Taking mindful steps for self-care and deliberate steps with your primary partner can help to move beyond an affair.
Most affairs are a flurry of passion, secrecy, and blitzing momentum. So when all of that energy suddenly stops due to being caught, someone’s conscience or mismatched desire, one or both people can feel bewildered at what to do with all their emotions.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, an estimated 25% of men and 15% of women engage in intercourse with someone outside their spouse. Affairs of emotional or physical relations without intercourse increase these numbers by 20%.
While affairs vary in duration, the majority ultimately come to an end at some point — which can trigger many emotions.
Feeling depressed once an affair ends isn’t unusual.
“It is [typical] for individuals to experience a sense of loss and sadness, especially if the breakup was unexpected,” explains Parisa Ghanbari, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto, Canada.
“Just like when a [monogomous] relationship ends, ending an affair can be shocking and heartbreaking,” she adds.
As such, “for the first few months, it is [understandable] for one to emotionally grieve, miss their partner, and even feel angry if they did not make the decision to end it,” Ghanbari shares.
It’s OK if you feel other emotions, too.
“It’s also possible to feel some relief that the affair is over since it implies an end to the anxiety that often accompanies secrecy and deception,” says Afshan Mohamedali, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York.
Though we sometimes wish otherwise, we can’t switch feelings on and off.
“Like any relationship, the amount of time it takes to ‘get over’ an affair varies,” Mohamedali explains.
However, in some instances, the time it takes for emotions to subside is longer than the affair itself.
“It usually takes six months to one year to emotionally bounce back,” Ghanbari says. “If one is taking longer [than this] to recover, it is possible that she or he is dealing with complicated grief.”
For the sake of all involved, it’s essential to move on and put the outside relationship behind you. But how can you effectively do this? You may consider:
Turning to loved ones
“Reaching out to friends and leaning on their emotional support post-breakup can help,” Ghanbari says.
Talking about your feelings and getting advice from family and friends is about more than just the act of conversation.
Taking responsibility for what’s happened can be uncomfortable, but doing so is vital.
“Taking accountability for your actions and the consequences they have had is the best way to move forward,” Mohamedali notes. “With honesty comes the chance to receive forgiveness, including from yourself.”
Considering the ‘why’
Recognizing the driving factors behind why you entered the affair will enable you to address any issues, either individually or within your primary relationship, and move forward more mindfully.
Mohamedali suggests asking self-queries to help you understand your actions. For example:
- What purpose did the infidelity serve for me at that moment in time?
- How did I feel when I was with the other person?
- How can I find mindful ways to feel that way again?
Following the 10-10-10 rule
The “10-10-10 rule” — made popular by the author and journalist Suzy Welch — involves asking yourself what the consequences of your action(s) will be in the next:
- 10 minutes
- 10 months
- 10 years
“Applying [the 10-10-10 rule] may help one to regulate the immediate overwhelming, painful emotions that come after the affair,” Ghanbari explains. “It helps one to reframe the situation and think more rationally and clearly.”
Moving past the guilt
It’s understandable to feel guilty about your actions and their negative impact on others.
However, it’s key to understand that “prolonged guilt won’t help you move forward or motivate you to make the changes you hope to make,” reveals Mohamedali.
Seeking professional help
“There is a lot to make sense of as an affair comes to an end, and you [may] make efforts to recommit to your relationship and yourself,” Mohamedali notes.
Speaking with a therapist or counselor can help you sort out “seemingly conflicting thoughts and feelings,” she adds.
Sex therapists have specialized training in issues of:
- betrayal trauma
- relationship concerns
Just because you had an affair may not mean you don’t love your partner and want to make your primary relationship work. If you both choose to, together you can get things back on track with time, effort, compassion, and understanding.
To aid in achieving this, Mohamedali shares a few crucial approaches:
- Patience is key. “Be mindful that acceptance and trust take time to rebuild.”
- Prepare for change. “Accept that the relationship you are recommitting yourself to might not be the same and that it’s alright if it’s changed.”
- Be more transparent. “Your partner is likely sensitive to secrecy and prone to suspicion. That’s [typical].”
- Appreciate each other. “Remember that every day is a decision to be together.”
- Consider couples therapy. This provides “a neutral and safe space to voice your thoughts, process the past, and hear each other’s pain.”
Just like monogamous relationships, affairs can take an emotional toll when they end.
Whether or not you’re returning to your primary relationship, working through your feelings and actions is essential to closing the door on an affair and helping prevent further distress.
Receiving support from friends, taking accountability, and letting go of guilt are all steps that can aid in going forward — and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re finding healing more of a challenge.