Relationship recovery after an affair — is healing really possible? If relationship repair IS possible after infidelity in a marriage, how long does it take for a marriage to recover after the affair?

After the Affair: The 3 Phases of Relationship Recovery

If your relationship is in real trouble — e.g., your marriage is on the brink of a divorce — you may find yourself seeking a marriage therapist or relationship coach (read how to choose a marriage therapist/counsellor).

Chances are, however, that if your relationship is in trouble —- there’s been frequent fighting, painful impasses and disrespect or distance. Perhaps there’s even an affair at the heart of the issue.

An affair that arose due to underlying issues, or which led to a deep rift in trust levels.

So now, you and your spouse are likely in a state of turmoil about what to do after one, or both, admit to an affair.

That’s because affairs can either cause relationship strife — or arise from relationship strife, and underlying marriage difficulties — and often, both. It is a sign of difficulty or weakness in the primary relationship and/or it causes a break, a shift — as sometimes it’s simply a random occurrence. (A choice, but not sought out, per se).

There’s simply no doubt that discovering your spouse’s affair, or admitting to your own affair, is extremely painful for everyone involved.

No one starts out in a marriage wanting to cheat, or be cheated on, yet it’s incredibly common in marriages.  So don’t beat yourself up if your marriage is in trouble — get professional help, instead, to sort out what can be done to heal, and repair, the relationship — before it results in a nasty divorce, vindictive custody battle and/or residential disruptions and financial ruin.

The good news about painful discussions about affairs and infidelity in a marriage is this…

And I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe there is good news, but stay with me here…

The good news is that extremely painful points in life can also bring an opportunity to learn and grow, as a person and as a partner.

In a marriage, the painful points — yes, even an affair — might be just the change-point opportunity to bring you and your partner back together again, but in a more solid, respectful, compassionate, passionate and sustainable relationship dynamic.  Not every marriage gets a second chance; but yours can, if both spouses are ready and willing to make the effort to bring the relationship back to a happier place where there’s genuine respect, care and love between the two of you.

So if you are going to embark on relationship therapy (marriage counselling or couples coaching) after an affair, what are the phases the relationship will go through? Read on or if you want to get help fast Book Your Call With Me

Phase 1 – The Emergency Room Period of Couples in Crisis – TRAUMA and trauma responses

Finding out your wife or husband has had a lover, affair — or other form of cheating — can be soul destroying. If you’re the one who’s had the affair, it might be good to remember this as you go about healing the relationship.

Both spouses need to recognise it’ll be more painful for the one cheated on; but that doesn’t mean it will be easy for the one who had the affair.  It’s challenging, and deeply painful, for both.

If you’re the one who’s discovered your husband’s affair or wife’s affair:

In fact, it can hit you like a freight train. Finding out your partner’s cheated can leave you in shock, anger, despair and even unable to speak as you try to make sense of something you never saw coming.  This is normal, and natural, but it’s certainly not pleasant.

This is what I call the ‘acute trauma’ or ’emergency room’ phase of relationship repair.  Other people call it “D Day” (Doomsday).

It’s typically the pain of finding out about an affair, or other relationship breakdown, that drives one — sometimes both —  partners to seek marriage counselling/couples therapy.

This phase (Emergency Couples in Crisis Phase) starts the moment you discover the affair, accidentally or because your partner says they’re in love with someone else (and leaving).

Many people say they feel it was a pivotal moment when everything went from ‘good’ (or at least, satisfactorily okay) to bad…. 

The common feelings reported during this period of relationship crisis include:

  • shock, even disbelief (in fact, shock can be so severe as to need professional medical help, time off work and so forth)
  • pain; anguish, physical responses such as nausea or vomiting
  • anger, even rage, or thoughts of doing something similar (vindictive fantasies of having an affair yourself)
  • overwhelming sadness or grief

If you’re the one who had the affair, you may feel hard-done by, that you had your reasons, such as a lack of respect by your partner, always made to feel wrong about your choices, never doing anything right and/or simply needing more physical affection than you were getting from your spouse at the time. It’s painful for you too, but know that it’s always a bit more painful when you’re the one who’s been cheated on.

The key thing here is that both parties need to recognise that the relationship is in crisis and that pain on both sides is likely to be extremely uncomfortable; making talking about the affair — or reasons — extremely difficult.

What this means: The couple is in a crisis situation, they need emergency couples crisis counselling.


Do all couples need therapy if one of the partners has had an affair?

This is an excellent question. Some couples can sort it out themselves, but it is extremely rare they’ll heal the relationship to the degree they might with proper facilitation by a Couples Coach, who can help both partners better understand what actually led to the infidelity, and how to affair-proof their marriage for the future (if that’s the goal for both).

Why does a couple recovering from an affair need couples counselling? Can’t the couple just sort it out themselves?

