Latalia White, AMFT

This is the first part of a 3-part blog series about the immediate aftermath of both partners in a relationship learning about one partner’s infidelity. This blog will focus on how to cope in the immediate aftermath with considerations for the couple, and the next 2 blogs will focus on the more specific experiences of the hurt partner and the unfaithful partner.

There is almost nothing more devastating to the livelihood of a couple than the disclosure of infidelity. Few other topics have the power to bring out such a wide range of emotions for both partners, each person confused about the paradoxical feelings that arise and how quickly they can change. You might feel so confused that you have no idea what to do. You might think you know exactly what you want to do – or what you “should” do – and find your mind keeps changing on you. It is inevitably a challenging time for both for the person who has been hurt and for the person who has been unfaithful. If you find yourself in the immediate aftermath of an affair, please keep the following in mind:

You don’t have to know what you’re ultimately going to do right now – but know that there are certain actions you could take that will have a negative effect on the process.

It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll know with certainty whether you and your partner should or will stay together; in fact, it’s typically a bad idea to make a permanent decision while you’re still experiencing the roller coaster of emotions so intensely at this time. However, there are some actions that will not be productive to the process of figuring out what to do, regardless of the outcome.

For the hurt partner, it would be a bad idea to retaliate by cheating with somebody, too – even if it feels good in the moment, you’ll inevitably not feel great about the decision and yourself later. If you end up wanting to reconcile, this action could make that process even harder than it already is.

For the unfaithful partner, it is a bad idea to continue your affair unless you are 100% certain that you are leaving your partner for your lover, and it’s not a good sign to make that decision without giving thought to the true reasons why you sought out someone outside of your marriage.

Expect to feel a roller coaster of emotions.

This point bears repeating. Both partners should expect to cycle through a wide range of emotions – it doesn’t make you crazy, stupid, or doomed to experience the same for the rest of your life. Millions of other people in your position have felt the same way you are feeling, and they can tell you that like any other feeling, with time, you won’t feel the way you are feeling now.

Understand that the hurt partner has needs that are more time-sensitive.

While both partners deserve a space to talk about how they’re feeling and what they are experiencing, the hurt partner has needs that will need to be immediately addressed – are you still seeing your lover? How can I trust your word? How do I know you’re not with them when you say you’re somewhere else? If there is going to be any sort of an attempt to try to repair the relationship, the unfaithful partner will need to stop seeing their lover and arrange for the hurt partner to have access to phones, computers, etc. and agree to some ground rules.

Know that recovery is possible.

While not every relationship will or should be repaired after an affair, many can be and are. Infidelity is the kind of crisis in a marriage that no one would ever ask for but can lead to transformative change in a couple’s love. It’s important to know that recovery from infidelity is never easy – it’s a long, challenging process that will be filled with pain but can lead to renewal and a stronger bond in the end. While it’s understandable that couples want to recover from infidelity as quickly as they can, moving through the journey at a slower pace and truly uncovering what circumstances led up to the affair is the healthier option for true repair.