This article is part of a three-part series, designed to help couples overcome infidelity.
- Part 1: Adultery Doesn’t Just Happen; 10 Honest (and Some Ugly) Reasons Why Your Spouse Cheated
- Part 2 [You Are Here]: From Hating to Healing; 4 Phases That Happen After an Affair and How to Get Through Them
- Part 3: How Our Marriage Became Better After Two Affairs
You’ve decided to forgive your spouse’s betrayal, but the wounds still run deep. You’ve taken the initial steps to move forward, including uncovering the reasons for why your spouse cheated (which we explore in Part 1 of our 3-part infidelity series).
But now, you’re wondering what’s next. You’ve committed to keeping your marriage together, but every now and then, old emotions stir up, leaving you wondering if you can ever really, truly get past the affair. You’ve told yourself you would commit weeks, months and even years to guarantee the future of your marriage, but you still wonder: How long will it take you to heal?
“I can’t give you a concrete time of how long it’s going to take to overcome infidelity,” says our infidelity expert Dr. George James, a psychologist and marriage and family therapist who frequently counsels couples struggling with cheating. “But what I’ve seen with the couples that I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, is that it takes about 9 to 12 months to heal.
Phase 1 (Admission to 3 months)
According to Dr. James, this time can be very tough and rocky—and even at times overwhelming. Emotions are high, as they should be.
If you were the victim of a spouse’s infidelity, you’re dealing with hurt, betrayal, anger and confusion. If you were the unfaithful spouse, you’ll likely be consumed with guilt, remorse and depression.
The combination of these conflicting feelings and raw emotions may make the atmosphere dark and, at times, uninhabitable.
What To Do: If you were the wrongdoer, you have to let your mate explore the range of these emotions.
According to Dr. James, this is the phase to discuss the Who, What, When, Where and Why questions with your spouse. You might be inclined to shield him or her from the hurtful details of your affair, but sometimes your spouse will need this information to heal.
“You have to let your partner know that you are committed,” says Dr. James.
Phase 2 (months 3 to 6)
In this phase of recovery, you start to feel better about your marriage. You’re not as consumed by the grief. And you may even start to find happiness in your marriage again.
Yet, even though it seems like you’re turning the corner, those triggers still stir up emotions every now and then.
Spouses may want to pick fights and instigate arguments to help unleash those emotions on the partner who cheated. Similarly, the unfaithful partner, may have now reached the boiling point of being on the receiving end of those attacks; they may find themselves lashing out in response.
What To Do: You’re relationship is now in a stronger place than it was months ago. So you can now have those tougher, open conversations about rebuilding.
Restoring trust will be essential to your marriage’s survival. Discuss what that trust should look like and feel like on both sides of the marriage.
Phase 3 (months 6 to 9)
Here you’re starting to see the fruits of your labor. Your trust implementations have been put into action; they’ve been tried and tested, giving you greater confidence in your spouse.
Arguments are fewer (though not completely extinct). Intimacy, however, may still be damaged.
What To Do: Don’t force physical intimacy on your partner. Allow the romance to return to the relationship as if you’re dating all over again.
Continue to build upon your trust, by accommodating the things your spouse needs to feel in order to deem you trustworthy.
Phase 4 (months 9 to 12)
“This is where some relationships can get to the place where it was better than it ever was,” says Dr. James. “In this time, you’re now communicating better…and even more, you’ve gotten help.”
If you’ve sought help in your marriage, you’ve both learned how to control your triggers. You look ahead to continue building upon a future with your spouse—with joint dreams and joint plans.
What To Do: Keep focusing on the positive. Communicate, in fact over-communicate, about your desires, fears, concerns, grievances, etc. to make sure the marriage stays on the right track.
BMWK, do you think your relationship can be even greater after a spouse’s affair?
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