Rebuild TRUST. Reinvent your Marriage.
Confronting an Unfaithful Partner
Dealing with infidelity can be a painful and emotionally charged experience. The natural impulse may be to lash out and act out in anger, but it is not a productive or healthy way to handle the situation. Here are seven tips from experts and those who have gone through similar experiences on how to confront a cheating spouse:
Be certain. Before confronting your spouse, make sure you have concrete evidence of their infidelity. Straying spouses often deny the affair and your accusations may make them defensive and angry. Having proof can prevent them from denying the affair and make the conversation more productive.
Gather evidence. Prepare yourself with proof such as screenshots of emails or texts, receipts, photos, or voicemails.
Seek support. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor about your suspicions and get their support before confronting your spouse.
Prepare emotionally. Confronting a cheating spouse can be one of the most challenging and painful conversations you will have. Write out your thoughts and feelings beforehand to clear your head and keep your cool.
Know what you want. Envision the outcome of the conversation. Decide if the infidelity is a deal breaker for you and whether you want to try to save the relationship or move on.
Pick a time and place carefully. Choose a time when you can be free of distractions and in a safe place, preferably in public. Set a time limit for the discussion and have a plan for what to do afterward.
Start with a conversation, not an inquisition. Approach the conversation in a non-threatening way, explaining your feelings and experiences. Avoid leading with accusations or asking too many questions, as this can put your spouse on the defensive. Allow them to come clean and encourage them to talk by asking open-ended questions.
If you have reached the difficult decision to end the marriage, our skilled therapists can help you navigate the next steps. And remember, with hard work and healing, many marriages do survive infidelity.
Many couples begin therapy as a result of an affair which has brought complete devastation and chaos into their lives. We offer a path through infidelity that is both caring, personalized for you and structured. The structured process is based on our AFFAIR RECOVERY ROADMAP. which was developed by our partners at the Affair Recovery Therapy Center.
A summary of the recovery steps in the Roadmap are shown below.
1. CRISIS MANAGEMENT
After an affair, couples often lose the ability to have a simple conversation. Defensiveness and shame take over and destroy one's ability to listen and respond with compassion. When the betrayed partner expresses feelings with a partner who is unwilling or unable to listen, it heightens the already emotionally-charged feelings. I offer highly structured communication training to help the offending partner avoid the traps of shifting blame, denial of what happened, or withdrawal.
Also, the betrayed partner will receive training from me on how to ask questions in a non-accusatory way. This partner will often have a burning desire to understand how and why the infidelity occurred. These questions can only be answered by the offending partner; however, I work hard to keep the questions from degrading into counter-productive punishment of the betrayed partner.
MANAGING THE EXTREME FEELINGS:
This often includes normalizing the extreme feelings that are being expressed, and learning to contain the anger.
BOUNDARIES FOR FEELING SAFE:
I help you negotiate safe boundaries for physical space, sleeping arrangements, child care, touch, communication, money, and coordination of responsibilities during the recovery period.
In the midst of swirling emotions, it is extremely difficult to make a thoughtful decision about your marriage. Choosing your path forward is often based on careful consideration of your beliefs, values, needs and circumstances.
As the crisis subsides, if needed, I will work with either partner to help you decide whether to attempt recovery. Often clients are unsure but will try affair-recovery therapy believing it will either heal their marriage or allow them to really learn how to be a better partner for future relationships and behave better in co-parenting.
If the decision is made to recommit to the relationship, recovery must begin by the offending party severing all ties to the affair partner.
This can be very difficult. The power of the fantasy relationship can feel irresistible. Nonetheless, if the affair continues in any form, the wounding and betrayal only get worse.
Transparency is an essential step in recommitment and in rebuilding trust. If the offending partner is able to offer complete access to cell phone records, emails, and computer accounts, restoration of trust can begin. In any information is hidden, even if innocent, it will slow down the healing process. The pain caused by dishonesty is often worse than the sexual or emotional betrayal.
You will need a few trustworthy people who you can turn to for support. We will agree up front who should be told about what has happened.
