Infidelity is one of the toughest challenges a relationship can go through. Even though it’s a relationship deal-breaker for many, there are infidelity recovery stages to heal from an affair. Recovering from infidelity may not always mean you stay together, but even if you decide to move away from your relationship, it’s important to go through the stages of healing after infidelity.
To get a little more insight into the process, we spoke to clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), founder of Kornash: The Lifestyle Management School, who specializes in couples counseling and family therapy.
7 Stages To Heal From Infidelity
“The process of healing from infidelity is extremely challenging, but it is possible to recover a relationship if both parties want it badly enough and work through their deeper issues to repair the broken trust. A majority of couples don’t reach that stage, but after undergoing therapy, they often emerge stronger as individual personalities as they have gone through the process of recovery,” Devaleena says.
Healing after an affair takes rebuilding trust, vulnerability, and a willingness to feel all your feelings, no matter how negative or overwhelming. A little structure is always useful during confusing times, so with Devaleena’s guidance, we’ve rounded up some key infidelity recovery stages to help you on your journey.
Stage 1: When you discover the affair
“This is the day you find out that your partner has been cheating on you. This is the toughest part of the process and yet, this can be the moment you decide to heal. This is also a phase of shock and your physical and emotional self will be reeling.
“You’ll experience bodily discomfort, almost as if you can foresee danger ahead. Millions of questions will loom in your head, followed by intense anger, self-doubt, remorse, a sudden drop in self-worth and confidence,” says Devaleena.
Related Reading: The 3 Types Of Men Who Have Affairs, And How To Recognize Them
The discovery stage is especially tough because in a moment, your entire relationship seems like a lie and you’re thrown into a void of doubt and betrayal. This will be a stage of denial, disbelief and maybe even sheer numbness, where processing your own feelings seems like an impossibility.
While it’s never too early to choose to start healing, it’s also important to let these feelings flow through you without judgment or rush. Healing will come; in fact, all of this is a part of recovering from infidelity.
Stage 2: Taking time to grieve
“When I found out my partner was cheating on me, it was as though a dam burst inside me,” says Katrina. “I’m not usually very expressive with my emotions, and prefer to work through things quietly. But I couldn’t hold back in this case. There were days and weeks where I’d just be crying for hours.”
“The grieving stage lasts longer and is usually entwined with lots of other emotions,” Devaleena says. “At this stage, one often starts rethinking about the beginning of the relationship and how it all changed. Grief is essential to healing after an affair as there’s no getting better without allowing yourself to mourn over the loss.
“It feels like your whole world has collapsed. Your faith, your past and also your future is now on shaky ground. Cry, shout, scream it out if you must, you need to experience this intense pain. Vent, and don’t hold yourself back,” she adds.
Finding out about your partner cheating on you comes with a feeling of tremendous loss. You are mourning the death of your relationship as you thought it was, you are grieving over the loss of trust and faith and love. You’re battling dealing with heartbreak, so treat it as a period of mourning, and nothing less.
Stage 3: Finding the path to acceptance
We’d love to tell you that once the tears have dried and the anger has calmed itself, you’re well on the road to acceptance and healing from infidelity. Unfortunately, says Devaleena, this could take years and will require you to work on yourself every single day.
“I kept asking myself, ‘what am I accepting’ exactly,” says Charlie, whose partner of 7 years cheated on him. “It took a while to realize that I wasn’t condoning what my partner had done, I was accepting that it happened, that it was a reality, and that I needed to get on with my life in a positive, healing manner.”
It may seem unfair that you have to put in the work in a situation where you’re already hurt and vulnerable. But, working on yourself doesn’t make any of this your fault. You are not taking accountability or responsibility for your partner’s actions. You are simply taking a step forward in the infidelity recovery stages, and alleviating your own pain so that you can move on.
Related Reading: 6 Signs That He’s Not Really Trustworthy
“To reach this stage will take time. But, having faith and working on yourself every single day does bring about healing and acceptance. You just come to a point where you can’t stand the hurt anymore and you decide to do something about it.
“It doesn’t always mean that you have forgiven your partner or you start believing that it wasn’t a big deal. It just means that you have decided to give yourself a fresh start, come to peace with your past and make a new life for yourself,” Devaleena says.
Stage 4: Deciding your next steps
Now that you’ve reached a level of acceptance, what’s next? Well, now you’re at that stage of the infidelity recovery timeline where you need to make concrete decisions. Do you plan to continue with your relationship, or is infidelity a dealbreaker for you?
If you do plan to stay together, what new relationship boundaries and rules do you plan to set? And what do you intend to do together that will actively rebuild the broken trust and connection between you?
If you’re planning on separating, there are questions to be pondered here, too. Who’s moving out and where will they go? Is this a trial separation where you both just need some time to figure things out, or are you convince you’re never getting back together? Then of course, if you’re married and/or have kids, the inevitable questions of custody and financial settlements will arise.
If you’re the one who’s been cheated on, chances are you’re still a little shaky and vulnerable. Taking decisions alone might seem daunting at the moment. Talk to people you trust – friends, family etc. Seek professional help if needed.
