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How to Mend a Marriage After an Affair

Two Methods:If Your Partner Had an AffairBoth of You

One of the most devastating, destructive events that can happen to a marriage is the heartbreak left in the wake of an affair. Now that it's over - really over - you want to try to pick up the pieces.


After an affair you should first ask yourself if you are serious about staying in the relationship. If you really don't want to be together, it is better to end with respect and kindness than to prolong the suffering. If you are both willing, the marriage can recover with time and patience on both of your parts.

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    Assess the reasons for cheating. You must internally examine your motivations, your reasoning, and your rationales. These things don't happen in a vacuum. What caused you to stray? Were you lonely in your marriage? Was it laziness in your marriage - were one or both of you becoming complacent and bored? Were you flattered by the attention of the person you cheated with? Why would you risk everything for an affair with that person? Honestly appraising your own actions will help you avoid these triggers in the future.
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    Fall on your sword. Once it's out in the open, do not defend yourself. Take full responsibility and don't try to deflect any of this back onto your spouse. Saying things like, "If you had just tried harder to understand me," or other stuff like that will not help you now. The time to examine the roots of your infidelity and explore it with your spouse is later. But in the first moments of discovery, the best thing for you to do if you truly want your marriage to survive is simply accept all blame.
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    Apologize. Sounds pretty simple, but do remember that just mumbling "Sorry" is not a good apology. Your spouse is going to be shocked beyond belief, hurt, angry and frightened. Make a sincere, heartfelt, and serious apology, right away. Ask for forgiveness, and vow never to repeat the behavior. Understand that your apology probably won't comfort your partner, but the absence of a sincere apology will do damage.
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    Apologize often. No, this is not an erroneous repeat. When you confess an action like this, your spouse is going to need a lot of time to process the truth of your betrayal. That's right - let's call it what it is. You had a lot of chances to make different decisions, but the one you made to become emotionally or sexually involved with someone else is the one you are dealing with now. Your spouse, for the first several days, weeks, or even months, is going to need to hear your apology many times, and each time needs to be as sincere and heartfelt as the first. If you truly want to repair your marriage, you will need to accept your spouse's need to hear you express your sorrow and regret many times, and in many ways.
    • Saying, "I've said I'm sorry a million times - what does s/he want? Blood?" will not mend your marriage. But saying, "I would give anything not to have been so stupid, and seeing how much pain I've caused, I am so very sorry and I know it will take time for you to believe me that it will never happen again" will help. Even if you're saying it for the millionth time.
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    Answer questions honesty. Your spouse will have a lot of questions to ask you. Be willing to answer all of them candidly, with the exception of the details of your sexual behavior. Describing these details to your spouse can imprint painful images in their mind, that are seldom useful.
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    Be an open book. Don't hesitate to show phone records, texts, emails, Facebook chats, etc. DO NOT erase them ASAP to "save" your spouse from hurt feelings. This will only increase the fears that you are "hiding something."
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    If it hasn't happened already, break off contact with this other person on the telephone, in front of your spouse. Make it clear to this person that your spouse is present, but you are, in no way, feeling "pressured" to terminate contact with them. This is your own choice. Assert your dedication to healing your marriage. Be clear that you will not have contact again, or if this is impossible (if they are a work colleague or relative), spell out the boundaries you will put around this contact.
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    Recognize that you might be experiencing a sense of deep loss when ending your affair. This is not a "negative sign" about your feelings toward your spouse. If the affair was ongoing, you may have strong feelings toward this person, even a sense of loyalty to them, or even feelings of betraying them (!) by ending it. This is not unusual, and it is part of the process of mending things in your marriage. Your feelings are your feelings. Recognize them, and move on.
    • If your feelings for your affair partner are strong, and your spouse's negative feeling are equally strong, you may be tempted to seek comfort by "just talking" to your affair partner about what you are going through. This will not mend your marriage. Talk to a counselor instead, to talk out your feelings.
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    Allow time for recovery. If your spouse is not inclined to forgive you immediately, you will need to accept that. Professionals compare an affair to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Your partner may be experiencing intrusive thoughts and images, high anxiety, panicky feelings, confusion, etc. Your spouse is going to need time to process the information, and get through all of the emotions and pain you've caused. It takes time - you wouldn't expect someone with a broken leg to get over it and go water-skiing with you the following weekend. Just the same way, your partner is going to need time and space and support in order to come through this ordeal whole.
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    Provide support and assurance. If you were a rather absent spouse before, you will need to change your behavior. Being present in the relationship will be key to restoring your marriage to health.
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    Prepare to be insulted or attacked - often. S/he will take a lot of shots at you. You will need to allow your partner to take those shots and not fire back, at least not in the first couple of volleys. However, don't allow this to continue for more than a couple or three remarks per episode, or to escalate. Do understand the anger and try to defuse it with nonviolent communication. If that doesn't work, say "I want to work things out. I don't want to fight. Your words are hurting my feelings," and walk away for the time being. Your spouse may think s/he feels better after having attacked you, but verbal abuse is not healthy to either of you. You don't want to reinforce the idea that you will forever be the "bad guy" if you want to marriage to heal. Just be patient, and don't be surprised when those insulting remarks surface. Turn the tides in a positive direction, if you can, by trying to hear the hurt beneath the words, or don't respond.
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    Take temperature readings. Instead of making a big deal of having constant "sensitive chats," just reaching over at the breakfast table, putting your hand over his or hers and saying, "How are we doing?" and motioning at both of you can let your spouse know that you are interested and concerned with whatever feelings are being processed today. If the response is, "Not that good today," just pat the hand or try to put a little kiss on the cheek with an understanding nod and say, "Okay. Let me know what you need and I'll do my best." If the response is, "Good today," then smile broadly and give your spouse a little kiss on the lips. Say, "Yay!" and suggest a date, like a walk, a trip to the beach, a picnic. You know - romantic stuff that you used to do when you were first courting. That's what you need to do again, because just as you did in the beginning, you need to win the object of your love again.
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    Let your spouse call most of the shots for the time being. Giving him or her a lot of leeway is important right now. Don't press for sex. Don't insist on a football party for Super Bowl Sunday. Don't bug him or her if s/he just wants to sit in the yard and meditate, even if you're bored to death. Go with the flow for the immediate future.
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    Remember that you must deal with the consequences of this decision forever. Trust is given easily - we fall in love and give our hearts, and we don't question whether or not the person we love is worthy of our trust. We simply trust that person with all our heart. But once this trust is broken, rebuilding it will take time, and is likely to have many set-backs. Think of trust as a beautiful, delicate, vase made of crystal clear blown glass. It is a marvel that something so delicate and lovely holds water, can be the vessel for the stuff of life itself, and that it can last forever if lovingly cared for. It can be broken, however, if you are careless, and though you may be able to glue it back together, you will always see the cracks. It may be able to stand on its own again, hold water, and be all it once was to both of you, but there will always be visible reminders of the break. These cracks can serve you if you let them. They can remind you why it is best to remain faithful and keep your vows. However, you may want to try not to rebuild the same fragile relationship. You can never go back to this fragile, fully trusting state. Accept this. Now is the time to rebuild a container that may not be like the original, but can be stronger, more resilient, if you do the hard work to heal.

