How can you heal your relationship after one of you has had an affair? What does it take to restore trust and come back to a place of mutual love, passion, and understanding? And how do you “affair-proof” your relationship to begin with? In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Michele Weiner Davis, bestselling author of Divorce Busting, and author of the new book Healing from Infidelity, which is meant to be a guidebook for couples who are trying to answer these very questions. Michele’s work draws upon decades of experience and is focused on the strategies that actually work – both for rebuilding your relationship after an affair, and for preventing affairs from happening in the first place. It can be challenging, but the rewards are most often a stronger, more connected relationship than what you had before.
Click here to receive the Show Guide for this episode with Michele Weiner Davis

Healing from infidelity takes courage: Shame is one of the largest roadblocks to recovery. After infidelity has been discovered, both the betrayed and the unfaithful partners can feel shame, although for different reasons. The unfaithful partner takes on shame around having being dishonest and hurtful, and the betrayed partner takes on shame that they would even consider staying with a partner who cheated. While this shame is worth listening to for any wisdom it holds, you must also hold onto the truth that choosing to work towards repair is anything but cowardly or weak. Acknowledge ways that shame is showing up for you, and choose to work WITH it. Professional help, especially during the crisis stage immediately following the discovery of infidelity can be incredibly helpful in building the tools, and the courage to address your relationship.

Note: Seek experienced help! If you choose to go see a therapist, be sure to vet them first. Most therapists do not have training on how to help couples deal with infidelity, and so it is worth asking them beforehand about their level of experience walking couples through infidelity. Also do not hesitate to ask your therapist what percentage of the couples they work with end up positively working things through. Be direct with your questions because you deserve highly skilled professional support!

Stronger through the struggle: Whether ultimately you choose to stay in your relationship or not, the work you do now will not be in vain. Many couples share that through confronting what led to the infidelity and tending to what needs rebuilding their relationship became stronger than it had ever been before. Additionally, if you do not stay together, you will both have gained insight and skills that will be invaluable in your personal growth, and future relationships.

Immediate and opposite reactions to infidelity: Often, the unfaithful spouse experiences a certain amount of relief when an affair is finally public. This is true because affairs are not all cakes and rainbows. While the affair has likely been fulfilling a need, it also means living a duplicitous life which can be challenging, hard, and guilt producing. Therefore, this partner can feel relieved to be done with the lying and pain associated with living double lives. That said, just when they are exhaling, the betrayed partner is likely at the lowest point in their lives. This discrepancy in the immediate aftermath of a discovery is inevitable, and yet, both partners have to (and this is where professional support is so critical!) begin to take steps towards collaboration and connection, despite the impasse.

The process of healing happens in layers, and stages. The healing process is not entirely linear. It is also unique to each person, and each couple. That said, there are three main phases. First is the crisis period in which both partners are experiencing their own and often opposite reactions to the discovery. For one there may be intense shock and for the other long waited for relief. Emotions are often big and overflowing in this stage. During the crisis period the focus is on re-stabilizing through compassionate communication, difficult questions, and deeply honest answers. Allow this phase to take as long as it needs. The second phase is focused on reinventing and rebuilding the relationship. Once there is more emotional equilibrium and safety restored both partners can begin to ask where to go from here. What does creating a strong and healthy future look like? And thirdly, together you take these questions into a phase of commitment: how do we maintain this new strength indefinitely?

Getting back to secure ground:  For the betrayed partner, the discovery of an affair leaves them feelings like the entire ground beneath them has shifted, and what they took as reality and stability is no longer. Their trust is often shaken to the core. They begin wondering “How can I even believe anything you say again?”, “how can I even know if you are telling me the truth right now?”. Part of rebuilding trust is through the ability to ask lots and lots and lots of questions.  The betrayed partner will likely be experiencing intense curiosity, and will dig for details to help them process the news. This is an opportunity for the unfaithful spouse to show up compassionately and courageously and share the truth of what happened. That said, the betrayed partner is responsible for their own curiosity.

Curiosity and control: People have the insatiable urge to ask questions in order to help make sense of something unfathomable, and to help connect the dots. For betrayed spouses they have often felt a deep sense that something was off- their partner may have been MIA, may have been getting off their laptop or cell phone quickly when they enter the room, etc. Questioning their partner is a way to make sense of what happened, while also an attempt to gain control back. Generally, this question period is especially intense immediately following the discovery period. It is common for couples to have marathon discussions revisiting all the details. During this interrogation phase, both partners have a responsibility in how they engage in these conversations.

Helpful or hurtful? If you are the betrayed partner it is understandable that you may be overwhelmed with curiosity, and yet be careful as sometimes asking ALL the questions does not serve you. Slow down enough to notice how you feel after asking a question. Did it help because the fears you were imagining in your head were worse than reality? Or does it leave you feeling more overwhelmed, hopeless, and discouraged? If so, it is important to build strategies to distract yourself. The intensity of this phase will subside, and you do not want to dig yourself into more pain only because you can not control your immediate urges. Make a list of concrete behaviors you can engage in to help you resist asking the harmful questions (take a walk, pray, meditate, play your guitar, call a friend…). That said, when you DO ask questions, it is imperative that you respect your partner’s vulnerability and courage as they work to be transparent with you. Do not use the information to attack them or punish them for their confessions, instead, work inside yourself to cultivate empathy for the effort of love they are committing to you by engaging in these often difficult conversations. This can be a time where it can feel incredibly supportive to have the presence of a third party, such as a couple’s counselor, who can help hold neutral and safe space for these conversations.

