithful spouse to keep their secret.
vii) Relational Trauma – The damage that has been done to their marriage relationship.
Even after weeks or months of individual therapy sessions and processing what has happened, emotions can still be running high, so even thinking about sitting down to have a conversation with your partner makes your blood boil. But you both know that you need to talk through things if you are ever going to begin the journey to reconciliation and healing. Seeking couples therapy provides a safe place for both partners to speak openly with each other as guided and prompted by the therapist, discussed in detail here. It is important that both partners be willing to give therapy a shot as a representation of their commitment to renewing their relationship, even when it is uncomfortable and difficult. A therapist can help you both work through baggage from childhood traumas or previous relationships that could be contributing to how you are feeling right now, and by dealing with all of your traumas and emotions as a couple, you will learn a new level of empathy that you could not have understood otherwise.
Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Susan Johnson, and Dr. Stan Tatkin have all done extensive research on the topic of couples therapy after infidelity and they have each developed their own methods to be used in therapy. Their results have shown that couples who seek therapy together have a much higher likelihood of reconciling and rekindling their relationship long-term. For thorough descriptions of these methods visit this page.In short, Gottman’s method has the couple focus on their shared goals, interests, and mutual respect and attraction for one another. The Johnson method is based on the bonding that occurred in each of your childhoods and creates a map based on those findings to help you manage conflict and develop intimacy together. The Tatkin method relates to neuroscience, attachment theory, and human arousal to help you understand yourselves and each other better. While you should be encouraged by the findings of research like this, please know that we understand that your relationship has facets that can and never should be generalized down to a fact or figure. An adept therapist will treat you both as individuals and as a unit in their assessment and therapy sessions, taking the time to sincerely understand and empathize with your situation.
While there is no definitive timeframe for when to seek individual and couples therapy that can be applied to everyone, the simple answer is “when you are ready.” It is recommended that both partners go to several weeks or months of individual therapy before attending couples therapy sessions together, and your individual therapists will be able to help you understand when it is time to take that step in the process. Patience and honesty are key for both partners when deciding the timing for couples therapy, as neither partner should feel rushed to begin before they are ready, but it could be harmful or counterproductive to wait so long that to optimal window has passed. You should also go into couples therapy with an understanding that you are committing to months or years of therapy, so it is alright if one or both of you is not ready to completely open up immediately. As long as you are both committed to working through things together, you are in a good place and the time is right. For a little more clarity on the ideal timing, read our discussion on the topic here.
You and your partner may be 99% ready to begin couples therapy, but you are not ready to be 100% yet because you still have some lingering questions about what you should expect during therapy.“What kinds of things will the therapist be asking us? Will we have to hold hands and stare into each others’ eyes as we answer questions? How long will our sessions be?” We discuss this in depth on this page. In brief, a lot of the functional aspects of your sessions will depend on the method of therapy that you and your therapist decide to pursue, but you should also honestly tell your therapist what you are and are not comfortable with throughout the process. Most couples therapists primarily employ either the Gottman, Johnson, or Tatkin models mentioned above, so after becoming familiar with these methods, look for a therapist in your area who specializes in the one you think you will prefer. Don’t just settle for the first therapist you find online; do some research and call around to find the right fit. This is a key aspect of the process that should not be overlooked.
5 Questions to Ask Potential Couples Therapists When Dealing with Infidelity
Another helpful thing to do is decide on a consistent day and time for your therapy sessions. This will help minimize scheduling conflicts and show that you are both taking a step towards prioritizing your relationship above other things. Even after you complete your therapy sessions together, you could continue to block this time to spend with each other.
i) What is the counselor going to ask us? Do we need to prepare beforehand?
Right now, you may find it difficult (or impossible) to believe that you and your partner could heal after this episode of infidelity. Forgiveness may take a while, but as long as you are committed to trying and following the process through couples therapy, it will come. There are little ways that you can begin to restore trust between you, such as setting up an accountability system on your phones and computers that you can both access, intentionally planning a date to do an activity that you did at the beginning of your relationship such as bowling or getting deep dish pizza, or setting aside one night a week where the whole family sits down to dinner together with no devices allowed.
Your therapist will give you little homework assignments after your sessions that will help you learn to work together and develop shared meaning again. Do your best to complete those assignments, but be honest if you couldn’t. Healing is certainly a process, and it is important that you both have grace and patience with each other along the way. There will be slip-ups and mistakes, but the important part is how you both handle them. For more information about the hope for healing, visit this page.
“You make it sound so easy. Our relationship can never be the same…can it?” Your relationship will never be the same as it was before the affair, but it could be stronger and richer after weathering this storm together, as we discuss here. You could come to appreciate each other even more than before, knowing what you have both been through separately and together. You have the opportunity to create a new meaningful and rewarding relationship together and maybe even become a resource for other couples who are recovering after an affair. You have the experience of knowing that life isn’t always as perfect as we portray it on social media, and you can reach out to other couples in their hurt and point them to healing through therapy.