7 steps to surviving an affair and infidelity

By Kara Byers April 28, 2016
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Despite the disbelief, anger and sadness you might feel after a partner cheats, there are ways to get over an affair and recover your relationship. 

Last night, Patrick Dempsey stepped out with his wife, Jillian, for the first time since his affair with a Grey’s Anatomy intern. 

When the scandal broke, Patrick lost his job as McDreamy and Jillian filed for divorce. 

A year later, after intensive counselling, the couple are beaming having worked through the issues in their 15-year marriage. They even brought their three children along, looking stronger than ever as a united family. 

patrick dempsey wife london

And while it might be difficult, if you're going through the same thing, it's important to know you can survive infidelity and rectify your relationship as well. However, it will take a lot of hard work from both you and your partner.

1. Ask the key question: can you get over it as a couple?

If you’ve been unfaithful, then you need to be actually sorry for it and willing to take steps to prove your trustworthiness. And if you’ve been betrayed, you must work through your feelings of anger and despair and learn to trust again.

If both of you commit yourselves to rebuilding the relationship, you can move past the infidelity and create a strong, honest and, potentially, a more loving partnership than before.

2. Cut ties

The affair – and all contact with the other person - has to stop immediately. No more phone calls, texts or emails. And definitely no face-to-face interactions.

To ensure that the break is definite and there’s no uncertainty about that, consider writing an email to the other person together that explains the affair is over. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets to Surviving Infidelity, suggests including a line such as, “My partner is writing this with me. I can’t see you again. I need to work on my relationship. Please don’t contact me.”

If you work with the person that you had an affair with, keep it strictly professional in all your encounters. Also tell your partner of any chance encounters, conversations or contact you have with your former lover.

Surviving an affair: cut contact

3. Be open and brutally honest

Ask every question you can think of. It’s time for complete transparency – half-truths and lies are done. If you’ve cheated on your partner, be prepared to answer their questions as honestly as possible. Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, says:

“I’ve talked with plenty of people who say with pride that they never talked about the affair. That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover.”

Don’t hold back, and don’t leave out any details that could come out later. It’s vital to give all the details your partner asks for. Giving vague answers or hiding certain facts to ‘save their feelings’ won’t help: if you leave out details that emerge later, your spouse may feel newly betrayed.

4. Stick to your routine

Keep up with your life – go to work, hang out with friends, exercise. Limit the time you talk about the affair with your partner, friends and family, and focus on other things that make you happy. Distracting yourself with enjoyable activities such as heading to the cinema, listening to music or reading books will help give your heart and mind a rest.

5. Spend time together

Connect as friends and romantic partners by doing the things you’ve always enjoyed, which will help remind you why you started your relationship in the first place. Agree not to talk about the affair during these activities and focus on each other instead. Talk about happy times and make plans for the future.

Surviving an affair: reconnect

6. Take responsibility and recommit

Blaming your partner for your unfaithfulness won’t help fix your relationship. If you’ve had an affair, apologise frequently and show regret. Promise never to be unfaithful again. It may seem obvious to you that you’ll never stray again, but your spouse may have worries, so renew your commitment to your spouse as your one-and-only.

And if you’ve been cheated on? Sex columnist Dan Savage believes that, if you truly do love the person, then you have to accept it and move on:

“People always say about the people they love most in their lives, ‘I would take a bullet for this person.’

“You’re saying I would hurt for this person in a really profound and life-threatening way. When people believe in monogamy and monogamy is what they want, infidelity is that bullet.”

7. Get professional support

Talking to others about the infidelity can seem daunting. Nobody likes to admit to relationship problems but the truth is that infidelity, emotional affairs and cheating are a lot more common than anyone wants to believe. But the truth is you’ll both need help and support during this difficult time. It can genuinely help with feelings of isolation.

If it’s too difficult to talk to mutual friends and family members, consider seeking professional advice from an impartial source such as a counsellor. Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy, says:

“An affair doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship. Monogamy as we know it is changing. Our ability to remain monogamous is becoming more difficult in an age when cheating is easier than ever.

“Marriage as we know it will be totally different by the end of this century. The couples that manage to stay together and make it work will be the ones who decide to create fluidity and flexibility in their partnerships, and find ways to make monogamy work for them.”

You can survive an affair

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