How to Get Through an Affair
An affair is one of the most harmful events (or series of) that a couple can go through. Most betrayed
spouses are totally taken by surprise by the revelation of an affair. Were things really that bad? Why
would s/he do that to us, we have a family? Various studies have put the rates of infidelity from around
20% to as much as 70%, with men cheating for sex twice as much as women. To understand the 20-70%
range, just realize that it depends on what researchers qualify as “cheating” when conducting a
phenomenological survey. Additionally, infidelity is actually a subjective, not objective, term, with it
being properly defined by each individual couple.
What I teach and coach catches many by surprise, but it is absolutely a necessary component to healing
from an affair. The most important thing to the post-affair timeline is what is analogous to a data-
collection process. The betrayed and the unfaithful, both, employ empathy to learn what happened and
why it happened. One of the main reasons that individuals are unhappy, in general, is that they let their
automatic thoughts go unchecked. The reason for this is that there is uncertainty in their minds. When
the mind is able to wonder, it often finds a negative assumption to ruminate on.
In the post-affair time period, it is critical for both partners to engage in a process of disclosure. This, of
course, is after surviving the crisis of the affair revelation, which has its own (initial) step. The
relationship coach attempts to get partners to talk to each other as soon as possible, but it is often
necessary for them to talk through the coach at first. I coach individuals to treat the disclosure process
as they would if they were troubleshooting something that wasn’t working as designed. If the television
won’t turn on, then individuals run through a few steps to identify the problem, before attempting to
resolve it. Getting mad at the television does nothing to identify and solve the issue. It could be as
simple as it not being plugged in, a circuit breaker that tripped, or even bad batteries in the remote.
This data-collection process cannot be circumvented, even in the trauma of an affair revelation.
Many individuals struggle with hearing “why” and “how” the affair took place from the unfaithful
partner. To many, this explanation is seen as an excuse. The unfaithful partner might disclose that s/he
felt unloved and neglected by his/her spouse, unintentionally developed a bond to a coworker and
things escalated to having sex. Additionally, the betrayed spouse, often, does not see themselves as
having contributed to the affair, at all. The process of disclosure helps each partner to understand one
another via empathy.
You want me to empathize with what s/he did?
In every single scholarly resource on infidelity that I have ever seen, empathy is a critical component for
the betrayed spouse’s healing, whether or not the relationship heals. To empathize does not mean to
excuse or sweep what happened under the rug. Empathy is the process of feeling and understanding
another person, namely the spouse. Because so much of a relationship is subjective, it is critical to see it
from another point of view. In fact, “interpretation” is one of the main components in the intersystemic
approach to recovering from infidelity (Weeks, 2003), with it being seeing how one’s partner
“interprets” their world.
Believe me, if I found a different or easier way to help individuals recover from an affair, I would be
teaching that instead. Because the research is rather unanimous in the virtues of empathy to
forgiveness, we follow their lead. The problem that many individuals have is actually following through
with an empathic effort. It is resisted by the unconscious mind, but this only keeps the trauma of the
affair ever-present. When we learn the hard facts of the affair, we no longer have uncertainty to
ruminate about. A betrayed partner might automatically think, “she never loved me and she’s just a bad
person for resorting to cheating.” Unfortunately, this inflexible thinking only hurts the betrayed further.
When we learn the truth, something funny happens, the pain starts going away with understanding.
Resting the mind on verifiable facts is such a critical component to the process of forgiveness, even
when no reconciliation occurs.
While I have imparted research-backed evidence on how to recover from an affair, if you are still in the
early stages after the revelation, then it is critical to first attend to depressing feelings you and your
spouse are having. As such, it is critical to not make any decisions so early, as the emotions are surely
running high. We save decisions for when we have collected data, not when divorce “feels” like the only
option. In the initial phase after an affair revelation, it is absolutely critical to have someone to talk to,
be it a friend, family member, or even your relationship coach. When depression strikes, the first thing
to go is our personal energy, which reinforces the cycle of depression. As hard as it may be, it is critical
to stay active and find some reasonable level of enjoyment from life.
The good news is that the majority of couples actually do end up staying together after an affair, and if
we gave all couples sound advice, the results would be even better, as not all couples actually go
through a scientifically proven affair recovery process. The worst thing we can do is decide to reconcile
and do nothing to heal the underlying damaged relationship and character flaws that allowed for the
affair to occur. Either the relationship flounders in the future, or additional affairs occur. Another
disastrous occurrence would be if a salvageable relationship was needlessly thrown away. The latter is
more subjective, however. We want to make sure that the betrayed heals and is able to learn how to
trust their spouse or (if divorced) to trust a new partner.
You absolutely can heal and recover from an affair, but it is not a given. Instead, see affair recovery as a
process that must be completed. If the process is completed, then the decision to reconcile or divorce is
then ultimately made. We never assume that a relationship should recover, as we don’t know whether
either partner is prepared and willing to put in their 50% to the relationship, moving forward, but the
decision is up to both partners.
If this article has helped your and/or you need specific advice or coaching, please do contact me at