Does this Cycle Sound Familiar?
|One person has an emotional or sexual affair (affair partner).
|The other person finds out on their own without their partner telling them (betrayed partner).
|The betrayed partner is hurt and wants to ask lots of questions.
|The betrayed partner asks questions multiple times to see if the answers are consistent.
|The affair partner acts like they are on a witness stand, and offers minimal information out of shame, to avoid criticism, and/or to minimize causing more hurt.
|The affair partner wants to put the past in the past and move on.
|The betrayed partner can’t put the past in the past until they have had a sincere apology, have had their questions answered (some questions may not help, such as intimate details), and can look for examples to rebuild trust over time.
|The more the betrayed partner pursues, the more the affair partner withdraws
Not all of the above scenarios will present themselves all of the time, but they represent common scenarios.
Healing is a Process
Rebuilding trust after infidelity can be a tough journey for couples. The healing process is no walk in the park, and it often takes months or sometimes years to consistently rebuild trust. The betrayed partner might go through symptoms similar to PTSD, while the one who cheated often deals with intense guilt and shame, experiencing their own set of PTSD-like symptoms. Both partners need healing, and the timeline for affair recovery varies—ranging from weeks to months to even years. Factors like the type of affair, its duration, and the level of deception all play a role in determining how long the healing process may take.
Affairs are Sometimes a Symptom of Larger Problems
Much of our society tells us monogamy isn’t natural or that men, in particular, have evolved to cheat as a means to maximize the reproduction and survival of humankind. While there may be some evidence to support this, there is also evidence of how vital committed couples are for healthy family units. Most couples have been able to commit to one another without cheating. Traditionally men have indeed been most likely to have affairs. Still, that trend started to even out when more women entered the workforce and were exposed regularly to more opportunities.
Most people long for connection. Having a strong emotional connection and bond with a partner is one of the most vital human longings. While not defending infidelity, it can result from years of both partners feeling neglected and developing poor communication patterns. Sometimes cheating results from sex addiction (which usually doesn’t have a solid emotional component). But, more often than not, it stems from a lack of connection to a committed partner. Professional couples who travel frequently and are exposed to long hours and late business meetings have extra temptation. Affair recovery can be as difficult as many other traumatic events, with many partners experiencing symptoms of complex PTSD.
“Because of the large average delay (six years) between couples first detecting that there is something seriously wrong with their relationship and getting any kind of help, many couples will have compounded problems.”– John Gottman
Research on Monogamy
In our society, there’s often talk about how monogamy isn’t natural. Some suggest that men, in particular, may have evolved to cheat as a strategy for maximizing reproduction and survival. While there’s some evidence supporting this idea, it’s crucial to acknowledge the equally compelling evidence highlighting the importance of committed couples in fostering healthy family units. Others may prefer ethical non-monogamy as their lifestyle and be happier in that practice.
The Craving for Human Connection
Deep down, most people crave connection. Establishing a strong emotional bond with a partner is a fundamental human longing. While I’m not condoning infidelity, it’s essential to recognize that it can stem from years of both partners feeling neglected and developing poor communication habits. In some cases, it may result from sex addiction, lacking a solid emotional component. However, more often than not, it originates from a lack of connection with a committed partner.
Professionals, especially those who travel frequently and face long hours and late meetings, may encounter additional temptations. Recovering from an affair can be as challenging as coping with other traumatic events, with many partners experiencing symptoms of complex PTSD.
More and More Happy Couples Are Cheating on Their Partner
It often begins innocently—a friendly connection with someone you’re attracted to. Initially, the intentions are positive, and a healthy friendship may blossom over time. If the friendship remains healthy, there’s nothing to be concerned about. However, things can take a turn if romantic feelings start to develop, potentially triggering an issue.
It’s important to recognize that some of the most damaging affairs can be emotional. When secrecy comes into play and strong feelings emerge, it may be a signal that it’s time to consider ending the friendship (not the relationship). While ending a friendship can be painful, the recovery from an affair can be far more agonizing. Making the tough choice to prioritize your committed relationship over a potentially harmful connection is a crucial step in preserving the well-being of both partners.
“When you compare your affair partner with your spouse, you are not really comparing two individuals. What you are comparing is how it feels to be in an idealized, romantic relationship with how it feels to be in a reality-based, long-term relationship.”– Dr. Shirley Glass
It Can be Done, but Rebuilding Trust Takes Time.
In many cases, the betrayed partner has a strong desire to gather more details about the affair, seeking answers to numerous questions. On the other hand, the partner who cheated may grow weary of repeatedly addressing the same inquiries. This can lead the couple to a standstill and creating a gridlock on the issue. Navigating affair recovery becomes challenging in such circumstances.
However, evidence-based techniques exist that can facilitate the recovery process for the couple. Recognizing the crucial nature of each partner undergoing their individual healing journey is essential. The betrayed partner often grapples with a loss of trust, while the cheating partner may be burdened with overwhelming guilt. The reassuring news is that faith can gradually be restored over time, and the initial pain of the affair can serve as a deterrent against a recurrence.
It’s essential to understand that the affair recovery timeline varies for everyone and can differ between you and your partner. Patience, open communication, and a commitment to the healing process are key elements in rebuilding the foundation of trust and moving forward together.
Common Questions or Concerns
For additional couples counseling questions, please view the site’s main frequently asked questions page.