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How To Repair a Marriage After An Affair

The Violating Partner

Be committed to reconciliation and healing.

Apologize—Your partner may be so devastated, hurt, angry and frightened, that your apology may not sooth him or her. Regardless, still make a sincere heartfelt apology, because not making an apology will do more harm than good. Ask for forgiveness, and vow never to repeat the behavior. And apologize often. Repeating your apology over the first few weeks and even months will help to repair your marriage. Keep in mind that in order for healing to occur, your partner needs to hear you express your sorrow and regret many times, and in many ways, so don’t be annoyed for doing so.

Answer questions honesty—Your spouse will have a lot of questions to ask you. Be willing to answer all of them, with the exception of the details of your sexual behavior. Describing these details to your spouse can imprint painful images in his or her mind, which will do more harm than good.

Terminate the other relationship—You cannot be reconciled with your partner if you do not end the relationship with the other person. The best way to do this is on the telephone, in front of your partner. Make it clear to this person that your partner is present, and that you have not been pressured into ending the relationship. Make it clear that this is your decision. Assert your dedication to healing your marriage. Be clear that you will not have contact again, or if this is impossible (if this person is a work colleague or relative), specify the boundaries you will put around this contact.

Be totally transparent—The affair has ruined any trust your partner has for you. Restoring trust is necessary to repair your marriage. Therefore, invite your partner to check up on you. Invite him or her to look at your phone and phone records, text messages, emails, Facebook chats, etc. If you cannot be completely transparent you are not being honest toward your partner. Without honesty there is no trust, and without trust you will never repair your marriage. Transparency is your guarantee to your partner that you are sincerely remorseful and serious about reconciliation.

Focus on the antecedents—(see the same topic in the non-violating partner’s column.) Be committed to fixing what went wrong in your marriage before the affair.

Be patient—The affair is a tremendous hurt for your partner and consequently healing is going to take time. If your partner is reluctant to forgive you immediately, you should accept that. Keep in mind that professionals compare an affair to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Your partner may be experiencing unwanted intrusive thoughts and images, severe anxiety, panicky feelings, confusion, etc. He or she will need time to recover and your patients with make all the difference in getting there.

Provide support and assurance—If you were a rather absent spouse before, you will need to change your behavior. Being present in the relationship will be key to restoring your marriage to good health.

Do not be defensive—As your partner works on recovering from the hurt of the affair he or she may criticize you. The most helpful way to respond is to be a good listener and then restate the comments or questions you listened to. But, do not become defensive and start cross complaining, especially in the beginning of the healing process. Make it your goal to show your partner that you are interested in understanding his or her concerns. Listening to understand does not mean you agree. It does show that you care. Demonstrating understanding is a powerful way to achieve healing.

Give space and freedom—Because it is going to take some time for healing to occur, don’t press your partner for sex or to get back to normal relations. Be patient and don’t be annoyed if he or she wants to be alone. Also behave toward your partner with increased kindness. Let him or her have his or her way. Be gracious and do more of what he or she wants. This is especially important in the beginning of the healing process.

The Non-violating Partner

Be committed to reconciliation and healing.

Evaluate the entire marriage, not just the affair—Your partner didn’t just wake up one day and decide to have an affair. Over time, maybe years, the process of your relationship broke down and became unhealthy, which led to loneliness in the marriage. Whether you recognize this or not, that is what happened. Both you and your partner are responsible for the breakdown. That is not to excuse your partner for his or her decision to cheat on you. Keep in mind that marriage is about giving each other emotional support and protection, and making each other feel loved and valued. Evaluate how your behaviors and attitudes prevented you from giving that emotional support and contributed to the loneliness in your marriage. This first step is to admit to yourself shared responsibility for the breakdown in your marriage, which facilitated the affair.

Take a hard look at yourself—Before the affair, did you behave in ways that could be considered “unlovable”? Not occasional grumpiness. We all do that. But real, unkind, overly critical, uncaring, unlovable behavior could cause, even someone who loves you, to go look elsewhere for kindness, compassion, and a tender touch. If you’re cold and withhold yourself from your partner, realize that he or she got into this relationship for your companionship. If you withhold kindness, tenderness, or sex from your partner, he or she may seek it elsewhere, or end the relationship. It’s not reasonable to believe your spouse would take a vow of celibacy indefinitely. Being kind, tender, and or sexy with your partner can make a real difference in your relationship.

Ask only helpful questions—In order to heal you do need to ask questions, but keep in mind that some questions will create more problems for you. Ask questions about who, where, when, and why. Do not ask questions about intimacy and sexual behavior. Keep in mind that healing involves forgetting. Otherwise you may dwell on mental images of the two of them together. Having images of the sexual behaviors in your mind will make it very difficult to forget, and can influence you to compare and negatively judge yourself. Ask yourself, “How will it help me to know that information?” If you’re honest, you will conclude that it really will not help.

Focus on the antecedents—The affair has put your marriage in a crisis. Think of your marriage history as having two parts: (1) before the affair, and (2) after the affair. The interactional patterns between the two of you before the affair is what caused your marriage to become dysfunctional. That dysfunction affected your partner to experience rejection and loneliness. You also may have been affected in the same way by your partner’s behaviors before the affair. Both of you need to learn how to interact in new ways that make you both feel loved and wanted. Think of this as the third part of your marriage history. Think of it as a new beginning. This one step is the most important part of your work to repair your marriage. Find a marriage therapist who can help both of you with this important step.

Evaluate for self-judgment—You should evaluate, as a result of the affair, whether or not you are judging yourself. Ask yourself these questions: “Do I think about and compare myself to the person who had the affair with my partner? Do I wonder whether that person has nicer traits than I do? Do I feel inadequate now? Do I worry that I’m not good enough, not attractive enough?” If these types of thoughts run through your mind you need to stop having them. Compare yourself to yourself and no one else. Be the person that you are. Tell yourself that the affair was the result of your interactions with your partner and not due to your innate traits. If you are judging yourself and you feel stuck, find a therapist who can help you work on overcoming these difficult feelings.

Keep it a private matter—While it is tempting to try to get support among your friends and family for “your side of the story,” don't. The last thing you want is for well-meaning friends and family to “take your side,” while alienating or demonizing your spouse. If you must, choose one friend who you know will be supportive to both of you, and talk discreetly about your feelings. Better yet, talk to a professional, who can provide you with sound advice.

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