Surviving Infidelity-Top Tips From A Relationship Expert

Surviving Infidelity-Top Tips From A Relationship Expert


It is is one of the most traumatic events that can happen in a marriage.

Infidelity (either emotional or physical) tears at the foundation of any marriage and challenges both partners to question the basis of their union. For many marriages the strain an incident of unfaithfulness of any type is simply too much to bear.

However for other marriages, both partners are able to work through a process of marriage recovery.

Sometimes couples emerge from this rocky path stronger even than when they started. However, any attempt at thinking this way in the early stages of the discovery of infidelity is usually too hard to contemplate.

Instead the marriage often becomes a stage for hand-to-hand combat the likes of which neither partner have seen before.

Among heterosexual married couples, 20 to 40 percent of men and 10 to 25 percent of women have committed an act of infidelity!

The good news is that getting through this conflict is possible.

Any relationship can survive infidelity. But it requires time, effort and knowledge that sometimes neither partner may have at the beginning.

In this article I discuss 8 common steps that help the process of marriage recovery following an incident of infidelity. These steps are not linear and can vary from couple to couple. But overall these are very common and helpful steps that couples who are attempting to survive infidelity can take.

If you have experienced infidelity of any type, feel feel to
contact me. More often than not professional advice is important in helping couples work through this most difficult issue.

Note: In this article I will use the terms “infidelity”, “unfaithful” and “affair” almost interchangeably. They all indicate an event or events where one person has had an emotional or physical affair with a person outside of the marriage.

Click here for a full definition of infidelity.

Steps for The Person Who Has Been Unfaithful

Step 1: End The Affair

This step must be taken to initiate the recovery process.

Ending the affair usually also means that the person who has had the affair will need to cut all ties with their affair partner.

If you are this person, ending your affair is often best done transparently and with full knowledge of your partner.

For example, many people choose to end their affairs by calling the affair partner while your spouse is present and listening to the phone call. This indicates to your partner that you are serious about committing to your relationship-not the affair partner.

It is important also for the person who has had the affair to understand that any ongoing contact with the affair partner will undermine your relationship.

It is important also for the person who has had the affair to understand that any ongoing contact with the affair partner will undermine your relationship.

For people who have had an affair with a work colleague it is best to limit your contact with your affair partner as much as possible. In many situations this may even mean changing jobs or moving to a different department.

This sacrifice is often a necessary consequence of the affair and it usually worth maintaining your marriage for.

Step 2: Be As Transparent As Possible

Any type of affair is a betrayal of the trust that your spouse has invested in you. Being as transparent as possible from now on goes some way to restoring this trust (which admittedly will take time to fully rebuild).

Two important steps in moving towards full transparency include:


answering any questions your partner has about the affair, and


offering your partner full access to all your means of communication.

These steps are important for the following reasons:

1) Answering any questions your partner has about the affair

Almost all partners who have been betrayed will want to know exactly how and why this betrayal happened. 

Although you may not want to discuss these details (as you may feel shame or embarrassment about what you have done), it is important to overcome any reluctance to share the details of the affair.

For example, your partner may want to know how often you met your affair partner, where these meetings took place, who initiated them and so forth.

Being betrayed is life-shattering. The best way to help your partner come to terms with your infidelity is to simply his or her questions.

In all cases once the infidelity has been revealed it is important that you do not withhold any information or sugar-coat what has happened. In these situations, truth is the best policy!

Often your partner may ask the same question many times. This is one way of coming to terms with the shock of the betrayal. For other people it is a way to simply check how honest you are being or if you are withholding information.

In all cases once the infidelity has been revealed it is important that you do not withhold any information or sugar-coat what has happened. In these situations, honesty is the best policy!

One important exception to this principle is when it comes to details of a sexual affair. In most cases it is best for you and your partner to agree to not share intimate sexual details. More often than not sharing these details will traumatize the partner who was not involved in the affair, often leading to images or pictures that he or she can never get out of their mind.

To avoid this, it is often best to keep what happened sexually between you and your affair partner "off-limits" for discussion with your spouse. But you must be fully honest about every other aspect of the affair.

2) Offer your partner full access to all your means of communication

A second part of transparency is to make all your means of communication (phone, computer, social media accounts and so forth) available to your partner to check if he or she wants to.

Although this may feel like an overstepping of privacy at times (or a demonstration of mis-trust), it is important that the person who has had the affair understands that they the former levels of privacy they had before and during the affair simply cannot be maintained after an affair.

Step 3: Understand How The Affair Came About

Episodes of infidelity do not "just happen". Usually there are a series of steps that the person who has had the affair takes before they eventually cross the line into an emotional or physical affair.

