There are many practical reasons why men and women who have an affair outside of their committed relationships might wish to reverse course, reconcile, and move forward with their legitimate partner.
Affairs frequently turn messy and almost always leave emotional destruction in their wake, especially if children are caught in the middle. Children too, have many issues when their family is afflicted with infidelity.
On top of the pain the betrayer inflicts, romantic liaisons can give rise to many practical hardships. These include financial entanglements, career and professional repercussions, health-related consequences, and social and community fallout.
No wonder if after “John” betrays his commitment to “Sue,” or vice versa, he might awaken one morning with a cold sweat of regret.
But it’s not enough.
If John merely wants to reestablish his relationship with Sue because he bemoans the negative chain reaction that his behavior has set in motion, this is insufficient, and Sue should have no part of it. As much as she might covet a return to her pre-infidelity relationship with John, there are important steps that he first must take if he is to be forgiven and if there is to be a realistic chance to repair and rebuild their couple. For John to just, “kiss and make up” is not enough to ensure a healthy future for him and his family.
Importantly, John must feel genuine remorse — in his heart — and recognize that the affair was wrong, a betrayal of the commitment implicit in his relationship with Sue, and deeply hurtful to her.
After many years of counseling couples whose relationships have been fractured by infidelity, I have identified 7 Survival Steps, 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.
Step #3, which I discuss in this article, is: The Partner Who Strayed Must Feel Genuine Remorse for His or Her Betrayal. [You can view all of my prior Psych Central articles on infidelity and other topics here: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/author/abe-kass/]
For the sake of illustration, I use the names “John” and “Sue” when writing about infidelity. They are a fictional couple but represent a composite of many men and women who I’ve helped over the years. The examples I provide would be no different if the roles were reversed and it was John who was betrayed and Sue who strayed.
Too often, individuals who have an affair regret getting caught or regret hurting their partner, children, and other loved ones. They tell me time and again, “I never intended to cause so much damage.”
But before John and Sue can move on to the next of the 7 Survival Steps, John must take as much time as necessary to weigh his behavior and truly, to the depth of his bones, recognize that what he did was wrong and hurtful.
John must see firsthand how he has injured his wife. In essence, he must be prepared to experience Sue’s pain and to recognize the pain he has caused others and his family. To aid him, John and Sue together may want to work with an experienced and caring relationship specialist.
For many couples working alone and attempting to give John the necessary awareness of what Sue has been going through so he will have genuine remorse, can lead to arguing and further unintended injuries. That’s why a trained therapist is often necessary to keep things calm and safe.
In words and deeds, John must demonstrate genuine contrition for his actions. Anything less will not suffice.
The purpose of Step #3 is not to punish John or stigmatize him. The goal, above all others, is to prevent a reoccurrence. Only if, and when, John truly feels the error of his ways, can both John and Sue believe it is possible he will never again violate his commitment to her.
The final portion of Step # 3 is for John to ask Sue for forgiveness. In some cases, the partner who strays begins asking to be forgiven from Day One. But such requests are insufficient and don’t reflect an enlightened understanding of what the partner is requesting to be forgiven for. An initial apology and request for forgiveness is a good start. However there is much more work to be done if trust and love are to be reestablished.
John needs to do the work necessary to fully grasp the damage his bad behavior has caused. When Sue senses that he truly understands only then can she begin to feel there is hope for the two of them together. When John senses Sue’s “hope,” only then can he too begin to have hope himself that as a couple they will recover and he will be forgiven.
Are you or a family member struggling to cope with the aftermath of infidelity? I offer other helpful articles at SurvivingInfidelity.info.