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Surviving Infidelity: Save Yourself and Your Marriage

Updated 12/31/19

Surviving infidelity is going to require a game-plan.

Of course you're angry and upset. You feel betrayed and confused. Do you leave? Do you stay? Do you have sex or refuse sex ever again? It is an overwhelming experience for most people. But if you want your marriage, there is a lot of research now on surviving infidelity and a clear game plan for how to do it.

5798383 - tired young woman survivinginfidelity sitting at computer on workplace

The exhaustion of trying to survive infidelity

"This is not the relationship I bargained for. I just want to have my old relationship back..."

Self Care Tips for Surviving Infidelity:

1. Whatever you focus your mind on becomes real. 

In fact, it eventually will take over your awareness. Therefore we make efforts to “change our mind”: from pain over to relaxation; from guilt and blame to self-acceptance and gentleness; from fear of the future to being in the present. Accept yourself – treasure your idiosyncrasies and foibles. Remind yourself of your strengths, gifts and your proven loyalty to yourself over the years, on a daily basis.

2. Simplify

During stressful and low energy times, keep life simple. Attend to 5 or so activities per day.

3. Keep occupied as much as possible

 Make a schedule with exercise and stick to it. Stay in contact with friends, make new acquaintances, list things you can do. Know that to begin anything is often better than to think. Surviving infidelity sometimes means keeping busy while waiting for something to happen.

Now is the only time there is. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on the negatives of the past or the perceived problems in the future. Likely these perceptions regarding past and future are false or distorted. Surviving infidelity requires you to come back to the present constantly.

4. Keep one focus

 Not 4 or 5. Do one activity at a time. Engage in it. Enjoy it – rather than becoming anxious re everything you have to do. (Keep lists so you can let go of outstanding things).

5. Make sure you have good sleep habits, diet, and exercise.

Forgive yourself daily and relax. If unfinished activities pile up, don't criticize yourself. It is not that you are slow, lazy or stupid. It's just because the concrete beneath your feet has turned to sand. Don't expect too much at this particular moment. Know your priorities (like your kids and work...) and stick to them. Shelve the rest.

6. Make use of thought-stopping.

Order negative thoughts to go away or put them aside.

7. Stop once per day and ask yourself:

 “What do I need right now. What can I do for myself today to help me.”

8. Don’t be a victim.

Do things for yourself to feel effective and in control. Don’t give in to self-pity.

9. Remember what has worked for you in the past.

Likely beneath all the doubts, fears, recriminations, and self-criticism that are swirling around your head, you hear a few faint and muffled words of your own good advice telling you what is good for you.

This counsel may be barely audible…but surviving infidelity requires that you listen carefully to it. You already have everything you need to be happy, including the wisdom you have developed over your life so far.

Psychologist Dr. Glass compares learning about an affair in your marriage to the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

If your partner has been unfaithful...

You may have trouble sleeping, eating, or even working.

Over and over again, unwanted images invade your mind. You repeat in your head what your spouse told you about what had happened, and you ask yourself if they are being totally honest.

Did they see that "other person," when they claimed to be some other place? Were they actually on that business trip? With their sibling?

Your mind can think of nothing else.

You're doubting everything they say: 

  • How they feel about you
  • What your marriage means to  your spouse
  • If they've broken it off or still communicate.

You feel like you are on a roller coaster, with intense emotions. One minute you feel rage...the next minute you just want to have sex and forget about it. A second later, you can't stand the thought of your partner touching you.

Maybe you blame yourself, maybe not. But your trust is shattered, and you may start acting more like a detective than a spouse. And when you are dealing with an extramarital affair, you may be feeling a bit unhinged.

If You've had the Affair

You may be unsure exactly how you ended up having sex with someone else. Perhaps you were drunk, or felt flattered by their attention. Maybe it happened very gradually, and before you knew it, you were involved.

Or maybe they reminded you of how your marriage used to be, or how you imagine that it should be. Maybe you've broken off the affair, or maybe you find it hard to end it.

Was it just the sex, and the affair doesn't mean much to you?

Do you find yourself missing your affair partner, despite wanting to re-commit to the marriage?