Some common examples of these steps include:

  • discussing personal information with the affair partner
  • talking about your partner negatively to the affair partner
  • fantasizing about the affair partner
  • organizing to spend time alone with the affair partner, and
  • having non-sexual physical contact with the affair partner

All of these steps start to open a door to a possible affair. In committed relationships it is important that these "door-openers" are avoided, and any feelings of attraction to people outside the relationship are acknowledged and discussed.

Understanding how the affair came about more clearly outlines the choice points that the person who has had the affair made, and allows this person to more consciously make different choices in the future.

For the person who has had the affair there may also be deeper reasons why the affair happened.

These reasons can include:

  • a desire for attention
  • low self-esteem (which is boosted through the affair)
  • underlying anger or resentment about the existing marriage, and
  • poor communication skills or a decision to “turn away” from your spouse

Whatever reasons there are for the affair occurring it is important that the person who was unfaithful understands them fully, so that they can avoid the infidelity happening again.

Whatever reasons there are for the affair occurring it is important that the person who was unfaithful understands them fully, so that they can avoid the infidelity happening again.

While the person who had the affair processes their actions that led to the affair, it is important that they do not let feelings of blame or self-loathing dominate their recovery process.

Instead there is much learning to do around why the affair happened and how you can respond to your partner better. Don’t let shame block you from this learning!

Steps for The Person Who Has Been Betrayed

Discovering that your spouse has had an affair (or is still having an affair) is a traumatic event for almost everyone that it has happened to.

Many of my clients describe this event as like living through a major earthquake. It seems like the entire ground beneath your feet has shifted. Often the world never feels the same again.

Even though the world may have changed for you, and you may never feel exactly the same way about your spouse as you have in the past, there are ways to get through the affair-both for yourself and (hopefully) for the relationship.

The following are some steps that can help this for you:

Step 1: Deal With Your Shock And Rage

Shock and rage are common responses to discovery that your partner has had an affair.

While expressing these feelings a certain amount is to be expected, protracted anger or rage at your partner is usually not useful. You may want answers to questions. You want to know why your partner betrayed you. You may not be sure whether to stay in the relationship or not. And perhaps most of all, you will be feeling incredibly hurt and betrayed.

For many people it is best to start to deal with the feelings of anger, rage, shock and betrayal away from your spouse. This may mean spending hours with a friend, crying and getting these feelings out. It may also mean seeing a professional counsellor, who can help you channel these feelings positively.

Once you are past your initial feelings of shock and rage, it is easier to keep control of the level of shock and rage that express to your partner.

You will need to have some serious conversations together about his or her infidelity. Being able to control your emotions in these discussion will usually lead to better outcome.

Step 2: Avoid Punishing Your Partner

While you may feel like you have every right to "punish" your partner for their infidelity, repeated attempts to do this by yelling, putting him or her down, pushing his or her buttons or focusing on their inadequacies rarely leads to a productive outcome.

In contrast to this (providing your partner is able to listen to your feelings), it is better to express exactly how hurt, disappointed and betrayed you feel by your partners actions.

You do not need to protect him or her from your hurt-but expressing this hurt in a punishing or negative way is usually not productive.

Confronting infidelity is really coping with betrayal. It’s all about holding the other person accountable for that betrayal and honoring yourself in the process.

Step 3: Don’t Forget Your Own Mistakes

Although it can be difficult to say, usually affairs do not happen in a "relationship vacuum".

While your partner is 100% responsible for his or her choice to have an affair, the state of a relationship prior to an affair happening does often contribute to the affair occurring. 

Once you have moved past the initial shock and outrage of discovering the affair, thinking about whether the state of the relationship prior to the affair contributed to the affair (or not) is usually productive.

In this step there is no attempt to minimize the choices your partner made to have the affair, but keeping your focus 100% on your partner is not likely to lead to a healthy recovery for your relationship.

How Your Relationship Can Recover

Once the initial stages of the affair recovery process have been completed, each person will need to decide if they want to remain in the relationship or not.

For couples who choose to work together to stay in their relationship, there are many ways in which they can do this in a productive and useful way.

However it is important to realize that the goal of the relationship recovery process is not to rebuild the relationship how it was-but instead to create a new relationship that is stronger, wiser and more affair-proof than your previous relationship was.

A simple first step in dong this is to work together on your communication skills with your partner. I have written on other places on how to develop better communication with your partner.

A second step is often to see a professional counsellor like myself.

I can guide you and your partner on the relationship recovery process. Many couples do not posses the tools to rebuild their relationship themselves, but with professional help this can be done more quickly than most people realise.

Have you or your partner had an affair? Do any of these steps resonate for you? Do you have any questions about how to recover from infidelity?

If so, contact me or make any comments below.