Method 1
If Your Partner Had an Affair

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    Resist the temptation to leave. Once you know you've been cheated on, you want to flee. If your spouse is truly sorry, and if you want, in any way, to repair the relationship, you need to try to work it through together.
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    Evaluate brutally. It won't be useful to simply blame your spouse and hate the person s/he cheated with. If there were problems or signals before the infidelity, they will probably come sharply into focus now. If your marriage is to truly mend, you will need to examine whether or not your behaviors contributed to the loneliness in your marriage. This is not to say that you are responsible for your partner's decision. It is only to say that what is most useful now will be an honest and unsparing evaluation of your entire marriage - including your own behavior. There are a lot of things to consider in the wake of this awful revelation:
    • Did you behave in ways that could be considered "unlovable"? Not occasional grumpiness. We all do that. But real, unkind, uncaring, unlovable behavior could cause, even someone who loves us, to go look elsewhere for kindness, compassion, and a tender touch. If you're cold and withhold yourself from your mate, realize that your spouse got into this relationship for your companionship. If you withhold kindness, tenderness, or sex from your mate, s/he may seek it elsewhere, or end the relationship. It's not reasonable to believe your spouse would take a vow of celibacy indefinitely. Being kind, tender, and/or sexy with your mate can make a real difference in your relationship.
      1. Trust your judgment. This is very hard to do after you've discovered your spouse has been involved with someone else. When you find your spouse has been unfaithful, it makes you feel embarrassed, foolish, ashamed, and afraid. It undermines your confidence. It rattles your ability to make even the smallest decisions - where to eat, what to wear. You second-guess every little thing. It's a terrible time for most people in your situation. You wonder if your whole relationship has been a lie. The good news is, it probably hasn't been. Think about your relationship and the person you believe your spouse really is. If you believe in him or her, rely on your judgment; believe in yourself and your own ability to make a good decision. Recognize now that you will be unlikely to trust him/her at this point. They have just proven themselves through this action not to be worthy of trust. But in time, this trust may, again, be earned.
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    Process the anger, grief, fear, distrust, and shame. If necessary, get a therapist to help you through it. Understand that you can't fix "normal" - the normal response to learning of a spouse's affair is all of the aforementioned emotions. It takes time to sift through and make sense of all of it. You'll need to talk it out. You'll need a partner willing to allow you that space and time.
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    Choose to love again. If you can forgive your spouse, you will also need to see effort to demonstrate that s/he is really trying to show you that you are loved, that s/he is remorseful, and that they sincerely want to rebuild a trusting relationship with you again. While it is natural to feel that you can't fully trust him or her, you don't need to feel stupid for loving your spouse - allow yourself to love your partner, even though you still feel hurt.

