Surviving infidelity when your partner is having, or has had an affair

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 21-09-2010 | Modified: 30-10-2017

This article is about surviving infidelity when you're the wronged partner or spouse. I’ve written it especially for you if you've only just discovered the betrayal. And I'm assuming it was a total shock to you.

Are you having an affair?

If so, you'll find my page: Dealing with Infidelity more helpful.

How you deal with infidelity as the betrayed person depends, without a doubt, on whether the affair has finished or not. Suspecting that your partner is (still) seeing that other woman or man is an awful place to be.

If that's happening to you, my best advice is to sit back and wait! Calmly keep an eye out for the signs of infidelity. Amass enough evidence before you challenge your partner. He or she may otherwise try to convince you that you are the one with the problem. How dare you not trust them!

Only when you're sure your partner isn't still cheating on you can you really start your recovery. Surviving the affair means getting back in the driving seat of your life again - making decisions (in good time) and healing.

How to survive the initial crisis after your partner has owned up or been found out

But before you read on, just watch this video (4+ minutes) to understand infidelity in the context of the history of marriage...

Now, let's talk about how to survive the initial crisis after your partner has owned up or been found out.

You may think you're getting over it all, but be aware of unexplained physical symptoms. Those too can point to a body/mind being stretched to deal with the stress.

How to recognise a normal reaction after being emotionally traumatised

When you're dealing with the fall-out of your partner’s affair, it will help you to know which perfectly normal reactions and feelings you can expect.

These will depend somewhat on whether or not the discovery of your partner's disloyalty came as a shock. You could, after all, have been suspicious for some time.

See how much of the following applies to you. And be reassured that you're not alone!

10 Normal reactions after discovering your partner is/has been having an affair

  1. You feel shocked - as if the rug has been pulled from under your feet. That can happen even if you only suspect there's something going on.
  2. You have trouble thinking, concentrating and retaining information.
  3. You feel a deep sense of loss - the loss of security, trust, your relationship as it used to be and the partner you thought you knew.
  4. You cry at the drop of a hat - you may think that you're never going to get over it.
  5. You spot 'reminders' of the history of your relationship everywhere whilst you get on with your daily tasks on autopilot.
  6. You feel like everything is too much of an effort - you haven’t got a clue where to even start
  7. You feel consumed by a sense of hurt and anger, and a deep sense of betrayal.
  8. You avoid people who you don't want to have to tell about the affair.
  9. You feel irritated and angry with 'trivia', everything is too much of an effort.
  10. You feel tired all the time and have sleep problems as you can't get thoughts of your partner with the 'other person’ out of your head.

Ìt's no wonder you're feeling out of sorts. During the initial crisis, I’d want you to be very gentle with and accepting of yourself. Observe how you respond - and let it happen.

Don’t expect too much of yourself for anything between a few days and a couple of weeks. Start by trying to manage only essential and familiar activities and responsibilities - such as doing your job or seeing to the children.

The healing process will start all by itself as your brain adjusts to the new reality. Coping with not coping is the only realistic expectation during this time.

That terrible raw feeling will fade gradually - I promise! You won't be out of the woods for a while, but that sense of having been traumatised will pass. For immediate help, you might find a hypnosis download useful. For more information, see my page Hypnosis Downloads and FAQ.

Why did they do that?

“Why did he/she do that?” is the question you’d probably want me to answer most.

This is invariably asked of a partner who has either disclosed an affair, or whose cheating has been discovered

While I can’t tell you exactly why your partner has been unfaithful (because I don’t know your specific situation), you might find this helpful...

The brain in love

Prof Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist and she says that there are three circuits in the brain: one for lust (testosterone), one for attachment (oxytocin) and one for romantic love (dopamine).

Theoretically, anyone can feel romantically and addictively in love with someone. At the very same time they could think about sex with someone else and feel really close and attached to another person. In reality the three are likely to overlap to some extent. (You can watch the video on my page on dealing with an affair.)

However, often the answer you'll get from your partner, wife or husband is: “I don’t know; it just happened - we were just friends – it made me feel good about myself - I could talk to him/her” or - “it didn’t really mean anything”. It may have started with an emotional affair, which you may find equally upsetting.

In any case, a ‘reason’ or explanation for infidelity is not the same as an excuse. Betrayal and deceit are often the most painful aspects of the whole affair.

It is possible too that your partner may totally deny that they’ve ever had an affair.

Why does he or she avoid talking about the affair?

If the affair is over, your partner may shut down every time you try to talk about what happened, for several reasons...

