Have you heard of the Scarlet Letter ‘A’? Nathaniel Hawthrone’s heroine, Hester, in his romantic novel The Scarlet Letter had to have an “A” embroidered on all her dresses to divulge to the world that she was an adulteress. Her story isn’t very simple and I won’t reveal much since I don’t want to spoil this classic book for you, but I can tell you that Hester had to go through several infidelity recovery stages before she could feel like herself again.
Cut to the 21st century, infidelity still has a deep impact on people. When cheated on, they still have to face many infidelity recovery stages before they feel renewed. I have seen a friend’s girlfriend suffer terribly from the damage inflicted by adultery. My friend, let’s call him Jason, was in a nine-year-long relationship with Ella. Jason was an infidel who had many sexual relations behind Ella’s back. The knowledge of his adultery broke her. For a year and a half after their breakup, Ella blamed herself for being nonchalant.
The immediate response to cheating is disbelief, anger, sadness, loss, or grief. There are two possibilities in the aftermath of infidelity: The cheated upon partner can either move on or decide to work on their relationship. If they choose the latter option, there are a whole lot of emotions to process and it can take plenty of time before the betrayed partner considers forgiveness.
Ella chose to move on, because Jason found a new relationship with a girl who had cheated on her partner, too. She began her recovery with help from a counselor and now is in one of the stages of healing after infidelity. “The process is like a ladder with realizations making up for its many steps,” she quipped.
It is certainly possible to move on and rebuild life afresh after infidelity or stay in the relationship instead of falling out of love after infidelity. To understand more about the different infidelity recovery stages and the process of healing, I have roped in life coach and counselor Joie Bose, who specializes in counseling people dealing with abusive marriages, breakups, and extramarital affairs. If you are about to start over in a marriage after infidelity and wondering, “Will the pain of infidelity ever go away?”, stay with us!
Before we talk about the psychological effects of infidelity and the stages of healing after betrayal, let’s mull over which part of infidelity hurts the most. For Brianna, a copy-editor, who was cheated on by her partner Alex, it was necessary to identify the part that had shocked her extensively to start healing after infidelity. “I had hints that Alex was cheating on me for a long time, but I was in denial. Maybe, I thought I was being paranoid and had imagined his affair,” Brianna said, adding, “But when it was out in the open – when there was full disclosure – that hurt.”
With the help of a counselor, Brianna identified that it was this revelation of the secret that hurt the most and not the actual knowledge of the affair. “It means many things. It means I was ready to accept the fate of the relationship,” she said. Brianna’s healing was a long process, mostly because she had to come to terms with her complacency as she said.
But, in general, there is no one-size-fits-all infidelity recovery timeline. People take their own time to heal from the grief after breakup. While experts say that it takes two years on average to heal from a broken relationship, I am sure you have seen people around you moving on before the stipulated time.
Most people find difficulty in accepting their emotions while trying to heal from being cheated on. Once you come out of the perilous loop of denial, name your feelings and gather the courage to finally face them, you are halfway through the process. Of course, there are certain do’s and don’ts for all the stages of healing after betrayal, based on your decision to either move on or stay in the relationship, to accelerate your healing.
There are at least six infidelity recovery stages – there could be more, but this infidelity recovery timeline takes into stages a gradient of emotions as they evolve from grief to recovery. “When you focus on processing your pain as a part of the stages of adultery recovery, you do better for yourself,” Joie said. Without taking much of your time, we would move forward to the very evident 6 phases of infidelity recovery:
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1. Don’t make big decisions while in the initial trauma
The betrayed partner may feel numbness and shock, followed by a meltdown and a constant temptation to get back to the partner or a strong urge to make them realize that they were wrong in cheating. Even in the weakest of moments, the thought of revenge cheating may pop into your mind. If not checked immediately, such impulses may lead you to act rashly and irrationally which you have to regret later. So what can be done in such a situation? Well, there are two choices:
If you have decided to move on: When the sun on your relationship is setting, the thought of healing is perched far on the horizon. At this stage, when you are hurting, but also ready to start healing after infidelity, you should not make big decisions. Do not chase that big contract at work or do not cut off immediately from the partner if you share financial entities. You earned your money the hard way – don’t throw it away.