Method 2
Both of You

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    This is a private matter. Keep it private. While it is tempting to try to get support among your friends and family for "your side of the story," don't. The last thing you want is for well-meaning friends and family to "take your side," while alienating or demonizing your spouse. If you must, choose one friend who you know will be supportive to both of you, and talk discreetly about your feelings. Better yet, talk to a professional, who can provide you with sound advise.
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    Take your time. There is no magic bullet. There will not be a magic moment when suddenly all is forgiven, all tears are dried, all wounds are healed, all anger is gone. You're both going to hurt for a long time. It can take years (2 - 5 years is the general opinion) to really feel like you've made the right decision, and that your marriage can truly recover. And after you have given it some time (this will vary, depending on the two of you)...
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    Act normal, even if you don't feel normal. Oh horrors! Does this suggest you should pretend to be okay, even if you aren't? Actually, yes, to a certain extent. Does this mean you should never pout, sulk, act petulant, snap at your spouse, make snarky, snotty remarks - even if you're still feeling hurt, angry, etc.? Does this mean you're not entitled to an authentic response to your pain? No. You're entitled to your pain. But that response will not serve the restoration of your marriage. Does this mean that you should act like you want to be there, even if you want to run like the wind? Absolutely. You may feel like leaving every single day - heaven knows it may sometimes feel easier than going through all of this. But just put one foot in front of the other. Be polite. Act warmly. Be kind. When you want to make a snotty remark, instead, reach over to that person you were just about to snap at, and give him or her a little back rub without saying anything at all. When you feel lost or embarrassed, reach out and pat his or her hand. Doing things like this helps to rewire your responses, and redirect bad thoughts to doing good things. If you just act like everything is normal, one day you will realize that everything really is normal. It's a quiet realization - it won't come with fireworks.
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    Find reasons to stay. There are a million reasons to leave. After infidelity, life gets real hard for a long time. And there's really no obligation on the part of the injured party to try for reconciliation, so it can be doubly difficult to find reasons to stay. Still, whatever your choice is, whether it is because you have children, or because you choose to believe that your spouse had a regrettable incident, and is otherwise worthy of your love and devotion, once you have found the reasons to stay, cling to them, and remind yourself what they are any time you find yourself wanting to bail out. Every marriage has troubles, and goes through trials. This one is yours right now.
      1. Let it go. The injured party will want to hang onto this longer than the one who cheated. The anger and the reactions that ensue are understandable, but verbal abuse is still unacceptable, and will do nothing to heal the marriage. After a certain amount of time, you must let it go, or else the person who had the affair will simply resent your behavior, and become sullen and hardened to this form of punishment. If you continue to berate him, recognize this as contempt, a behavior only seen in troubled marriages. It is now you who is in the wrong. Seek therapy from a skilled marriage counselor or help from clergy, to help you leave this in the past, or else all of your efforts will fail. Nobody will volunteer to be flogged daily forever, even after s/he accepts all blame for doing wrong. If you attempt to turn the punishment phase into a life sentence, your marriage is doomed.
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    Rejoice. If you wake up one day and realize that you have accepted the incident, forgiven (or been forgiven for) what happened, and are glad you decided to stay with your partner, you've survived infidelity, and your marriage is intact, vital, and healthy once more.


  • Believe. This is possible.
  • Don't allow yourself to dwell on mental images of the two of them together.
  • Get help. Don't go it alone. There are plenty of marriage counselors out there. Take your time and pick one that is right for both of you.
  • If you are religious, pray about it. Take refuge in your faith. Consult clergy. Pray together.


  • Being seen as "cool" by your kids may help the guilty feel better momentarily. But - it could jeopardize your efforts to work things out with your spouse - think about it: you are making yourself (guilty though you are) the hero, while your spouse (innocent though s/he is) is attempting to make the tough decisions to say "no" to the kids. You're kissing up to the kids so you can feel a little better about yourself, and making your spouse, who has already suffered because of your crappy decisions, out to be a bad guy in order to do it. If you think your spouse won't notice this, you're very much mistaken, and that will cause more resentment and anger - more problems you will need to apologize and make amends for. In the end, you are the one who caused the very worst of the problems - you could have made the decision not to be unfaithful. Do not undermine your efforts to restore your marriage with a petty attempt to curry your children's favor.

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