  • However much you're unlikely to be sympathetic, your partner may too feel bereft. Whilst you need them to be fully present in the moment, they may well be grieving for the loss of someone they felt they truly loved. I'm not asking you to be sympathetic. Far from it! I'm merely mentioning it so that you're better able to put their behaviour in context.
  • They may feel guilty for what they've done to you. Even more so when they're confronted with the devastation they've caused, and your distress.
  • They may think it's better to focus on the future and doing something "positive". 
  • They don't realise or understand how much you need to talk it all over and have all your questions answered.
  • They're afraid of upsetting you even more by answering your questions (you, of course, will need and want to know the answers, because they can indeed be upsetting!)
  • They're trying to avoid you finding out who the other man or woman is. You might know them. He or she could be a family member or friend. This means dealing with a double betrayal and a double dose of distress.

It's also possible that the affair hasn't really ended.

Should you stay or should you go?

If your partner has had extramarital affairs before, all the hurt from the previous occasion(s) will immediately have been triggered again. You now need to consider if it's worth staying in the relationship when your needs are so clearly being trampled on. This also counts if your partner has cheated on any previous partners!

However, it's never a good idea to make life-changing decisions in the middle of a crisis. Your brain is simply incapable of doing all the work necessary to make a well-thought out decision. So hang fire, and wait until the dust has settled a little before you make any big decisions or plans.

Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock and allowed yourself time to process what’s happened, you can then start thinking through your options. From a calmer place, you can also spend time figuring out what you really want, and where you feel your happiness really lies.

How to survive that affair

It's very natural and normal to feel down right now. This doesn't necessarily mean you're suffering from depression. However, if you were already suffering from depression it could complicate your recovery. Therefore I’d want you to do something about it now. Have a look at my page Hypnosis Online FAQs and Downloads for further details.

In any case - take good care of yourself. Nurture your body with good food. Take some exercise. Make sure you sleep enough. Have a look at my page on dealing with depression for plenty of useful ideas to help you really take care of yourself right now. And get as much support as you can muster.

Decide who you can trust and ask for their support. Some of your peeps will be able to offer much needed emotional support. Others are better at practical support and advice. Choose your friends wisely though! See my article on how to get the best relationship advice.

Let's now take a look at what needs to happen for your recovery, assuming this affair is a first transgression…

Surviving infidelity when your partner has had an affair

How do you start healing infidelity as a couple?

Surviving infidelity does mean that you both need to work hard at making the relationship work again. (If, that is, you both decide that you do want to rebuild your partnership.) However, the 'work' that needs to be done is different for each of you in the early stages.

As mentioned before, you'll need a little time to just get over the shock. You also need to know that the affair most definitely has ended. Right from the start, therefore, you'll find yourself wanting to ask questions and needing lots of reassurance.

It will help the recovery if you can give each other lots of attention…

8 Tips to help the healing process after an affair

  1. Talk about the affair, and start getting to know each other again.
  2. Go on outings together - picnics in the park, concerts, gigs, walks along the beach, walk to previously unexplored parts of the town (for more ideas, see my page on how to relieve boredom in your relationship).
  3. Change your everyday routines. There's nothing so refreshing as throwing out some outdated 'stuff' and designing a new way of doing things.
  4. Have fun. Start doing something completely new - a way-out hobby for example. This has been proven to increase the release of the bonding hormone.
  5. Remind yourselves of all the good times you've had.
  6. Tell each other what you're particularly grateful for.
  7. Explain to each other what makes you feel loved. What you think your partner needs to feel loved can be very different from what he or she really needs.
  8. Tackle long-standing problems head-on. It's time to deal with any underlying problems - those you've been aware of but avoided until now.

Have a look at my Positive Communication Kit for Couples - it can help you accomplish all of the above. 

It's also important to take time to reflect on whether there are any specific factors underlying this crisis in your relationship that need to be addressed...

17 Reasons why someone might 'choose' to cheat on a partner

  1. Major life transitions - e.g. pregnancy, birth, children leaving home, mid-life crisis etc
  2. Specific relationship issues - see my page on common relationship problems
  3. Issues around identity (see also: is your partner bisexual?)
  4. More rarely -  ‘hunting’
  5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and/or sex addiction (link to external site)
  6. A history of infidelity in the family, e.g. parents’ extramarital affairs
  7. Specific escape from distressing situations, e.g. infertility, illness, disability, unemployment, etc
  8. A less than satisfying sexual, or even sexless, relationship
  9. Status - an essential need which is perhaps not met in any other way
  10. Opportunity and curiosity
  11. Total and utter obsession with the other person - dopamine!
  12. A generally poor relationship in which essential emotional needs aren't met in balance - it's never been right, they feel they’ve outgrown the relationship, or have a sense of general dissatisfaction and disillusionment
  13. Narcissistic behaviour
  14. Love of power
  15. Having made a mistake of some kind and now feeling he or she has nothing more to lose as they already feel 'condemned' anyway
  16. Porn addiction
  17. Longing for an emotional connection, to feel alive again, for intensity, longing to reconnect with lost part of the self.*

What about your personal recovery?

