15 Steps to Surviving an Affair and Infidelity

Follow these steps slowly and carefully to heal your relationship.

From The 7 Stages of Marriage (Reader's Digest Association Books)
By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage
Surviving an Affair

Your marriage can survive an affair. Healing from infidelity is hard, painful work; both of you must be committed to repairing the damage, rebuilding trust, and reconnecting. The unfaithful spouse must be willing to stop the affair, provide all details honestly and completely, and take the steps necessary to prove his or her trustworthiness. The betrayed spouse must take the job of healing seriously—by not minimizing or trying to speed up the process and, at times, by setting aside overwhelming anger and despair in order to learn more about what’s happened. Stopping secrecy and building a more honest union are the keys.

If you both make a commitment to follow these strategies with your whole heart, your marriage has a good chance of surviving the affair—and emerging stronger on the other side.

6 Steps for the Unfaithful Spouse

1. Promise to stop the affair—and to stop seeing your lover—immediately. Agree to sever all contact. This lifts secrecy and creates a sense of safety for the betrayed spouse. Stopping an affair goes beyond no dinner dates or sex. All phone calls, in-person conversations, and quick coffee breaks together must stop. If you work with the person with whom you had an affair, keep your encounters strictly businesslike—and tell your spouse everything that happens. Avoid private lunch dates and closed-door meetings. It’s also important to report any chance meetings with your former lover to your spouse before he or she asks about it. Talk about your conversation. If your former lover contacts you, announce that too.

2. Answer any and all questions. More and more marriage experts agree that couples heal better after an affair if the adulterous spouse supplies all of the information requested by his or her betrayed partner. In one study of 1,083 betrayed husbands and wives, those whose spouses were the most honest felt better emotionally and reconciled more completely, reports affairs expert Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs, who developed the international Beyond Affairs Network. “I’ve talked with plenty of people who say with pride that they never talked about the affair,” she says. “That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover. My own husband had 12 affairs over seven years. I’m convinced the main reason I recovered was his willingness to answer all of my questions.” It’s counterintuitive—many spouses (and therapists) think that going over the details will only further upset the aggrieved partner. Truth is, willingness to talk rebuilds trust. The key? Not holding back—no more secrets. If you leave out details that emerge later, your spouse may feel newly betrayed.

3. Show your spouse empathy, no matter what. The single best indicator of whether a relationship can survive infidelity is how much empathy the unfaithful partner shows when the betrayed spouse gets emotional about the pain caused by the affair, according to infidelity expert Shirley Glass, Ph.D.

4. Keep talking and listening, no matter how long it takes. You can’t speed up your spouse’s healing process, and you shouldn’t ever negate its significance. Be ready to answer questions at any time, even months or years after the affair has ended. And listen to his or her reactions without anger or blame.

5. Take responsibility. Blaming your partner for the affair won’t heal your marriage. Showing sincere regret and remorse will. Apologize often and vow to never commit adultery again. It may seem obvious to you that you’ll never stray again, but your spouse may have worries, so renew your commitment to your spouse as your one-and-only.

6. Don’t expect quick or easy forgiveness. Your partner may be in deep pain or shock. Expect tears, rage, and anger.