Relationships have their ups and downs, but little compares to the pain that comes with betrayal. Even though it may seem impossible, healing and recovery can happen after infidelity.
Dr. Liz Hale shares the important stages of recovery that will help rebuild your relationship.
Rebuilding after Betrayal
Life certainly has its challenges but nothing compares to the task of healing from betrayal. Whether it’s an affair or another type of infidelity, it’s important to know how to rebuild your relationship.
Here are three science-based and defined stages of recovery from infidelity:
The betrayer must take full responsibility for the betrayal. Marriage problems require change; they do not cause infidelity. Choosing to step outside of the marriage causes infidelity. Period. You cannot point fingers at anyone or anything else but the partner who crossed the line. This is true even if there were significant difficulties that already existed in the marriage.
Healing requires that the betrayer focus all of their efforts on understanding the betrayed’s devastating pain. A colleague of Liz reminds clients that “until the betrayer’s remorse equals the betrayed partner’s pain, they’ll never get over it. They need to know that your remorse at least equals their pain in order to instill hope.”
The betrayed partner should not shut the door on forgiveness. If this happens, the couple will not be able to resolve this conflict. The betrayed partner must be willing to cooperate as long as the betrayer is making the same dedicated effort.
What happens in life is less important than what happens next. Brian and Carolyn were Dr. Liz’ clients. Liz says she will never forget the utter devastation in the room when Brian revealed he was having an affair with one of Carolyn’s best friends. While not immediate, they did both eventually determine they wanted to resuscitate their marriage.
Carolyn has since given advice to one of Liz’ current clients. When she was asked the question, “Did you ever get over the pain of betrayal?”, Carolyn answered, “The whole experience was horrific, agonizing, and heartbreaking. I was betrayed by two of the people I loved the most and it shattered my entire life. We learned to communicate in ways that may not have been possible otherwise. The affair was actually the best thing that happened to our marriage. It was the catalyst for a very positive change in our relationship.”
Carolyn and Brian recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in front of close family and friends. That, she said, was the final closure of that chapter for them.
Any act is forgivable if you allow it to be. The need for trust travels in both directions. The betrayed needs to give assurance to their partner that trust is building. An example would be sincerely saying, “Last night, when you walked away from your phone, I wanted to grab it and madly scroll to see any inappropriate conversations you might be having but then I suddenly realized I didn’t need to; I’m past that.”
The partner who betrayed needs to know their efforts are not going unnoticed. We often say, seeing is believing but the opposite is true. Believing is seeing. Do you see your partnership not only recovering but recreating itself into the partnership you’ve dreamed of?
Attachment also includes sexual intimacy. Be open to the fact that sex may look different on the other side of infidelity. Redefine your lovemaking so it is fulfilling and safe for both of you. Be present with what is happening in yourself, in your partner, and between the two of you.
Create a new shared meaning in life by setting goals that both of you find equally meaningful. Create new rituals for connection. The good news is that a new and improved relationship can be achieved and it can be richer than ever.
Dr. Liz Hale is the Studio 5 Marriage & Family Coordinator. She is passionate about helping relationships survive and thrive! She works hard on keeping her own relationships healthy and strong. But don’t stand in her way of a daily, sanity-maintaining brisk walk (just ask her husband, Ben!)
For the past 25-years Dr. Liz has been passionate about her professional training and emphasis in marriage and family therapy, primarily working with couples and families within her private practices both in Seattle and downtown Salt Lake City. As a Certified Gottman Therapist she thrives on helping clients learn new, effective ways of being in their relationships. According to Dr. Liz, communication is never the problem; misperceptions are. There is nothing more rewarding than when a client turns to her and says, “I’ve never seen it/him/her that way before.”
According to Dr. Liz there is no greater honor than when a client trusts and risks enough to share their heart and soul in therapy within the walls of her office she considers a “sacred space.”