Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
Whether you're reading this because your infidelity was just uncovered or you're looking to see what your partner should be doing after you've discovered their infidelity, this is a great place to start. Many resources and guides exist for those who have been betrayed; we have a great starting point here. Those who have been found out often feel just as lost and directionless, and you deserve guidance too.
What we'll take a look at today is “How do we move forward?” Hopefully this means working to heal your relationship and yourself, but know that even if your relationship is over, there is work to be done to heal yourself and secure a healthy future. I see three main pieces to moving forward: managing the crisis of the moment, identifying and resolving underlying causes of the infidelity, and healing the relationship.
For many people, the idea of cheating is never something they considered would happen to them or something they would do. No one enters into a relationship or marriage planning to cheat. Unfortunately, many couples experience infidelity in some form over the course of their relationship. Whether you've been having a long-term affair or cheated once, it can feel like you've been sitting on a time bomb that could go off at any moment, constantly building up more explosive force. So, when it does go off, it feels like the end of your world.
Everyone Involved Needs Support
The first thing to know is that both you and your partner need support. Reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or a therapist is necessary. Many people want to hide their infidelity at first from the people close to them; a therapist is a great resource in this case. I would also recommend finding a support group for both the betrayed partner and the partner who did the betraying. Hearing other's experiences and that you're not alone can be a tremendous help. As the one who did the cheating, if you want to save your relationship, it's important to show right away that you're willing to put in the work to make things better. This means actively seeking out therapy, support groups, reading books, and showing up for your partner.
This brings us to the explosive part of this bomb going off - and that's your partner's emotions. They've got a lot of big emotions right now and the right to express them. Normally most of us have no problem listening to and supporting our partners. However, when the anger and hurt are pointed at you, it triggers an overwhelming feeling of shame that can cause you to shut down, walk away, or even get angry in return. Learning to manage and process this shame is a key component to successfully moving forward. A good starting point is to try and shift that shame into guilt. This sounds like changing "I'm a bad person" into "I did a bad thing." All of the focus may be on your partner as the one who is hurt, and right now the focus does need to be on their hurt. This doesn't mean that you don't get to hear that this is a hard process with a lot of hurt and hard feelings to process on your side too. That's why getting support for yourself as well is so important.
The BIG Question: "Why?"
“Why?” is the single biggest question you're going to hear or want to ask. The answer to this question is critical. People don't cheat for no reason. Sex is great, but not worth ruining a good relationship or marriage over. Infidelity happens for many reasons, but usually because something is broken. That might be something that is broken internally, or it might be something that's broken in the relationship. An example of something broken internally might be that you've had trauma in your past, bad parental relationships, or a terrible previous relationship. This can leave you feeling something that sounds like "I'm not lovable" or "I'm not good enough." Because these are internal problems, external things like having a great loving partner can't fix them, but you still feel the pain of that hurt and the pain drives you to find anything that can act as a salve. Affairs act like a drug in this case: it's a huge hit of "You're lovable" or "You're wanted" but it soon fades, and you need another hit to stop the pain. This is a big internal issue to work through, but it's a much more honest answer than "I couldn't resist temptation."
Something also might be broken in the relationship. Maybe you and your partner have grown further and further apart without taking the steps to fix it. Your connection emotionally, sexually, or both is broken and your needs aren't being met. I want to be very clear on this: regardless of what needs aren't being met in the relationship, the choice to cheat is your own and anything less than complete ownership of this choice isn't going to help. However, recognizing how both people may have had a hand in pushing you towards that choice can be necessary to identify and resolve these underlying causes of infidelity. Working together, or with a therapist, to identify just what caused the infidelity and how to fix it internally, or between the two of you, is a necessary step in moving forward.
Time Heals All Wounds
This is one of my favorite and least favorite quotes in therapy. Time absolutely can help couples get through anything; I've seen it happen many times. The thing is, it's not the time that's healing: it's what you choose to do with the time that is given to you. One of the biggest things you can do to heal, especially in the beginning, is just listen to your partner's hurt and validate their feelings.
Brené Brown has a fantastic clip on empathy and how to validate here:
Using this model to hear and validate your partner is a step you'll take a thousand times. Be ready to hear the same things and have the same conversations over and over again. But know that every time you can listen and validate, you're chipping away at the massive ball of hurt your partner is now carrying around. As I said above, this is hard because your partner's hurt and anger may trigger your own shame about your choices. You need to be spending some of your own time processing those feelings of shame. (I can't say this enough.)
The number one thing I see get in the way of couples healing from infidelity is the shame of the partner who did the cheating. It acts as a block to the betrayed partner getting to share their feelings and start healing. One other great way to start the healing process is by beginning to rebuild trust. Right now, there is no trust, so proof of trustworthiness (or as close as you can get to it) is really helpful. This can mean shifting boundaries into a place that may not be healthy when the relationship is healed. For example, many couples choose to give the betrayed full access to their partner’s phone whenever they're feeling afraid. This gives your partner the chance to show themselves that nothing is happening right now and calm their fear and rebuild trust. Most people don't want to have to do things like this, and drop it as soon as trust is rebuilt, but it can help you get there.
Overall this is an absolutely overwhelming mountain to try and climb alone, but with the right support you can move forward. Many couples and individuals find their relationship in a stronger and healthier place than before the affair even happened. By working to resolve underlying problems in yourself and in your relationship, you create a stronger, healthier future.
Interested in Starting Therapy for Infidelity in Plymouth, MN?
Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need to deal with infidelity. Our sex therapists want to help you address sexual concerns here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to therapy for infidelity, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.