But also, trust your gut. This isn’t just about whether you want to remain in your relationship or end a toxic relationship, but also about what sort of life you want to build for yourself. This is one of the most important stages of healing after infidelity.
Stage 5: Looking at deeper issues
If you have decided to remain together in your relationship, it’s time to ask some uncomfortable questions and dig deeper into what led to the infidelity. Mind you, we’re not talking about sordid details, but rather, a holistic and detached view of your relationship.
Infidelity usually occurs when one or both partners feel that something is missing or lacking in their current relationship. It isn’t always the lack of physical intimacy, although that’s definitely a common way for infidelity to begin. But there’s also a chance that a partner was looking for a greater emotional connect or someone with whom they have more in common.
Maybe you’ve both been so busy at work that your relationship fell by the wayside. Maybe you have kids and now your primary roles are parents rather than partners and lovers. What do you need to rekindle and resurrect, and what do you need to build from scratch – these are important questions to ask.
There are, of course, those who simply wanted ‘something different.’ In which case, it would be a good idea to sit down and air out just what is missing in the relationship. Remember, none of this points to something lacking in you as a person. These aren’t deficiencies in your physical or emotional makeup, and if your partner makes you feel that they are, you need to dump them, and fast!
Stage 6: Creating a timeline of healing
As we said, giving a structure to the healing process helps you break it down into things you can handle in the infidelity recovery stages. Recovering from infidelity is never a picnic, so having a timeline and structure makes it a little easier.
Now, grief and acceptance cannot be rigidly timed and we know this. But, pay attention to what sort of action you’re taking at every stage so you don’t get stuck in any of the stages of healing after infidelity. Taking your time to heal is vital, but remaining in a stage of denial or grief for too long will erode your self-confidence and any zest for life and moving on.
An infidelity recovery timeline is a good way to keep yourself from getting lost in the infidelity recovery stages, Since all of this involves strong emotion, it’s easy to get sucked into it, and be far too exhausted to do anything that heals you.
Make a note of things you’re doing for yourself every day. See how long it’s been since you went out with a friend and talked about something other than your relationship. Or at least talked about your relationship without issuing death threats and dissolving into tears. Practice a little self-love.
Structure and a timeline lend a little certainty to this whole overwhelming process of recovering from infidelity. And sometimes, that’s just what you need.
Stage 7: Actively working on your relationship
Assuming you have decided to stay together, a key and perhaps final stage of these infidelity recovery stages is to actively work on your relationship. Now, ‘final’ doesn’t really mean it’s all done with – working on a relationship is technically a lifelong process after all.
“There are couples who decide to work on their relationship after the whole turbulent phase that they’ve been through. Both mutually decide to give things another try. This is the time where therapeutic assistance is of utmost importance. In therapy, or couple’s counseling they are guided to connect as two new people, keeping in mind not to have any major secrets from each other,” says Devaleena.
“Then, couples are also taught how to effectively disclose uncomfortable issues and communicate with patience rather than pettiness. They are taught to reconnect with themselves first, know themselves better and then reconnect with the other,” she adds.
Active work on your relationship will take tremendous energy and vulnerability, so be prepared. It’s not much help at this point to be defensive or deliberately say hurtful things in the relationship. Voicing your anger and hurt and grief is absolutely your right, hurling insults and being petty will only prolong your own pain and make repairing your relationship that much harder.
Infidelity recovery stages are neither simple nor easy. But breaking them down and articulating the actions you need to take makes it a little more coherent in the middle of the emotional whirlpool you find yourself in.
“I don’t know where my partner and I stand yet,” says Jo, who is attempting recover from her husband’s infidelity after 13 years of marriage. “But it is a little easier knowing that there’s some sort of symmetry to what I, and we, need to do. I didn’t even know where to start when I first found out about the affair. Then, after going to see a counselor, I had a little more clarity. I still don’t know where we’ll end up, or even if we’ll end up there together. But, I have a little more confidence that, either way, I will heal from this.”
Reaching out for help, giving voice to your hurt, knowing you have the right to grieve are all important parts of the infidelity recovery timeline. Remember, the timeline could look different for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a little extra time.
Ultimately, you need to look out for your own health, and that of your relationship. And that takes courage, kindness and a strong sense of self. It’s not going to be easy, but you’ll get there. Just take it step by step, stage by stage.
While it’s a good idea to have an infidelity recovery timeline, there’s no fixed time by which you’ll heal from infidelity. There’s rarely one ‘aha’ moment where you’re all healed and ready to move on. There are stages to healing from infidelity and there’s no guarantee that the scars will go away completely. So, give your healing a timeline by all means, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stick to it completely.
Don’t assume it was your fault, and don’t rush out to get revenge or fling yourself into a rebound relationship. Take time process and to mourn. Remember, your relationship as you knew it has ended forever, even if you decide to stay together and work through it. You need to take time to let things sink in and let your feelings flow.
A study found that only 16 per cent of relationships in the USA work out after infidelity is discovered. That’s a low figure, but it doesn’t mean yours won’t work out if you’re both willing to put in the work. On the other hand, it’s not the end of the world if the relationship doesn’t work out. If infidelity is a dealbreaker for you, stick to your convictions. There’s no point in remaining in a relationship if you’re miserable, after all.