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How to Deal with Infidelity

A man and woman on opposite sides of a door, after discovering an infidelity.

Most married couples see infidelity as something that will never affect them. It feels like an issue reserved only for celebrities and public figures. This is unfortunately not the case.

Around 25 percent of marriages (and 40 percent of unmarried relationships) face issues with infidelity, with the numbers increasing when also considering solely emotional affairs, or online infidelity.

So, how do you deal with infidelity? How do you both move forward after betrayal? How do you heal your relationship with your spouse?

An affair offers no painless escape. To rebuild the trust broken by an affair, it takes time and a commitment to change.

What is the difference between infidelity and adultery?

Infidelity, or cheating, is the act of being either emotionally or physically unfaithful to a spouse or partner, and breaking a commitment or promise during the act. Adultery is engaging in physical, sexual activity, and may be considered a criminal offense and grounds for divorce in certain places.

Take some time before reacting

Emotions of shock, anger and grief are common reactions to learning of a spouse’s infidelity. Working through these emotions takes time and effort, and it is important to give yourself space to collect all your thoughts and feelings. Try rehearsing in your mind what you will say so that you present yourself as assertive rather than aggressive – approaching it with anger will lead to rash decision-making. Practice emotional regulation tools such as mindfulness, self-regulation and seven-second breathing.


Total separation

The affair must be over. Total separation from the other person is the only way to end an affair. It is important for the spouse involved in the affair to be open and honest and tell the other that they are still committed to the marriage. Making a drastic break from a lover can be a very tough task, as they fulfilled some sort of need or desire. They must be told it is over, leaving no room for discussion. Without total separation, healthy marital recovery is impossible.


Accept responsibility

The cheating spouse must admit what happened and take full responsibility. They must be completely transparent, providing answers to any of the other’s questions. This will lead to conversations about what went wrong and what needs to change. However, it is best that the cheating spouse avoid giving every specific detail about their infidelity, as this often leads to hurt feelings rather than restoration. Only disclose as many details are necessary for your spouse to understand what occurred. Trust will not return overnight, but accepting responsibility is a good starting point.


Commitment through changes

Commitment to restoring the marriage requires the cheating spouse to adopt new behaviors. The most vital change is constant reassurance. You should frequently provide your spouse with reassurances about your commitment to them, and then follow it up with action. It is important to allow your spouse to assess you: allow them full access to your emails, phone and anything else that you may have kept more private during the affair. These practices will help reestablish the trust that was broken.


Identify and share needs

Everyone has core emotional needs that, when they are met, bring the highest level of happiness and joy to them. When they are not being met, feelings of frustration and unhappiness occur. Here is where the unfaithful may look outside the marriage to have these needs met rather than communicating these needs to their spouse. Both spouses should relate their needs to each other and work to fulfill them together. One method with proven effectiveness is active listening – a conscious effort to hear the complete message being communicated. Active listening entails validating each other’s feelings as they are communicated and listening to understand rather than to respond. This communication strategy will help them better understand each other’s needs and how to fulfill them.


Allow time for healing

The early days after learning of an affair are often incredibly painful. Finding the road to recovery and healing requires complete commitment from both partners. There is no set amount of time that will fix the marriage, but most couples do survive the affair and actually come out stronger and more committed to one another. Time alone will not restore the marriage – it takes constant effort from both spouses.


Seek Help

Individual and marital counseling can help your entire family cope with the emotional effects of infidelity. Centerstone counselors can help you restore your marriage, your self-esteem and your life. Staff members are available anytime at 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) to connect you with the resources you need to overcome infidelity.


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