If you have decided to stay: Remember, emotions in the trauma stage are coursing through you intensely. Your emotions may be vulnerable to change; you may feel like you can untangle your complicated relationship or marriage with your cheating partner. But, do not react immediately. Cry a river, that is fine. Your friends and family will lend you their shoulders.
If you are worn down by the burden of guilty conscience as the cheating partner and trying to help your wife heal after infidelity (or your husband), shower them with every last bit of your support. Feeling the full force of the trauma is perhaps a part of the stages of adultery recovery.
2. Analyze what went wrong
When the stream of emotions has flown down in tears or raged on like a river, you may come to a fresh clearing where, after a long time, you feel okay. However, you may also end up feeling clueless about the ‘what next?’ part of your life. There is still an overshadowing feeling of emptiness that is hard to get over and you can’t stop thinking, “Will the pain of infidelity ever go away?” But sticking to the toxic events of the past for a long period of time and playing the victim won’t help you with the healing process.
If you have decided to move on: Remember, adultery affects both, the partner who got cheated on as well the one who cheated. In the aftermath of your relationship, the way ahead may look lonely and trigger sorrow and despair. There are several ways to cope up with this intense feeling of sadness and take a step ahead to heal from being cheated on.
Thus, begin distracting yourself; pick up a new hobby or try social work. The sense of giving back could reaffirm your strength. Pack your bag and hit the roads for a solo trip. You will see as you find yourself alone in the lap of nature, it will offer so many new perspectives to analyze your situation.
If you have decided to stay: The first six months are going to be hard for both the partners since hurt and anger may dominate the idea of a single discussion. But when you achieve a little clarity, don’t jump into resolving your issues on your own. I recommend you book a couple’s workshop to work on your communication skills. You will be amazed at the scope of improvement that exists in our normal conversations – to use correct terms and to have a deep meaningful conversation is an art.
3. Get emotional clarity as a part of healing after infidelity
Let’s say more than six months have passed. Emotions have been at war and now the empty battlefield weighs in your heart. At the same time, your mind is clear and you can think for yourself. If such is your state, you are halfway through the stages of recovering after infidelity. Now that you have partly overcome the initial phase of unwavering depression, you could go down the lane and introspect the weak points that drifted you apart in the relationship.
If you have decided to move on: Reflect on what led to the infidelity – assess your attitude when you caught your partner cheating. Ask yourself if you contributed somehow to this sudden collapse of your relationship. Is there something you can improve upon in yourself? If the answer is yes, work on the problem silently.
It will add a new dimension to your character. But you should not unnecessarily beat yourself up for the entire situation. Because in many cases of infidelity, even though the cheated partner didn’t play any role in the event of betrayal, they unjustly take up the blame on themselves.
If you want to stay: There will be ups and downs when negotiating with your partner. But, do not be discouraged on the day when you feel like dropping all of it and embracing singledom. Get as much perspective as you can through books and counseling or coaching, as it will help you in your infidelity recovery stages. However, do not entertain unsolicited advice – always decide what is right for you.
Related Reading: 10 Questions To Ask Your Unfaithful Spouse
4. It is time to take a firm decision
A year later, when the feeling of betrayal has subsided, it is time to take a firm decision about the relationship or, if you are single, it is time to turn over a completely new leaf in your life. Of all the phases of infidelity recovery, in this stage, you either write the future of your relationhip or imagine yourself as an isolated individual outside this partnership.
If you have decided to move on: It is time to eradicate every small morsel – of gifts and memories – that remind you of your partner. Think of it as a chapter that is over. Don’t seek any more closures. You are turning a corner and moving toward a more interesting phase in life.
