When to Walk Away After Infidelity

Published February 11, 2021

Infidelity is a major betrayal of your partner’s trust that results in an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. It is often difficult for the partner on the receiving end of the betrayal to know if they will ever recover the sense of love and respect that they once felt for their partner and the relationship. This decision can be further complicated by outside influences like the opinion of friends and family and personal beliefs influenced by culture and society.

Phases of Healing

This can leave you feeling empty, alone, and confused. There are stages of healing that occur after infidelity. Allow yourself to go through the stages. Don’t rush to make a decision if you do not feel ready.

Couples can and do recover after infidelity occurs in the relationship. Bitterness after infidelity can arise in both partners for different reasons. Engaging in couples therapy can help you move through the stages of infidelity recovery. If recovery is not an option, counseling can help you find the clarity you need to walk away knowing that you’ve made the best decision for you and the relationship.

Deciding to Stay or Leave After Infidelity

Staying Together After Infidelity

When you face this tough decision, you will need to work collaboratively with your partner to assess your goals and determine how you can move forward either together or separately. Several questions may arise during this process.

  • Do you want the same things?
  • Do you want to move forward with your partner?
  • Are you willing to do the emotional work to understand the infidelity and work to rebuild trust with your partner?
  • Are you willing to look at yourself to better understand unhealthy relationship dynamics?
  • Is forgiveness possible?

It will likely take time to address these issues and come to a conclusion that you feel is certain.

Deciding to Divorce After Infidelity

Choosing to divorce after infidelity of any kind is a difficult and painful decision to make. If the wounded partner is unwilling to forgive the unfaithful partner, or the unfaithful partner is unwilling to end the affair and attend fully to the hurt partner, it may be more likely that the couple will choose divorce. Marriage and infidelity statistics reveal that when observed by gender, men who have affairs are more likely to stay in their original relationship than women who are unfaithful.

Stages of Healing After Infidelity

The Gottman Institute offers a trust revival method for couples seeking to recover from infidelity. The stages of recovery are outlined in the 3 phases that they call Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment.

Stage 1 – Atonement

During the Atonement phase, the betrayed partner is given the opportunity to verbalize their feelings and to ask questions about the affair. The cheating partner is encouraged to really listen and to hear their partner, answer questions honestly, and to express remorse.

Stage 2 – Attunement

When couples move to Attunement both partners work together to analyze what went wrong and to brainstorm and collaboratively create an outline of better ways of interacting with each other.

Stage 3 – Attachment

Finally, in Attachment, both work on creating new bonds and rebuilding their relationship. All of these steps can be addressed in Gottman Method Couples Therapy with a trained therapist.

Bitterness After Infidelity

The victim or victims of an affair are experiencing a profound trauma in their lives, which can turn to bitterness toward their partner and the relationship they have held dear. Partners can address and move on from these feelings of bitterness by acknowledging that this is a normal part of the process. The questions that arise through these feelings can be addressed and worked through with the help of a licensed couples therapist.

Common Marriage Reconciliation Mistakes to Avoid After Infidelity

When you and your partner arrive at the decision to focus on repairing your relationship it is important for both spouses to be mindful of the potential pitfalls involved in a bid for reconciliation. It is crucial that the partner who was unfaithful has ended the relationship with their affair partner. It is also important that the partner who was betrayed in moving forward in the spirit of repairing the relationship and healing. While one or both may be ready to jump in, it is important to be aware of things that can hinder your recovery process.

5 Things NOT to do after an Infidelity

Defensiveness

Both partners must be willing to let their guards down and objectively look at their relationship and the part they may have had in the breakdown of the relationship. Defending or blaming only further damages the relationship.

Defend the Affair Partner

Your partner will have feelings about your affair partner that they will need to process. It is important for recovery that the affair has ended and that no attempt is made to defend or protect the affair partner.

Avoiding Embarrassing or Painful Questions

It is natural to want to avoid difficult conversations for fear of making things worse. However, this will only make it more difficult to move through the stages of healing required to recover from an infidelity. Part of the Gottman Method for healing infidelity involves the hurt partner being encouraged to voice their opinions and feelings as well as being allowed to ask the partner any questions they feel necessary to enable them to get past the feelings of bitterness and resentment. Avoiding answering these questions will leave your partner feeling that they can’t trust you going forward. This is counterproductive to repairing a damaged relationship.

Forcing intimacy

At this point your emotions are raw and your feelings are uncertain. Intimacy too early in the repair process could be more harmful. It can be triggering to the traumatized partner who may feel unattractive to their partner or unattracted to their partner. Take your time and work on regaining trust with your partner. Your relationship was not built in a day and repair will not happen overnight.

Look for a Quick Fix

No two couples are alike, so there is no “one size fits all” approach to couples counseling in general or to repairing a relationship post-infidelity. Don’t be discouraged. There are steps that you can take to begin to make changes in your relationship. However, the process and the timeline will be specific to you and your partner. Rushing the process often delays results.

3 Ways to Support Affair Recovery

Be honest and consistent with your partner

Even if it seems uncomfortable or difficult to do, this will be one of the steps to take toward healing your partnership.

Listen

Learn about active listening and practice these skills in a non-crisis setting. Don’t think about your next rebuttal. Just be present at the moment and attending to what your partner is saying.

Consider seeing a couples therapist

These skilled mental health professionals are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families going through a variety of emotional challenges, including infidelity.

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Laura Richer is a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and coach. Located in the Queen Ann neighborhood of Seattle, she is a Licensed Mental Health Care Counselor Associate and has been practicing in the state of Washington since 2011.

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