Sometimes, yes. But it’s extremely rare, for two reasons:

  1. At least one, or both, partners are emotionally upset to the point they are not thinking clearly.
  2. Neither party may be able to articulate how they’re feeling in a way that the other person can hear and/or feel safe to learn, or that doesn’t result in a feeling of extreme guilt or blame.
  3. Neither the hurt spouse, nor the unfaithful spouse, is in a frame of mind where they can take in the underlying motives or issues that led to the infidelity in the first place (and it’s not always a problem in the marriage, such as when the sex stops in a marriage — it’s sometimes just a random meeting or a cultural issue or something else).

Phase 2 – Re-establishing some normality and stability to the day to day | Relationship Repair

In this relationship REPAIR phase, the volatility and intensity of the emotions of learning about the affair may have settled down a bit. With therapy, the partners may be able to start to openly discuss some of the factors involved in the occurrence of the affair (their partner’s cheating) or other fidelity breach.

While this phase of relationship healing (couples in crisis healing and recovery) shows progression in the recovery process; it does not mean everything is smooth sailing.

In fact, it can mean a lot of volatility in the day to day. One day, for example, you feel forgiveness and understanding about your spouse’s infidelity; the next day, you’re filled with anger, hurt and sadness.

Of if you’re the partner who had the affair; one day you’re happy to be working on your marriage again; the next day you’re questioning if it’s right or if you should just leave and start again. Or you feel blamed, and emotionally berated all the time. Find out what to do Book Your Call With Me

Here, couples in distress need facilitation by an expert in marriage counselling modalities that have been proven to help heal relationships after affairs.

It is not easy to forgive infidelity; and I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it is. It’s challenging, but it’s possible. The upside to learning to understand a person’s affair, and to work on the marriage as a couple to improve the bond between you and your spouse, is that you may end up with an even better relationship than ever before; and you’ll avoid a messy, damaging divorce and financial, social and residence upheaval.

That doesn’t mean you should stay if you feel you could never get over it — or that you have a chance, if you’re still very torn about which person to choose.

But remember this – most second and third marriages fail. Research shows that most relationships that began as an affair, fall down. Not all, but the high majority.

Your new relationship (the affair) has a very small chance of sustaining after a year (or less).

So when it comes to your marriage, likely the father or mother of your children, or even your business partner…

Remember that all relationships have pressure points, and if you care about the longevity of the relationship and truly want to understand your spouse, including any gaps in the marriage that contributed to the vulnerability to an affair — you may find the rewards well worth it.  The alternative choice is often a damaging, messy divorce that upheaves your entire psyche, social supports and family structures, not to mention your financial stability.

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Phase 3 – Healing | Relationship Recovery

The crisis stage is passing, but the healing stage continues; leading to Phase 3 in the relationship recovery process.

This phase of relationship HEALING after an affair is the actual RECOVERY phase.  It can be difficult as there are still fluctuating emotions; and progress may seem slow. Your spouse may not want to trust you readily, or you may be the one afraid to trust your spouse. But with care and compassion, the couple can grow closer and learn to trust again.

Uncertainty and vacillation between trust and distrust at this stage, is completely natural during a relationship recovery process.

Periods of doubt are normal and understandable, but the hurt partner’s sense of relationship security will slowly begin to become stronger, more secure, and firmer over time in Phase 3 (Healing).

That does NOT mean that triggers won’t lead to insecurity in the partner –  a trip overseas, for example, could spark fear and uncertainty; or too much time at the gym can leave you wondering about that handsome gym instructor.  This is a phase where communication, vulnerable communication and tender responses, is crucial to avoid a set back.

Again, triggers can be better handled with a professional who can help the couple navigate the volatile emotions as they progress further into healing and relationship repair.

In this phase, the couple can work on rebonding at a more sustainable level. Open dialogue, expressing emotional, physical and social needs, and working to help the partner feel valued, cared for, loved, respected and adored.

Those things that came natural in the beginning of a relationship; including sex and intimacy, adoration and messages of love. Listening and responding compassionately. Even passionate renewal of sexual activity is not uncommon at this stage of healing; and while it can leave a partner feeling vulnerable, it’s a sign of relationship repair progression. Find out how to recover:

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For more about these phases, book a call with me to see how I can help.

No matter where you are in the stage of relationship repair, a Couples Coach can help you find your way with less stress, less duress and a better chance of genuine repair — not a half-applied bandage approach, but a full relationship recovery.

Read What type of marriage counsellor is best? Couples coach, marriage therapist or individual counselling sessions?

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Details are on this page.If you are struggling through a relationship crisis then don’t let the pain and disconnection drag on any more.

Make contact and get help right away.

Suggested reading: Does an affair or cheating mean the end of the relationship? Does cheating lead to divorce?

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Thanks for reading, and I look forward to helping facilitate your relationship healing (repair and recovery).