The emotional backlash of an affair on the partner who was cheated on can be earth shattering. Whether there was suspicion of this happening leading up to the discovery or not, it all leads to a spectrum of emotions including shock, anger, grief and loss. It can feel like the relationship has been dumped upside down with the contents shaken all over the ground. But if both partners are open to the work of affair recovery, it’s possible and in many cases the relationship can come out the other side stronger than before.
The work to heal a relationship after this type of betrayal is unique to each situation and dependent on how each person shows up to it. Is there remorse from the person who cheated? A sincere interest in healing the wounds caused by their behavior? A willingness to end the other relationship, if it has been ongoing? Are they willing to do anything to save their primary relationship? Just as important is the response of the partner who was impacted. What do they need to be able to move on? Can they eventually forgive the partner who chose to be unfaithful?
The most important aspect of affair recovery for the betrayed partner is re-establishing emotional safety in the relationship.
When there is emotional safety present between a couple there is trust and a sense of knowing that they prioritize, respect, understand and love each other. There is ease and an intuitive knowing that they can be themselves. This is where real authenticity in relationships lives.
When there is a breach of trust either physically or emotionally in a committed relationship, emotional safety is severely compromised. The betrayed partner may feel like they are spinning in a vortex, untethered with the realization that what they thought they could rely upon or was theirs only was not. The dishonesty and often sneaky behavior involved with cheating partners further impacts the sacred space of emotional safety.
When a person finds out that his or her partner has strayed, feelings of betrayal, confusion, and abandonment may cast a painful shadow over everyday life.”
– Rachel Moheban-Wachtel, LCSW in article, Affair Recovery: 5 Steps to Repairing Your Relationship
When an affair has occurred and the couple would like to try heal and move forward, primary goal is to shore up the aspects of emotional safety that have been compromised, most importantly involving trust. But questions about whether their cheating partner loves them anymore also understandably comes up.
- Is the partner who cheated willing to stop the other relationship (if applicable)?
- Is there a willingness to respond to the needs of the harmed partner to help the healing process?
- Can patience in the process be maintained in order to work through the relationship harm?
- Can the betrayed partner find a way to stay and maintain their own self respect?
- Can the betrayed partner take the “leap of faith” required to rebuilt trust?
When the foundation of emotional safety has been compromised this needs to be acknowledged and addressed. If a couple stands any chance or pushing through this work, they must re-establish this type of safety. It is the glue that keeps intimate relationships together in a truly meaningful way. It’s not easy but can be incredibly rewarding, especially if the couple also manages to successfully navigate any of the issues leading to the affair. Though this type of exploration has a time and a place (not recommended until after there is a show of good faith, desire to repair and signs of progress).
Dr Richard Nicastro, PhD looks at the challenge of maintaining trust and hope in the post-affair recovery process in the piece, The Emotional Crisis of an Affair and How to Heal. It looks at these two roadblocks as they can come up for both partners doing affair recovery therapy work.