Infidelity: Mending your marriage after an affair

Few problems in a marriage cause as much heartache and deep pain as infidelity. When both spouses are committed to healing and rebuilding the relationship, though, many marriages survive. In some cases, they may even become stronger, with deeper levels of intimacy.

Defining infidelity

Infidelity isn't a single, clearly defined situation. What's considered infidelity can be different among couples and even between spouses. For example, is an emotional connection without sex considered infidelity? What about an online relationship or online sexual activity? Each person and each couple needs to define what infidelity means within a marriage.

Why affairs happen

Infidelity can happen in all kinds of marriages. That includes marriages that seem happy, as well as those with many problems. Infidelity may happen due to a variety factors, including:

  • Lack of affection.
  • Loss of fondness, love and care for each other.
  • Weak commitment to the relationship.
  • Breakdown of communication about emotional and relationship needs.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Physical health issues, such as chronic pain or disability.
  • Mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Addiction, such as addiction to alcohol, sex, romance or drugs.
  • Problems that aren't addressed in a marriage, such as fear of intimacy or avoiding conflict.
  • Major life changes, such as becoming parents or children leaving home.
  • Stressful periods, such as when spouses must be apart for a long time.

Discovering an affair

When an affair is revealed, it often triggers powerful emotions for both partners. The partner who has been cheated on might feel traumatized by the betrayal of trust and loss of emotional safety. The partner that had the affair might fear that they'll never be forgiven. When an affair is first discovered, it can be hard to think clearly enough to make long-term decisions. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Don't make rash decisions. If you think you might physically hurt yourself or someone else, seek help from a medical professional right away.
  • Give each other space. The discovery of an affair can be intense. As you try to grasp what has happened, you might find yourself acting in unpredictable ways or doing things that you usually wouldn't. Give yourself and your partner some time. Try to avoid emotionally charged discussions as you begin the healing process.
  • Seek support. It can help to share your experience and feelings with trusted friends or loved ones who support and encourage you. Avoid people who tend to be judgmental, critical or biased.
  • Take your time. Even though you might have a deep desire to understand what has happened, don't go into the intimate details of the affair right away. Doing so without the guidance of a professional, such as a marriage counselor, might be harmful.

Mending a marriage

Recovering from an affair can be one of the most challenging times in a marriage. This challenge may come with mixed feelings and uncertainty. But as spouses rebuild trust, take responsibility for their actions, resolve conflict and forgive, the process may deepen and strengthen love and affection.

Consider these steps to promote healing:

  • Don't decide right away. Before choosing to continue or end a marriage, take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair.
  • Be accountable. If you were the one who cheated, take responsibility for your actions. End the affair, and stop all contact with the person with whom you had the affair. If the affair involved a co-worker, limit contact to business only. If that's not possible, consider getting another job.
  • Consult a marriage counselor. Seek help from a licensed therapist who is trained in marital therapy and who is experienced in dealing with infidelity. Marriage counseling can help put the affair into perspective, identify issues that might have contributed to the affair, teach ways to rebuild and strengthen the relationship, and help avoid divorce — if that's the goal.
  • Get help from several sources. Seek support from nonjudgmental, understanding friends or family members. Spiritual leaders also may be helpful if they have training in marriage counseling. Reading about the topic can be useful. But not all self-help books are equally helpful. Ask a marriage counselor or other professional for reading recommendations.
  • Restore trust. Make a plan to restore trust that may lead to reconciliation. Agree on a timeline and process. If you were unfaithful, admit guilt and seek forgiveness. If your partner was unfaithful, offer forgiveness when you are able. Together, seek understanding.

If you are both committed to healing the relationship, the reward may be a new type of marriage that will continue to grow and likely go beyond your previous expectations.

Last Updated Feb 16, 2023

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