Whether a marriage would survive an affair is dependent on the strength of the couple’s emotional bond, as well as the efforts both put in the recovery process. The tasks facing the couple are two: rebuilding the marriage and personal healing. Here are some tips on rebuilding a marriage after an affair:
Couple needs to take stock of the marital relationship and asked themselves some hard questions regarding how they, individually and as a couple, contributed to the affair: “What have I done that has hurt my spouse? Why do I think I did that? What was I feeling when I did that?” This is not a time for finger-pointing or self-blaming but honest self-evaluation. Couple would then needs to take responsibilities in resolving their marital issues by answering, “What specific behavior change does my spouse hope or expect from me? How would my spouse want me to treat him/her differently? What changes in my attitudes and mindsets are required before I can make these behavioral changes?”
2. Giving time
Couple needs to have a realistic estimation of time required for the recovery process. The person who had the affair would want to put everything behind and move forward as soon as possible; while the betrayed spouse would want to keep revisiting the affair and the hurt. Couple needs to realize that it usually takes 2 years of personal healing for the betrayed spouse. The person who had the affair needs to have patience for the betrayed spouse’s emotional outbursts; while the betrayed spouse needs to realize that there is a limit to a person’s patience.
3. Rebuilding Trust
a. Behavioral change
Visualize a picture of how the improved relationship would look in the future, work towards it. Despite the strain in the relationship, the couple needs to start showing more love, more tolerance, and other behaviors that help the other spouse feel secure.
b. Mutual request
The betrayed spouse needs to request for behaviors that “make me feel more care, appreciation, and security”. The person who had the affair needs a guarantee his/her effort is worth it and that his/her grievances or concerns would be attended to.
c. Trust Chart
Make a chart of the different behaviors both had agreed to undertake in order to improve intimacy and trust. Display it in plain view. The other person to acknowledge these behaviors by filling in the dates he/she observed them being made. Revise the chart as the relationship improved.
d. Costly Act
This is the sole responsibility of the person who had the affair. It is a sacrificial gift, a penance, an attempt to make up for the hurt cause by his/her action. The act is a sign to the betrayed spouse that there is genuine repentance. It could be something requested by the betrayed spouse or initiated by self.
4. Breaking off the affair
The person who had the affair needs to have a clear breakup with the third party. He/She would also need to guarantee to the betrayed spouse that he/she would not contact the third party, and to report every subsequent encounter with third party (if their spouse so request).
5. Improving Communication
Some tips to improve communication: pay attention to what the other person is saying instead of preparing own defending speech; clarify what you heard is what the other person is trying to say; take turn in talking; focus on only one topic at a time; refrain from derogatory remarks and personal attacks.
Couple needs not be alone in this difficult road to recovery. Having a counselor or therapist along side them during this process would greatly benefit them. During counseling, personal issues, as well as marital issues, can be worked out so as to improve the marital relationship and prevent similar future crisis.