According to a 2016 study, infidelity occurs in 41 percent of marriages, and of that amount, 31% actually survive the affair. So what can you do to increase the odds that your post-affair marriage is one of the ones that recover?
Previously, we discussed the 5 crucial steps you need to take immediately upon discovering your spouse’s infidelity. Here, we lay out a long-range Post-Affair Marriage Recovery Plan.
Commit to a 12-month period to work on your marriage. You cannot truly work on saving your marriage if you spend each day agonizing in “should-I-stay-should-I-go” purgatory. Consider suspending the decision to divorce for a year and take that time to do active repair work. This means no threats of divorce, no moving out of the house, and – ideally – no separate bedrooms. If, after 12 months, you decide that there simply is not enough trust or good will to continue in the marriage, you then can proceed to divorce without ambivalence.
Implement and follow your treatment plan. Your treatment plan will depend on the extent of the infidelity and the mental health issues at play. Generally, it consists at least of individual therapy for each person as well as couples therapy. If sex addiction is an issue, then both addict and partner may benefit from 12-step groups, intensive outpatient programs, or residential treatment. In addition, one or both parties may need to see a psychiatrist regularly to address and treat psychiatric disorders. Take heed: physical attendance in therapy is not enough; both parties must implement what they learn in therapy in daily life. That means adhering to boundaries, practicing healthy communication, and learning to manage one’s own emotions effectively. If you are not taking personal responsibility for your own treatment, you will just be throwing time and money down the drain.
Rebuild Trust. Trust must be earned, especially after infidelity. Ending your affair is just the beginning of the trust-rebuilding process. Going forward, you must demonstrate consistently that your actions match your words. For instance, if you say that you’re going to be home at 6:30 to watch the kids so your partner can go to yoga, then be back at 6:30. If you arrive at 7:00, not only will your partner miss her class, but she will also begin to wonder if she can trust you to make good on any of your other promises — not just the promise to be monogamous. Ultimately, our actions demonstrate trustworthiness, not our words.
Write an action plan for rebuilding trust. Sit down with your partner and write down the things each of you is going to do separately and together to repair the relationship. You may want to target troublesome issues besides infidelity, such as discord over finances and division of household labor. A sample list for the partner who strayed may include: weekly individual and couples therapy; cooking dinner Monday through Wednesday; doing the kids’ laundry. A sample list for the betrayed partner may include: weekly individual and couples therapy; weekly attendance at Codependents Anonymous; consulting my spouse before making any purchases over $100. And, a sample list for the couple: weekly couples therapy; weekly date night; monthly discussion to review household budget. Gradually, you will decide whether or not you can trust your partner according to how much he sticks to the action plan.
Process the affair in therapy, not the bedroom. Do your sex life a favor and save the traumatic rehashing of the infidelity for the safe confines of your therapist’s office. While it’s unrealistic to think that you will never discuss the affair at home, you should aim to shift those conversations to therapy, where a trained professional can facilitate them. If your time together at home is spent doing a forensic accounting of the affair, your personal space will become so loaded with negativity that you will dread coming home. And if you tend to argue about the affair in bed, just imagine what this will do to your sex life!
Make new memories. As painful as the affair is, it is also an opportunity to reboot the hard drive of your marriage. Instead of marinating in past transgressions and disappointments, focus on building positive memories of nurturing experiences: a romantic weekend away, working out together at the rock-climbing gym, family movie night. Over time, these pleasant memories will change the dysfunctional narrative of your marriage into a healthy one.
If both partners follow these steps, there’s a good chance the marriage can be saved. But whatever your partner does, you should adhere to the action plan. If, after twelve months, evidence indicates that your partner cannot be trusted, you can then proceed to divorce knowing you did everything you could to repair your marriage.
Do you have questions about your legal options after a spouse’s infidelity? Please contact us today to schedule your confidential consultation with one of our compassionate, highly skilled family law attorneys.