Or it sex with others a compulsion. Something that happens repeatedly and you feel out of control. You risk it all. Like you are in a trance. 

Extramarital Affairs Sneak on Phones

The stress of having an affair is hard for your spouse to "get." They may not want to...

Do you wish your spouse would just let it go and stop harping on it? Do you not know how to respond when they bring it up?

Are things getting ugly, now that your spouse knows? You don't know whether to answer the questions they ask you. Will it make things worse? There are a lot of questions to answer when you are dealing with an extramarital affair. Do you go into detail? How much detail?

You don't want to end your marriage for a lot of reasons. The kids. Mutual obligations. There are the years of history you have with each other. But maybe you miss your affair partner. Maybe the passion died years ago in your marriage, but the friendship never did.

Or maybe your feelings of caring are still there for your spouse, despite everything. You may be feeling actively confused. You may need help dealing with the affair.

Surviving infidelity 5 tips

In our intensive couples therapy weekends, we offer 34 Counterintuitive Behaviors to do or not do after you've discovered the affair. This protocol, developed by Michelle Weiner Davis, is tough. Called "The 180", many resolute spouses complain they can't do it. If you can, it has been proven effective.

It includes things like:

1. Do not ask for help from family members.

Rushing to get comfort from family members is totally understandable. And totally unproductive.

If you want to give your marriage it's best shot at surviving the affair through this tough time, hold off and consider who you tell.

While it feels good to have people say they are "totally on your side," that's just the problem:

When there has been an extramarital affair, there should be no sides.

No "victim" and "perp." No "saint" and "sinner."

If you view your relationship in those black and white terms, it's going to be challenging to heal.

And as you successfully move through this betrayal in your marriage and actually come out the other side stronger, don't be surprised if your brother, sister or best friend tell you: "I still can't forgive them for what they did to you..."

They're just trying to be "helpful."

Marriage is made for two flawed people. Stand up  on your own two feet and face into the harsh wind that's hitting you.

And keep silent until you decide who is the most objective person who has fondness for your spouse.

If the two of you weather this, you'll do it alone, and not with the help of a small army on your side.

2. Do not spy on your spouse.

How difficult is that?  

For so many of our couples, once the affair was revealed, CSI couldn't do a more thorough job of examining every detail. We might like to watch the show, but would you actually want to stay married to Gil Grissom once he got you on his radar?

Spying also gives the hurt partner the false idea that knowing everything will somehow make things better.

The problem is, you're surviving infidelity by putting together a 40,320 piece-puzzle that's made with invisible ink. Even when you gather all of the pieces, you still may never know what it makes once assembled.

Spying on your spouse doesn't work and never has.

3. Do not say “I Love You.”

"What?!!  I can't say 'I love you?'"

No, just don't.

You may only say it to express how you feel, but if your spouse is actively involved with someone else, you are implicitly expecting an answer. The only right answer. The answer that will comfort and make the pain go away.

And they may not be ready to give you that answer.

They may still love you, but more like their Mother, right now, and less like a passionate partner.

You may hear the painful words: "I'm no longer IN love with you..."

Don't take it too personally. Your spouse is on drugs. A natural high.

Your partner's brain is swimming in oxytocin, dopamine, phenylethylamine (PEA), testosterone, estrogen, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Serotonin isn't as strong.

In other words, they are on a natural high. And you're not.

This high produces an effect called: Limerence.

This clever song by NPR describes one man's experience of falling in love through a neuroscience lens:

It's a cozy and comfortable life? The one he or she cherished before the affair partner?

It's now has an uphill battle against the alluring wash of dopamine. Nearly all pleasurable experiences — from eating a good meal to having hot sex — involve the release of dopamine. And in excess dopamine is linked to compulsions and addictions. 

And right now if your partner is saying "crazy things," chalk it up to them being on drugs.

Is there a limerence cure?

With time, yes.

Limerence isn't known for it's staying power. In other words, it makes your straying spouse high on this natural drug for about 18 months - two years, and then humans start to feel comfortable and calm. Serotonin rises.

Why 18-24 months?

