Researchers have found that the threat of an affair over the course of a relationship is about 25%. With 1 out of every 4 couples experiencing betrayal, you’re not alone if you’ve wondered about what to do after an affair.

The first thing to do after an affair is to decide whether or not you feel that the relationship is even worth saving. 

For some, an affair is a “cry for help,” where one partner essentially leaves the relationship by seeking the affection of a stranger. If the relationship was hopelessly flawed to begin with, there may not be much left to save.

Similarly, if a person has cheated more than once, you may want to strongly consider cutting your losses and moving on. As the saying goes, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair,” which means that multiple offenses are very difficult to undo. 

If your partner is cheating on you repeatedly, you may also want to seek assessment for sex addiction to see if this is the underlying cause.

However, let’s say that your partner cheated on you once, claims it was a huge mistake and you both want to work to improve the relationship and figure out how to rebuild after an affair. What can you do then?

Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., who wrote the book,” After The Affair: Healing The Pain And Rebuilding Trust When A Partner Has Been Unfaithful,” shares some insights from her work about how to move on after an affair. Below, I paraphrase Dr. Spring’s main points about what to do after an affair.

A couple tries to figure out what to do after an affair.

What To Do After An Affair

If you’re considering staying with your partner after an affair, but aren’t sure what to do, these steps can help.

Honesty, Openness, and Apologies

The first step to take after an affair is to allow the person who was cheated on, (the betrayed partner), a chance to say everything that he or she is thinking and feeling. 

The betrayed partner needs free rein to go through all the necessary emotions of grief, anger, sadness, resentment, etc., and to be heard. New research is showing that being cheated on results in symptoms similar to PTSD, a mental illness that can occur after a major life-threatening trauma. 

The betrayer needs to be understanding of the emotional turmoil caused by his/her behaviors and “bear witness” to his partner’s pain without rushing them through it. One way to begin the process of rebuilding trust is for the betrayer to write an apology letter declaring their intentions to change their ways. This can go a long way toward forgiveness after an affair.

Avoid Cheap Forgiveness After An Affair

Dr. Spring calls “Cheap Forgiveness,” the process by which the betrayed forgives the betrayer too quickly, without going through all of the pain, anger, and sadness that comes with infidelity. 

Dr. Spring believes that some people rush themselves through to the acceptance phase of grief because they fear losing their partner. However, if you do this, you won’t fully heal from the incident and it’s likely to cause harm to your relationship in the future.

When figuring out what to do after an affair, it’s important to take the time you need to truly feel the pain of the betrayal and give yourself time to process and grieve.

A man sits with his hands folded wondering what to do after an affair

Set Rules To Rebuild Trust After An Affair

Here is one of the steps of what to do after an affair in which it’s easy to tell how serious the betrayer is about rebuilding trust. 

Dr. Spring recommends setting ground rules for allowing the betrayed to have access to the betrayer’s private life. For example, the betrayed may request all of the betrayers social media passwords or request that they show what they are doing on their phone when asked. The betrayed partner needs to have ways to check that the betrayer is being honest because their word is no longer enough. 

Yes, this may feel like an invasion of privacy to the betrayer, but, it is necessary to be completely transparent to help the betrayed to figure out how to trust after an affair. It’s completely normal to have to accommodate certain requests from your partner in order to help rebuild trust again. Resisting this request, or getting defensive, will only lead to the betrayed partner having more feelings of doubt and betrayal.

A betrayer who really wants to change their ways will most likely be open to these accommodations, whereas one who wants to continue playing the field might balk at these new restrictions. 

Hint: If he balks, it’s time to walk. Either he is still lying or he is not willing to do what it takes to rebuild trust.

Let Go

Finally, Dr. Spring suggests that after some time, the betrayed should be feeling more comfortable to loosen the reins on the rules mentioned above.  This is one of the last steps of what to do after an affair. With time and healing, the betrayed should be able to start trusting their partner again.

Recovering from an affair requires hard work, vulnerability and emotional risk-taking on the part of both partners. Emotionally charged conversations, tears, mood swings, and a reluctance to trust the betrayer are common reactions in the betrayed. Given the heavy emotions that infidelity causes, it’s often helpful for both individuals and the couple to be in therapy to facilitate the healing process. Counseling for couples after an affair can be an important part of their journey toward reconciliation and trust.

A couple holding hands after figuring out what to do after an affair

What To Do After An Affair? Trust Your Journey

The personal growth blog, Mark and Angel Hack Life, posted an article called 7 Things to Remember When You Feel Cheated On and I’d like to leave you with some of their words today:

“A wonderful, life-changing gift may not be wrapped as you expect. – When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary preparation, and other times its necessary protection. But the time is never wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going to look back on this time in your life as an important time of grieving and growing. You will see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was changing for the greater good.”

So, whether this experience helps you grow stronger as a couple and improve your relationship, or whether you break up, trust that you are on the right path and everything is happening for your highest and best good. And know that we are here to help you through this or any other hard times.

Whether you want counseling for couples after an affair or want to explore what to do after an affair through individual counseling, Couples Learn can help.