Human relationships can be unpredictable at the best of times! Perhaps this is a time to look at- and accept your own 'fallibility' as a human being. That definitely doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for your partner’s affair, but simply that you have played a role in what happened. You may have cottoned on too late, been too trusting when deep down you were suspicious, accepted without question the 'flaws' in your partner, committed to him or her despite knowing he or she had been unfaithful before, etc.

There's no point in telling your husband, wife or partner that they should 'sort themselves out'. Even if, ideally, they would benefit from increasing their self-awareness and addressing some problems, you can never ‘make’ them change. 

Instead, you can take control of how you deal with your hurt, anguish, anger - and your recovery. You can get over this - even if you never forget completely what’s happened.

And, if you still think there’s hope for your relationship, you may find the Magic of Making Up really helpful. This was originally written for people whose partner had already left, but they wanted him or her back. Under the circumstances I definitely recommend it for you too, as I do my Positive Communication Kit for Couples.

However, under the circumstances, I think you’ll really benefit from learning what you can do for yourself. Right now, you need to focus on things that make you feel better. Bringing some stability and things that make you smile back into your life can really help your recovery. Don’t forget - it’s a step-by-step process, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Connect with nature - get outside and go for a walk or a run! Exercise has so many proven benefits for our emotional and physical well being. And being in the great outdoors can be so refreshing. 
  • Get creative - do anything with your hands that occupies your mind and gives you a sense of satisfaction. Whether it’s colouring, playing music, building some flat-pack furniture or knitting a scarf. Just pick something, and give it a go. Diverting your mind from the painful thoughts helps you to get some distance from what’s happened. In turn, that makes you more able to process how you’re feeling right now.
  • Explore alternative therapies - like natural sleep remedies, or meditation, or aromatherapy. There are tonnes of ways to make a little time in your day to lower your stress levels and inject a sense of empowerment and control back into your life.
  • Make a list of all the little chores and jobs you’ve been putting off for ages (just the little ones though - nothing major!). Choose three things to complete every day. You’ll feel satisfied when you can cross them off your list - plus you’ll be being productive and getting your ‘stuff’ back in order again. That goes a long way to enabling your mind to get its ‘stuff’ back in order again too!
  • Move your furniture around, or treat yourself to a bunch of fresh flowers, or paint the walls a different colour. Changing up your environment can make it easier to move forward again, whenever you’re ready.
  • This might sound mad but - be kind to yourself, and accept yourself for who you are! Practise a little bit of self-compassion, and don’t beat yourself up for what’s happened. That won’t get you anywhere!
  • If you and your partner have decided to try and fix your relationship, communication is key. Talk to each other - about how you’re feeling and what you both need. It’ll be bumpy for a while - but unless you both communicate, neither of you will really know what’s going on for the other one right now.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your progress and how you feel. It really helps to get things off your chest by writing about it - just for you, with no one looking over your shoulder and judging you. Writing a journal can help you get started. Are you surviving the affair? Are the two of you really on the right track?

Nevertheless, you may find after a while you just can't get over it and want a bit of help. In that case...

When should you seek professional help?

It's perfectly normal to want advice and support to help you survive infidelity at any time after the affair.

I totally understand, for example, if you're having trouble getting those disturbing images of your partner with that other woman or man out of your mind. You can chose to set up a counselling session with a professional, licensed therapist - online. For further information, see my page: Online Relationship Advice.

However, you absolutely need professional help if after about 4 - 6 weeks:

  • You continue to feel extremely angry
  • You have little support from anyone - not just your partner
  • You drink, smoke or take drugs more than you would have otherwise
  • You continue to need more of your normal prescribed medication
  • You're feeling that you yourself are to blame
  • You're suffering from panic attacks
  • You can't seem to get back to normal everyday life

Finally

Know that whether or not the two of you stay together, you'll get over this period in your life too. By surviving infidelity, you'll amass strength and coping strategies - maybe even beyond what you'd ever expected you were capable of. 

Your relationship may be stronger for it too - if it survives the infidelity. If not, have faith that you will find happiness again. You didn’t ‘deserve’ to be betrayed. You do deserve to find a committed, stable and loving relationship that fulfils you and your new partner too. I’m rooting for you!

New! Rate this article (anonymously)...

I really hope this article is of help to you. :-)

I frequently update my articles based on feedback, therefore I really value your vote. If you think I've missed something, please do let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)

Related articles

Warning Signs of a Breakup
Signs You're in an Abusive Relationship
Dealing with infidelity
Dealing with jealousy
Dealing with a jealous partner
My Partner's Children Don't Want to Meet Me
Financial infidelity
How to End a Relationship
My Husband Doesn't Find Me Attractive Anymore

Other helpful links

CNN Money - financial infidelity

Reference

*Lewishowes. "Esther Perel: The Truth About Infidelity, Intimacy, and Love with Lewis Howes." YouTube. YouTube, 10 Oct. 2017. Web. 30 Oct. 2017.

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Elly Prior

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It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

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