If you have decided to stay: Since you have stayed in the relationship for this long, even after it involved adultery, now is the time to firmly work on issues. If you are the one who cheated and now trying to help your wife heal after infidelity (or your husband), you have to completely focus on your spouse (partner) because cheating changes people. It could largely affect the betrayed spouse.
Moreover, if you are the one who has cheated, you must find answers to these questions if you want to start over in your marriage after infidelity (or a relationship): Were you unhappy with your partner? What made you unhappy? Is it something that you can fix, or something that needs to be fixed as a couple?
If you are the one who was cheated on and want to start over in marriage after infidelity (or a relationship), you may have to learn to express your emotions without big drama. Constant bawling, like that in the trauma phase, may seem a tad bit unappealing.
A part of the infidelity recovery stages for the one who was cheated on may also require a detailed explanation from the partner or the spouse who cheated. For both of you, to start healing after infidelity, the details of the affair have to be laid out in the open. While the details may be cringy – since the impact of infidelity on a betrayed spouse was larger – the knowledge may help you understand what gaps in your relationship the partner was trying to fill in their affair.
5. Vision phase
Some more time has passed – if you have been single and have been falling out of love due to the infidelity of your partner, what do you plan to do with your life? What vision do you have for yourself? And, couples, you have to work on solidifying your bond if you have overcome issues stemming from the elephant in the room – the affair.
Now you are strong enough to look at the future with a clear state of mind and chalk out a list of long and short-term goals for yourself. And this is irrespective of the fact whether you have decided to move on and find happiness again or trying to start over in a marriage after infidelity.
If you have decided to move on: Recovery from infidelity has not been easy. But you have reached thisfar. Seasons have changed and so have your emotions. Now, it is time to envision a future. You could start by penning down a small vacation on your calendar. Take baby steps, but never forget that you deserve a taste of your freedom from the clutches of the traumatic past. Think of your newfound independence as that perfect jacket you have wanted for a long time. Now, go get it.
If you have decided to stay: It is time for you, as a couple, to decide whether it is possible to create a new future together if you want to start over in your marriage after infidelity. You have to swear by monogamy and remember all the wedding vows of devotion and love you read out. As the betrayed one in the relationship, you may still need some more time to complelely heal from the episode and have full faith on you partner again. Don’t rush yourself to reach their soon!
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Hey! You have reached here – the last of the infidelity recovery stages. Quite some time has gone by and maybe, you have come to the end of the chapter of your life called stages of adultery recovery. It is time to turn a new leaf at the end of this infidelity recovery timeline.
Whether you have decided to move on or whether you have decided to stay in a relationship: It is time to create new memories so you can mask old ones. Also, do not refer to the past as something dreadful. “One day, you may overcome the memories of the first. They will stop hurting regularly. When you let go of your past, the pain will go away eventually,” Joie said.
Think of it as a tough lesson you read for an exam, which made you wiser nonetheless. Inculcate it in your life which is now imbued with newly gained wisdom – yes, I can see you walking tall. Whatever you have envisioned for yourself, it is time to build upon it. Make that big career move, get that car – remind yourself of your strength. However, if you still feel like you need a little nudge, with a multitude of experienced, licensed therapists on Bonobology’s panel, help is only a click away.
Every emotion has a forward movement – be it joy or pain. Some people remember the scrapes of pain now and then, while others can forget it completely. The intensity of pain, however, depends on a person’s intent. Do you want to be kind to yourself while dealing with infidelity pain? If the answer is yes, try to deviate your mind when you feel the ache left behind by your partner’s adultery.
It is important to understand why your partner cheated on you or why they are demanding forgiveness from you after indulging in adultery. Once these reasons are clear, perhaps you can work towards a closure. In a different scenario, if you and your partner can overcome these odds, you may find yourself in a renewed relationship.
If you are single, there are several ways to divert your mind – stop stalking them on social media, dump mementos and rely on friends. If you are a couple who is trying to recover from infidelity, create new memories together. For instance, maybe do a couple’s photoshoot and splay it all over your social media.