In our last installment, we looked at the damage inflicted on marriages by infidelity, and discussed what the cheating spouse could best do to restore their marriage. Now we will look at what the betrayed spouse can do; in many ways, unfair though it may be, they have the harder part of the process.
If you are the betrayed spouse, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, but be advised that you may not like all of the answers. Some spouses only want to know the most minimal details, while others demand to know every aspect of the affair, from how it began, to the kinds of sexual acts involved, the amount of money spent, etc. There are no right or wrong questions, ask what you feel you need to know.
You will be angry. That is to be expected, and is completely normal. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, do your best to temper that anger and rage as it can cause an effective shut down of communication between you and your spouse. Your spouse may suddenly begin withholding information out of fear of your reaction; this will stifle any steps made towards recovery. The cheating spouse is going to be reluctant to provide information if every response is lashing out in anger, because they will see this as the beginning of a never ending process punctuated by out-of-control emotions. A good rule of thumb is that when one partner becomes upset, the conversation should be ended for the time being.
Don’t let the affair consume your lives. By all means talk about it, but limit the amount of time you devote to it. By all means ask questions as they arise, and keep talking it out as you need to, but don’t let it take over every waking hour of your day.
Expect the unexpected. The spouse who had the affair may at first be remorseful and guilty, but there may be moments where they lose it, even blaming you for the affair or accusing you of engaging in similar behavior. Understand that this is a part of their working through their own feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Resist the urge to allow it to become a fresh source of conflict.
Be open about how the affair has affected you. Don’t hold back; let them know how hurt, angry, depressed, and disappointed this has made you. Remember that if your partner is building a wall between him/her and the former lover, then you want to correspondingly open up a new window of intimacy between the two of you.
By the same token, don’t feel rushed to forgive easily or quickly. Out of sheer guilt, your partner may put pressure on you to put this behind you and move forward. Do not do so until you are ready. Remember, you are the victim in this case, you and you alone will know when you are healed. Forgive when you are ready to do so.
That said, once you have forgiven your spouse, make good on it. Don’t continually bring it up, or dwell on it, or throw it in their face when you have bad days and feel you need an “upper hand”. If your partner has demonstrated that they can be trustworthy, then there will come a time when you must make the choice to remove your negative feelings and move forward together.
Learn to spend time together without talking about the affair. Learn to reconnect as friends and romantic partners by doing many of the things you always enjoyed.
As I said, in many ways the betrayed partner has the more difficult job. But given time, and with two partners with a vested interest in making things right, there is no reason why your marriage cannot move past the pain of an affair and still have a future together.