As painful as infidelity is — often deeply wounding both partners — it is not a topic that can be avoided.
Couples that stand a realistic chance to repair their relationship in the aftermath of infidelity must set aside time alone to discuss what happen and share their feelings.
Doing so is the fifth of seven steps that I’ve identified, which if carefully followed by both partners, provide the best chance of avoiding dissolution of the relationship. In fact, these 7 Survival Steps offer a path to move forward together as a caring, dedicated, and respectful couple.
[You can view all of my prior Psych Central articles on infidelity and other topics here: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/author/abe-kass/]
Step #5, which I discuss in this article, is: Make Time to Discuss the Affair and Your Feelings. For most couples, a limited period each day works best — so that neither partner gets overwhelmed.
A vital part of recovering from infidelity comes when the partner who was betrayed — eventually, can offer forgiveness to the partner who strayed. For that to happen, and for forgiveness to be genuine, the partner who was betrayed must know enough about the affair so that her (or his) forgiveness actually means something.
For the sake of illustration, in this article I will refer to the partner was betrayed as “Sue” and the partner who strayed as “John.” I will name John’s sexual partner, “Violet.” The model would be no different if the gender roles were reversed and it was John who was betrayed and Sue who strayed. John and Sue are a fictional couple but represent a composite of many men and women who I’ve helped over the years.
Sue will have questions about John’s affair with Violet. Sue has a right, and a need to ask — although it’s important that the questions aren’t simply anger expressing itself in disguise.
The intent of the questions must be to obtain necessary information, not extract revenge, or to uncover unnecessary details that can only create more pain and haunting images.
These are some examples of questions that are generally appropriate for the partner who was betrayed to ask of the partner who strayed:
- When did the affair start?
- Where did you meet?
- How often did you meet?
- How much did you tell him/her about us?
- Did you discuss our sexual life with him/her?
- Who else knows about the affair?
- Are there any photos or videos of the two of you?
- If yes, are any of them of a sexual nature?
- How have you left it with your sexual partner?
- Did you take precautions against sexually transmitted diseases?
- If yes, be specific.
- Did you give (him/her) any gifts?
- Did he/she give you any gifts?
These are some examples of questions that are generally best to avoid:
- What attracted you to him/her?
- Do you love him/her?
- Do you still love me?
- Is she/he more physically attractive to you than I am?
- Describe specific sexual acts you engaged in? (Did you do intimate things with him/her that we don’t do?)
- Did you have pet names for each other?
Sue doesn’t need to know every detail. And needless to say, John must answer Sue’s questions fully and truthfully. Lying was integral to John’s affair, and has no place in the recovery.
The healing process in the aftermath of infidelity is emotionally difficult. It may take Sue and John many weeks, even months to complete.
Sue and John, like all couples rebounding from infidelity, should take it slowly. Pushing too hard and going too fast might lead to fighting and actually further damage their already fragile relationship. (It is often advisable for couples recovering from infidelity to seek the assistance and support of a relationship therapist.)
If Sue needs time to rage and vent, that’s understandable. She should be cautious, however, recognizing that words once spoken, can never be unspoken.
So even in anger, if Sue hopes to preserve her marriage to John, she must always be respectful and mindful of her words.
Are you or a family member struggling to cope with the aftermath of infidelity? I offer other helpful articles at SurvivingInfidelity.info.