A Brief Guide to Recovering from an Affair
By Peggy Vaughan

Psychology Today Guest Blog - November 1, 2011
(at the invitation of Susan Heitler for her Blog: "Resolution, Not Conflict")

There are no simple 1, 2, 3 steps for recovering from an affair. This guide clarifies the essentials that generally need to be included in the recovery process more than a map of the particular order that fits for a given individual or couple.

The journey of recovery is an often-lengthy process with few or no shortcuts. Even when couples do "everything right," the journey is seldom smooth. It's likely instead to be a very jagged path with two steps forward and one step back.

Recovering often tends to be far more complex than most couples either want or expect. Even the very definition of recovery itself is complicated. For instance, staying married is no guarantee of personal recovery, and personal recovery is no guarantee of rebuilding the marriage. The deceived spouse can personally recover through their own effort, but it takes commitment and effort from both partners to rebuild the marriage.

As I said above, there are two different types of recovery: personal recovery and marriage recovery. A continuing marriage may or may not include personal recovery. Similarly, personal recovery may or may not include a continuing marriage.

For the injured spouse, staying trapped in a state of personal injury, regrets, and anger can occur independent of whether or not the marriage survives if personal recovery has been insufficient. For the person who had the affair, insufficient recovery puts them at risk for a repeat offense.

I do want to encourage all individuals and couples who are coping with affairs to wholeheartedly commit to the recovery journey. Like any crisis, the experience can destroy you or can make you stronger.

Personal Recovery

1. Dealing with the physical and emotional reactions
    --Physical trauma (weight loss, inability to sleep - or even function).
    --Emotional devastation (pain, self-pity, depression, anger, resentment).
    --Focusing FIRST on taking care of the basic survival needs: nutrition, exercise, stress-reduction.

2. Facing the reality that this has happened
    --Denial: Oh no, not me. ("I didn't think it would happen to me.")
    --Why me? ("What could I have done to keep this from happening?)
    --Accepting and dealing with the fact that it happened (no more "if only..." or "why me?")

3. Understanding who has affairs and why
    --Understanding who has affairs - that no one is immune.
    --Looking at the complex reasons why people in general and you in particular end up with an affair in your marriage. Looking at personal, marital and societal factors.
    --Getting as much information as possible about affairs in general and your situation in particular.

4. Rebuilding a sense of self-esteem
    --Thinking clearly in spite of strong emotions.
    --Dealing with feelings of embarrassment and shame. (Accepting the fact that "it's not your fault!")
    --Believing it's possible to recover.

5. Deliberately focusing on dealing with it and talking openly about what happened
    --Not trying to bury it, which "buries it alive" - so that it continues to be a burden to carry forever.
    --Accepting real support and saying no to unsolicited advice.
    --Allowing time to heal - which requires patience and persistence while you work to recover.

Marriage Recovery

Note that the goal here is not just "staying married." The objective is to end up with a marriage that is fully strong and loving, and hopefully even more so than before the affair.

1. Making decisions
    --Taking your time, avoiding quick decisions that may be overly influenced by your emotions. Learn to do the win-win waltz as a partnership team.
    --Thinking long-term - how you will "live" with your decisions over time without second-guessing yourself.
    --Getting clear about your priorities.

2. The person who had the affair accepting their responsibilities in addressing it
    --Understanding the devastation caused by their actions and doing everything possible to deal with the fallout.
    --Getting perspective on the "role" of the third party and severing all contact with the third party.
    --Answering all questions (when answers are desired) and talking as long as it takes to work through it.

3. Developing and committing to honest communication
    --Building a new basis for trust through honest communication.
    --Committing to ongoing full communication on all important topics, not just affairs.
    --Recognizing that "responsible honesty" is the primary key not only to recovery but to prevention.

4. Learning to live with what has happened
    --Healing as a couple, giving yourselves time to build new and better memories together.
    --Using the learnings from this experience to build a stronger, more honest and committed marriage.
    --Facing the future together as a couple who are changed, but hopefully stronger through working together to rebuild the marriage.

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