Three things I’ve learned from helping couples heal from an affair.
1) Details can help quiet the mind. The person(s) cheated on often want to know details so they don’t have to be subjected to the fantasies in their imagination about what happened. The cheated on have the right to ask for any details about the affair they want BUT I caution you can never un-know what you know so be sure before you ask. The person who cheated needs to be willing to answer these questions even though it won’t be easy. THAT SAID, I encourage you to stay away from “why” questions since they have a tendency to collapse the reasons of the affair into “what did I do wrong?”. Leave “why” questions for therapy in the beginning.
2) Don’t stop talking about the affair too soon. The pattern I often see is, in the beginning the one who cheated is remorseful (this fact is usually impacted by whether they were caught or revealed the affair themselves). However because it takes at least a year and often much longer of active working on the relationship for the person cheated on to heal what happens is the person who cheated gets fatigued by shame. This is especially true if they don’t work to understand the affair. They feel terrible that they hurt their partner and struggle to stay present with their pain. So they start saying things like, “I just want to move one” “ Let’s look forward, we can’t change the past”. They need help managing the pain of seeing how hurtful their actions were.
3) Affairs have unconscious and complicated meanings. Often people’s vulnerable feelings and desires that they pushed out of their awareness early on and that were no longer getting met in the marriage implicitly and naturally are what fuel an affair. It can be about the sex but it’s definitely not always about the sex. It can feel alarming, threatening and extremely risky for the person who cheated to get in touch with the healthy desires that were getting met in the affair. The pressure is to denounce the thing whole sale without understanding it’s pieces. Or, sometimes, if the person feels bitter about what they haven’t gotten but wanted in the relationship it can feel enraging to risk giving up the affair and talk about their unmet desires in hopes they can be understood and met at least in part.
Affairs are tricky to heal from because there’s the pain of the betrayal, the loss of the supportive affair partner and the relationship that had problems to begin with. The first year is usually hellish with some pain lifting after the first anniversary of the affair passes.