There’s more than one blueprint for healing.
When I write these articles, I know that every couple is unique. There is not just one blueprint for healing after the affair. Yet, I know it is possible to begin opening your heart after infidelity has happened.
I do not work with all couples in the exact same way because partners have different childhoods, different wounds, different capacities to be resilient and different needs. However here are some truths that I have found to be universal with the couples I work with on the road to thriving after infidelity.
At the present time, I have more men who have crossed the boundary than women so I will speak from that gender dynamic to make writing easier. We know that women have affairs as well, and that men are just as devastated as women when that happens.
Here are the 7 steps to take to open your heart again and heal after infidelity:
1. The partner who strayed has to be willing to take a close look at himself.
He needs to get clear on what part of him led him to risk his significant relationship. He has to take full responsibility for his choices.
He has to also see how childhood issues, trauma, and role models figured into his maladaptive solution to whatever problem the infidelity (temporarily) solved.
2. He has to decide that the committed relationship is worth the challenging path ahead.
That includes honoring and understanding his wife’s pain, listening to her, and accepting the grieving (of the innocence of the relationship) that she needs to go through.
3. The cheated partner has to, at some point, decide to see the affair as a symptom.
She needs to seriously take note of the changes her spouse is practicing to make. She recognizes that as she is going through a grieving process, he too is going through a process to learn how to handle his emotions in ways that honor the sacredness of the intimate relationship.
4. She needs to be easy on herself for staying in the relationship.
Of course, those women who decide to end the relationship should be easy on themselves as well and not be self-critical.
I have noticed woman getting angry with themselves for staying and not accept the complex emotions that they are going through. These women have invested years as well as their heart and energy into the committed relationship and they need to accept the part of them that does not want to end the relationship even after being betrayed.
5. She should not let her guard down unless she sees consistent behavioral change patterns in her partner.
For example, if the partner hid his feelings all the time and post-discovery of the affair, he continues to be non-expressive, he is not yet a good risk to open your heart.
However, the betrayed person needs to see herself as part of the solution as well. Ask yourself, “how can I behave and speak in a way that would make it easier for my partner to make his positive changes?”
For example, I have asked the betrayed person to experiment with remembering what she likes about her partner and to show that in some way. It does make it easier for the other person to “grow up” and be the more mature lover when the environment is friendly.
I am aware of how difficult that is when you have been betrayed! Yet, coming from the self-protective part of you or the part that wants to punish him will not give you the information you need to make a good decision.
In other words, the way to truly find out what he is capable of is to give him the best chance to do that.
(I do understand that this is not something that a betrayed person could or even should do soon after the discovery. This is assuming that you are in a healing process together and your partner is showing you signs of positive change.)
6. Whatever interpersonal changes are being made, these changes need to be consistent.
These changes could be more communication, better lifestyle choices, and so on and so forth.
When old patterns show up, both of you are quick to repair the get back to the newer and healthier patterns. Consistency does not mean perfection; it means you do the new and better behaviors and when there is a slip you both recover quickly.
(Slipping does not include repeating infidelity; that line cannot be crossed if trust us to be rebuilt again).
7. If the above steps are taking place consistently, decide to fully take a chance again.
It is a risk, but it is a smart risk. The risk in not taking that chance of opening your heart again is that you may not receive the love and fulfillment you deserve from a committed relationship. So, there is no risk-free way. Use your intuition, listen to your heart and be courageous.
This process is not easy but I personally have helped couples go through this very process thousands of times and have had the joy of seeing many couples rediscover the magic in their relationship after infidelity.
I have seen couples come into therapy with me in agony and ready to divorce and after a brief stint of couples therapy with me come out laughing, playing and rediscovering their sexuality.
It takes work on the couple’s part as well as on my part. It is work that well worth it and it can bring the best out of each partner. The crisis can give way to something far better than they had before.
I am not saying that infidelity is a good thing but couples can discover some treasures as they heal from this crisis.
Do try at least one of these 7 steps to begin opening your heart after infidelity and begin the healing process and let me know how it goes!
Todd Creager is an expert in relationships. For over 30 years, he has worked as a relationship therapist, specializing in marriage, sex and couples counseling.