Have you heard of the Scarlet Letter ‘A’? Nathaniel Hawthorne’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. 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. But just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a rough ride. Especially if you’re thinking of forgiving your spouse for infidelity, the journey is going to require rebuilding trust in a person who shattered it in the first place.
To understand more about the different infidelity recovery stages and the process of healing, we spoke to 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 are wondering, “Will the pain of infidelity ever go away?”, stick around and find out.
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,” says Joie.
Most people find it difficult to accept 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 dos 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.
I have seen a friend’s girlfriend suffer terribly from the damage inflicted by cheating. 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 transgressions 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, there are a whole lot of emotions to process and it can be a while before the betrayed partner considers forgiveness.
Ella chose to move on because Jason wasn’t ready to give up on his affair partner. 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 says.
The psychological effects of infidelity and the stages of healing after betrayal are nuanced. The part of infidelity that hurts the most differs from person to person, as do the stages of healing after infidelity. There is no one-size-fits-all infidelity recovery timeline. People take their own time to heal from grief after a 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 or licking their wounds a lot longer. For better understanding of the mindset of the betrayed partner in the aftermath of cheating, let’s take a look at the different stages of healing after infidelity as laid out by Joie:
Stage #1 – Anger: Avoid making big decisions during the initial trauma stage
The betrayed partner may feel numbness and shock, followed by a meltdown and a constant temptation to get back at the partner or a strong urge to make them realize how wrong they were. 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.
This is the place where stages of healing after infidelity begin. Based on whether you let your anger get the better of you or not, based on whether you give up on the relationship or painstakingly decide to continue, this initial phase will decide what you’ll be dealing with for the next six months or so. So what can be done in such a situation? Well, there are two choices:
- If you have decided to move on: When the sun is setting on your relationship, the thought of healing is perched far on the horizon. At this stage, when you are hurting and not even close to starting healing after infidelity, you should not make big decisions. Do not quit your job to move to a new city or do not make a clean break from the partner if you share financial entities. You’ve worked hard to get where you are – don’t throw it all away for a person who cheated on you
- If you have decided to stay: Remember that 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 guilt 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 a part of the stages of adultery recovery.
Stage #2 – Grief: Analyze what went wrong
When your erupting emotions have flown down in a stream of tears or raged on like a river in spate, 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 stages of healing after betrayal. 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 the healing process.
- If you have decided to move on: Remember that 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 with this intense feeling of sadness and take a step ahead to heal from being cheated on. Begin by 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 that it offers so many new perspectives to analyze a situation
- If you have decided to stay: When you decide to stay, one of the most important stages of forgiving infidelity is analyzing what went wrong. The first six months are going to be hard for both the partners since hurt and anger may dominate the entire relationship dynamic. 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
Based on whether you stay in the relationship or not, your stages of healing after infidelity will differ. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to analyze what went wrong, so you can work on fixing the very obvious kinks in your relationship or understand how to break the betrayed spouse cycle.
Stage #3 – Introspection: Get emotional clarity as a part of healing after infidelity
Let’s say more than six months have passed. The battle of emotions is now over and your heart is now an empty battlefield. 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 about the things that drove 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
- If you want to stay: There will be ups and downs when negotiating with your partner. But do not be discouraged. 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
Once you decide to get some emotional clarity on things, you also get some clarity on the stages of healing after infidelity. No longer will your emotions be a jumbled and overwhelming mix of emotions that get the better of you. By this point, you might even be able to pinpoint which stage of healing after betrayal you’re in
Related Reading: 10 Questions To Ask Your Unfaithful Spouse
Step #4 – Acceptance: 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 relationship or begin to see yourself as an independent 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 being cheated on, now is the time to firmly work on your issues. If you are the one who cheated and are now trying to help your wife heal after infidelity (or your husband), you have to completely focus on your partner because cheating changes people. Besides, you must introspect on what drove you to cheat. 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 drama. Constant bawling or hurtful jibes get old by this stage
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 you to start healing after infidelity as a couple, the details of the affair have to be laid out in the open. While the details may be cringy, the knowledge may help you understand what gaps in your relationship the partner was trying to fill with their affair.
Stage #5 – Healing: Analyze your vision in the stages of healing after infidelity
Some more time has passed – if you have been single, 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 is not easy. But you have reached this far. Seasons have changed and so have your emotions. Now, it is time to envision a future. You could start by marking a small vacation on your calendar. Take baby steps but never forget that you deserve 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 honor all the wedding vows of devotion and love you made and make sure you break the betrayed spouse cycle. As the betrayed one in the relationship, you may still need some more time to completely heal from the setback of cheating and have full faith in your partner again. Don’t rush yourself to get there before you’re ready
Related Reading: 9 Expert Ways To Let Go Of Hurt And Betrayal In Relationships
Step #6 – Letting go: Rebuilding
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.
If you’re forgiving your spouse for infidelity, you already know that rebuilding a solid foundation is the only thing that will keep the relationship alive. The stages of forgiving infidelity depend on each dynamic, but one thing’s for sure, getting to a place where you’re not anxiously sitting at the edge of your seat the entire time your spouse is on a work trip is an absolute must. By that, we mean that you need to re-establish trust.
- Whether you have decided to move on or 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,” says Joie.
- The stages of healing after infidelity will take you through many lows and highs, it’s important to retain your self-respect and not take any harsh decisions hastily
- Forgiving a spouse for infidelity will take a lot of effort from both partners, and rebuilding trust can take anywhere between 6 months to a year
- Whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not, make sure you don’t sweep problems under the rug. Analyze the things that went wrong and work through your issues
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 toward 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.