Evolution's trick. These chemicals hijack the brain just long enough to achieve a "genetically robust pair-bond suitable for reproduction." 

Surviving infidelity means waiting out your partner's brain distortion.

No one can stay high forever. It's not in our brain chemistry to do so. Gradually levels of dopamine subside and serotonin increase, leaving a warm comfortable feeling that once had heated passions. And so many people in torrid affairs look at each other when a few years have passed and ask themselves: "What was the attraction?"

So implicitly asking: "Do you love me?" puts you at an unfair disadvantage.

The affair partner has all of the cards. You've got to fold on that hand...for now.

Esther Perel points out that there is a difference between feeling guilt for how your partner has been impacted by learning about your emotional affair, versus your guilt for having the affair itself. Your straying spouse may feel terrible that they've hurt you, but not that bad about the act itself.

Affairs are like a long-fun buzz where you feel like a superhero. 

Saying "I love you" is the buzz-kill. Don't do it.

4. Be cheerful, strong, outgoing and attractive.

Get a new haircut. Throw out your old ratty casual clothes. Join a gym. No, if you're a woman, you aren't trying to "outsex" Ms. Homewrecker.

Chances are on your side (88%) that you're better looking.

No, it's because in all likelihood your partner is falling in love with the person they believe they are becoming with their affair partner. 

They feel more alive. They feel more attractive. These feelings become addictive.

Change along with them. Become more alive, more interesting and more unpredictable.

No one "gets even" by feeling miserably and demonstrating it at every turn. Or turning everyone against your spouse.

Crying in your soup is oh so predictable when faced with an affair...Begging them to come to their senses and consider the children is also on the playlist.

Throw out the old playlist. Create a new one.

It starts: "I can't control what you do. I can only decide what's best for me..."

Then even the odds by picking up your life and getting on with it.  It's a "win-win." If they leave you, you're looking great and feeling stronger. If they end the affair and ask to get back in your good graces...you're looking great and feeling stronger.

5. You need to make your partner believe that you have had an awakening. As far as you are concerned, you are going to move on with your life, with or without your spouse.

Better yet, don't playact.

Really embrace this, as it may, in fact, be true.

Your spouse may just 'free up your future' and you can't directly control that. You can only control yourself. So be the actor in the movie who does a make-over. Redesign yourself into a better you, and keep quiet about it.

Read but hide The Guide to Getting it On (challenging assignment), Come as You Are,  She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman or He Comes Next: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Pleasuring a Man.

Yes. Hide them. But read them.

Surviving infidelity by public shaming, bullying, pity or intimidation never works well when an affair has been discovered. These behaviors pulls spouses apart, not together.

Imagine, instead, the star-struck lovers (your spouse and affair partner) together with nothing to say about your reaction, except "He/She is going to move on with his/her life..."

Don't give them anything to talk about. At least when it comes to your marriage.

You Can Heal and Move On

Learning about Extramarital Affairs on a phone

We'll help you to figure out what to focus on and what to let go of.  We'll support both of you in handling seemingly trivial incidents that suddenly trigger World War III fights.

  • Flashbacks
  • Rage
  • Contempt
  • or that affair partner that keeps calling...

The work requires careful, deliberate steps with the goal of rebuilding the marriage and restoring trust and peace in your home once again.  You'll learn how to open up to intimacy, tune into each other, and re-build a feeling of teamwork once again.

You may have only heard of affairs that ended a marriage. That's because those who seek help, don't badmouth their spouses. And as therapists, we know that these couples heal, sometimes ending up much stronger than before.

Surviving an extramarital affair is a "wake-up call" in many marriages

For some couples, an affair is a "wake up call" that fundamentally transforms their relationship into one that is stronger and more resilient than before. They end up looking back upon this time as a turning point in their marriage, and a time of re-commitment.

I've spent my professional years helping troubled relationships heal from affairs and repair their marriages. And I've hired the most highly trained professionals found anywhere to work with you across the USA or the world.

Dealing with an extramarital affair is a delicate matter. And much of the hurt caused by an affair happens AFTER the affair is revealed. Know what steps to take to minimize the damage.

You can heal from an affair. Learn more.