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How to Heal a Marriage After You've Cheated

by Sheri Oz

You are overwhelmed with guilt, shame and fear, and your partner is drowning in pain and anger. Remember, however, that while your marriage feels as if it is tottering on the edge of a cliff, it can be saved. Numerous couples have made their way to stronger and more satisfying relationships even after disclosure of an extramarital affair. There are no guarantees that trust will be regained or that your marriage will survive, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success.

Accept Responsibility

There is no point in trying to blame your extramarital affair on your partner, claiming that if he or she had done something different you would not have had to cheat. While there may have been seemingly insurmountable problems in the relationship, you did betray your spouse’s trust. The first step toward healing the marriage is admitting to the infidelity and ending the cycle of lies and secrets. Your partner will want to know how long it has been going on, where you would meet, the exact nature of the relationship and more. You need to own up and answer these questions, painful and humiliating as that may be.

Accept Your Partner’s Anger

It seems as if your partner will never let go of the pain and anger. You already apologized. You already answered all the questions and are ready to move on. Why are you still being asked to justify your every move and explain where you are going, with whom and for how long? Part of recovery of trust and healing the relationship is allowing your partner to release all the pain and anger and to do that with you. Consider this as the beginning of a new level of intimacy -- you are learning to share difficult emotions. There is no set time that it will take before your partner is ready to move past the anger. It can take months and perhaps even longer than a year.

Communicate

Relationships in which partners feel happy and satisfied are not relationships without fights and occasional serious conflict. The important thing is that the successful marriage involves open communication and healthy ways of resolving disagreements and conflicts. Unhealthy communication patterns are behind most extramarital affairs. You can try to work through these difficulties on your own. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., in his book "Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples," recommends learning how to value your partner's needs as highly as you value your own as a way to work toward healing. As the one who cheated, betraying the marital trust, you will be listening at the beginning stages more than you will be listened to. You need to accept this temporary imbalance as one of the costs of having broken the boundaries that protect the couple relationship.

Seek Professional Help

An extramarital affair is a “big deal.” It is often too difficult an issue for couples to handle without outside help. In fact, psychologists Elizabeth S. Allen and David C. Atkins reported in 2012, in a study in the "Journal of Family Issues," that more than half of couples in marriages where there was infidelity end up separating or divorcing. Marital therapy may help you avoid that. Even better -- once you get past the hard part, many marriages are stronger and healthier and not only does the marriage survive -- it thrives!

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

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