2. UNDERSTANDING WHAT HAPPENED:
An accounting of the affair needs to be fully discussed before the betrayed partner can believe that trust can be restored. This full disclosure needs to be done with enough detail so that the betrayed partner feels that the hiding has ended. Often, the acting out partner prepares a disclosure working with his or her own therapist.
Careful judgment needs to be exercised so that important details are brought to light while avoiding needlessly negative images of the affair which could unnecessarily magnify the trauma.
3. UNDERSTAND WHY IT HAPPENED:
Most couples first assume that an affair was about the sex. It usually isn't. In my experience, there is usually a deeper reason. In therapy, the couple will begin a shared journey of soul-searching in order to develop a full picture of why the affair happened. A step-by-step review of the affair and your marriage will provide a pathway to clues for understanding.
We will consider:
how you may have been wounded by experiences during your childhood and how that is showing up in your current relationship;
how you may be affected by previous damage (sexual, financial, parenting, or otherwise) by your partner;
how your partner's qualities that drive you crazy may be ones that you long to have for yourself;
how stressful events in your lives that occurred prior to the affair may have pushed you off-kilter and contributed to the struggles in the relationship.
To be clear, these problems can never be a justification for an affair. Nonetheless, understanding them helps the couple to prevent recurrence.
For example, if the offending partner suffers from low self-esteem that was lifted up by the affair partner, then we will work on healthy ways to build confidence. If there was an anger issue in the relationship that created distance in the marriage, then anger management will be a major focus. If the betrayed partner was emotionally unavailable to the betrayed spouse, we will identify the roots of the unavailability and work toward vulnerability and openness.
In each case, I help you explore these deeper issues in a healing fashion.
4. EMPATHY / RELEASING THE EMOTIONAL PAIN:
The hurt partner will learn to talk in ways that allow your spouse to hear you and have compassion for your pain. The unfaithful partner will learn to listen in a way that encourages your partner to be vulnerable and open.
5. OWNING THE DECISION:
The unfaithful partner will learn how to fully own the decision to have the affair without minimizing it.
6. MAKING A PLAN FOR CHANGE:
You will rebuild:
The couple must connect the "WHY" the affair happened to a plan for change. In doing so, you will both learn to recognize and manage your differences so that you can stay committed even at times when you do not feel loved or wanted in the relationship. We will identify specific steps that you will take in these circumstances and thus provide "Trust Building Evidence" (T.B.E)" that the betrayal will not happen again
After completing the prior steps, the couple is an incredibly vulnerable moment for the both partners. The couple typically has come to a fork in the road where they will have an opportunity to make a conscious choice for a new future.
To be clear, the fork is:
COMMIT: A commitment to a new relationship which is based on a new respect for honesty, a new understanding of yourself and your relationship, empathy and care, a concrete plan for change, and a set of shared boundaries for safety and future behaviors, or
END: A decision to end the relationship and commit to a new life without an intimate relationship with your partner.
This decision point is a true crucible for the relationship. Both partners may waffle, going back and forth in this decision process for some time before each is clear on his/her decision. The path to recommitment can not be rushed. If you are not able to decide either way, stay in the process.
If and when the couple decides to recommit, a rebirth of the relationship can take place. This means that the couple is in agreement that a new relationship is worth fighting for. They commit to talk about the past wounds without using the past as a weapon to hurt each other. They know that much work remains ahead but they have a new shared purpose and a strong sense of hope.
We believe that good people can become lost in a marriage and make costly mistakes. While an affair is a devastating event, there is a path to healing if both partners are willing to be honest and re-commit to the relationship.
The goal is never to return to the marriage that was, but to create a RADICALLY NEW marriage that is much more capable of meeting each other's needs - a new marriage that is based on commitment, deep friendship, and passion.
Working with couples who have gone through an affair is often the most difficult and the most rewarding work that I do. The lows can be painful but the highs and the re-birth of a marriage are glorious. We welcome the opportunity to go through this journey with you.
These books can help tremendously but they will probably not be enough. Personalized support by an experienced therapist is usually key to survive the crisis and rebuild the relationship.