Question: I'm curious about the stages of healing from infidelity. For instance, after the meltdowns subside (1 week free!), what do I have to look forward to next?
Answer: The steps of progression are not universal or the same for everyone. To a large degree they depend on the work you are or aren’t doing. This is why it is so critical to reach out and get good help.
It’s not possible to set up an exact framework for stages for healing from affairs because really each person is different, and each marriage is different. There is not a one size fits all Healing From Affairs formula.
That said there are general principles that can be applied, as long as we don’t get dogmatic or legalistic about it and allow for the uniqueness of each situation.
While affair recovery experts generally agree it takes a minimum of two years to heal from an affair, we have found some couples have healed their marriages in as little as a year.
After our own affair-recovery, we saw the great need for someone to really understand how to help people through affair recovery.
Since then we have not only read stacks and stacks of books on the topic, but have had the privilege of being trained by the best in the field.
As we looked we found a common denominator among the couples who were healing more quickly than others. They were the ones who had found our help early in the process.
What we realized is it’s not actually the affair itself that is the most difficult to heal from, not for a moment diminishing how difficult it is to heal from an affair, but in the final end its all the damage couples do to each other after disclosure that causes the greatest damage.
Therefore the sooner a couple or person reaches out and gets good help and guidance to go through the process, they can minimize after disclosure pain and heal much quicker. Why make this journey any harder than it already is?!!
STAGES OF HEALING FROM AFFAIRS - THE TIMELINE
The healing starts on the day of disclosure – the day the secret ends. It doesn’t matter if the actual affair was 20+ years ago. (Actually that’s always worse because now we have to also deal with “why did you lie to me for 20 years?”)
Day 1 – 6 months (some may make it through this period in 3 months) Trauma Stage:
A period of numbness, shock, and overwhelming grief. Some may call it the melt down period. You are in crisis. Both the hurt spouse and the offending spouse are unable to think clearly.
It’s important not to make any big decisions during this time, while you are in the emotional trauma of the moment, because these will likely be decisions you will regret later. Neither is it smart to think that you can solve every thing and heal the marriage while you are in this heightened emotional state.
The first thing you need to think of is stabilizing yourself. Are you sleeping? Are you eating? Take care of yourself.
If you stabilize yourself and have some guidance, you can begin to do some work towards healing as a couple, but it’s a good idea to put some distance between you and the initial emotions.
You are likely to experience a myriad of ups and downs. You’ll go from vigilance to save the marriage, to struggling with thoughts of anger, hatred and revenge, to just wanting to give up and cry alone in a dark room. You may experience all of this or only one side of it.
Don't underestimate the physical impact of this experience. It's common to experience weight loss, loss of sleep, and general weakness. Be sure to get some nutrition in your body and some exercise.
If you are the betrayed spouse, do not blame yourself. THE AFFAIR IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You didn’t deserve for this to happen to you.
If the marriage is to be healed, the person who had the affair must break off their affair completely, and they should do it in a way that is agreeable to their spouse. It is their business!!!
3 – 6 months: Beginning to work on the issues:
You may be ready to begin to deal with the core issues that led to the affair. The betrayed spouse is still trying to adjust to this new reality emotionally. The first 6 months are usually dominated by the emotions, and it's only as the strength of the emotions subside that you will able to begin a more "rational" focus towards genuine healing.
There can be a lot of fighting. We recommend attending a workshop or seminar that includes strong communication techniques.
Even if you go into this process with good communication skills, healing from an affair is going to tax your skills to the maximum. If you didn’t have good communication skills beforehand, you are definitely going to need some help.
6 months – 1 year: Facing the issues:
If you have allowed yourself to grieve, if you have moved through the denial. If you have allowed yourself to have some anger and some sadness, you are now ready to begin the real work of healing yourself and/or your marriage and dealing with core issues.
There will be ups and downs. It’s a roller coaster. Don’t be discouraged by days when you feel like quitting. This is normal. Reach out for help and support. Work on thinking and seeing things clearly in truth, rather than believing the “untrue” thoughts that always lead to the feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Stay away from people who try and tell you what to do. It’s important to make your own decisions. Get as much perspective as you can through books, counseling or coaching and seminars and then you decide what’s right for you.
1 year Shaking sadness –seeking to understand:
If you’ve had good help and done the work, you will be in a much better place. With the right help you may even be healed. Most likely there will still be painful days. Things won’t be back to normal. Trust has not been restored 100%, but overall you may be functioning quite well in life again and able to resume normal work & responsibilities.
Experts generally agree this is a minimum time period for a couple to be completely healed. It can take much longer. Couples who are not able to be together enough, for example when a spouse’s work involves extensive travel will not be healed yet. Their journey is slowed in proportion to the amount of time they spend together. Couples who choose a separation route for a period of time will also need more time to heal.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you are continually moving forward and do heal and reclaim happiness for the future.
Questions to ask yourself:
1. What have you discovered about why the affair happened?
2. What changes have they made in your relationship?
3. What is being done differently now to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?
4. What have you learned through this experience?
5. What personal changes/growth has there been in your life as a result of this healing journey?
6. What friends are you (and your spouse) hanging out with? (Each spouse needs same sex friendships – that support the marriage.)
©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.