Hold space for each other’s process and pain. During this initial crisis period it is critical that the unfaithful spouse allow space to really listen to their partner’s feelings, to hear the questions, and to answer without defensiveness. While the unfaithful spouse is processing through their own intense emotions, they need to be present for the anger, rage, hurt, disappointment, sadness, and disillusionment of their partner. If you are doing your best to be transparent, answer questions, and hold your partner’s pain, and they continue to shame and blame you, speak up and let your partner know you cannot give them the honesty they desire and deserve if they are going to threaten you with each thing you share. Neither one of you will benefit from having unsafe conversations.

Don’t forget about communications skills 101: These initial conversations are raw, real, and difficult. Use all of the core communications skills in order to create as safe of a container as possible so that you can both show up with empathy, compassion, and the ability to take responsibility for your own escalation patterns. Remember to use “I” statements, especially if you are the betrayed spouse expressing intense emotions. The more raw the conversations, the more emotional traffic control is needed. Do not hesitate at this time to seek professional help. The goal is to create safety enough so that both partners can be heard, seen, and felt without an immediate reaction that leads to either escalation, or shutting down.

Finding a balance: In the initial phase of healing there will be a LOT of processing. This might at times feel circular, repetitive, or even two steps forward one back. And this is okay. That said, there becomes a time when what needs to happen is a moving forward into the second and third phase of healing. Knowing when is right to move into this next phase can be another moment of tension in a relationship. The unfaithful spouse might be thinking “how can we heal if we just keep talking about what happened?” while the betrayed spouse may be thinking “how can you not be willing to talk about this for as long as I need?”. The truth is that both are right. How can you come together to bridge this divide? Can you create a planned time to talk and process, while building in more time to focus and put energy into other aspects of your life together? And in what ways can the betrayed spouse take care of their need to process in creative ways? What other outlets can you use, be it a social network, a spiritual practice, etc. to continue moving through ruminating thoughts without being paralyzed by them.

Thought Stopping- The ruminating thoughts can become hurtful, and can take on a life of their own. Anything and everything can become a trigger to painful feelings. This is inevitable, and thus it is important to cultivate a plan on how to address it when it occurs. Thought stopping is one way. Thought stopping is just as it sounds. Begin by imagining a place, or a person you feel very safe with. Let this ‘happy place’ expand in your mind- what are the colors, the sights, the smells? Take time to conjure up this image and make it as tangible as possible. Once you feel you can truly access this space in your mind, introduce the thought that has been plaguing you. As soon as you bring that thought up, imagine a BIG RED stop sign and choose to go back to your serene peaceful place. This is not necessarily easy to do at first, but with practice you will see that you CAN change what you focus on. You do have control over where your focus is- and whatever you focus on expands. This is a wonderful and potent way to interrupt a negative thought pattern before it hijacks your autonomic nervous system. By doing this you are teaching your emotional system resiliency, and helping show yourself that you have your own resources to self soothe. This will build confidence often lost on finding out about your partner’s affair as it lets you feel in control again of the most important thing: yourself!

An opportunity to learn valuable skills: While healing from infidelity can be an incredibly painful process, it is also a process that provides infinite opportunities for growth that will serve each spouse for many years (and potentially relationships) to come. These lessons include, but by no means are limited to learning how to no longer be the victim, learning to self-regulate and self-soothe, learning to build intimacy during difficulty, and learning to develop iron-clad safety in relationships. These lessons help create a foundation upon which a relationship, or a heart, can withstand future adversity. Remember that the hurt goes with you when you leave, and so any time spent exploring the hows and whys of the infidelity, will only better serve you in the future.That said, time exploring your relationship before you leave is never wasted time!

Make decisions during moments of clarity, not crisis: The ultimate roadblock to growth and change however, is hopelessness. It is less about the difference in people’s opinions, values, or backgrounds, nor is it the nature or severity of the problem at hand that makes people throw in the towel, it is hopelessness. Hopelessness, Weiner Davis says, “is the real cancer in marriage”. If you have been trying to get your marriage back on track and you are losing hope, seek professional help before you make any big decisions about your future! A therapist or coach can help hold hope for you while you navigate through the uncertainty of the initial stages of repair, and build the tools to see if your marriage can be saved. Remember- life decisions should not be made in the midst of crisis! Make decisions just for today, and just in an effort to re-regulate and gain the clarity needed to see your options.

Becoming intimate again: There are some people who do not have intimacy issues after an affair, in fact, some couple’s describe having incredible sex post infidelity. While this is the case for some, it is not the case for all. It may take a long time to build back the trust needed to feel safe enough being intimate. Try to welcome the process of reconnecting as an opportunity to really get in touch with your and your partner’s needs and desires. Crises like this can crack open long-held taboos and silence around sex, and so, this can become a moment to bring awareness and curiosity to your sex life. Bring it out of the closet! Talk about what feels good! What turns you on? How do you want your partner to initiate sex? Do you want it more experimental? Also talk about triggers and how to support each other when one or both of you becomes disregulated. Most importantly, and throughout the conversations and reconnecting, BE PRESENT. Be present with what is happening in yourself, in your partner, and between the two of you. While you are beginning to piece your physical relationship back together again, it is critical that you set the intention to be as transparent as possible about what is happening internally and externally. Be open to the fact that sex might look different on the other side of an affair- redefine your lovemaking so that it is fulfilling and safe to both of you. Perhaps there are different forms of intimacy and smaller sexual gestures that your partner is craving? Ask, ask, ask, and listen.

Final tip to affair-proof your relationship: Wanting to be proactive and build resiliency in your relationship to avoid infidelity? Make sure that your relationship feels like a top life priority! Ask your partner: “what will make you feel like you are the most important thing in my life?” Find out, in concrete terms, what this means to your partner. Does it mean having meaningful conversations? Sex? Regular date nights? Every spouse has a different definition of what makes them feel loved and what specific behaviors makes them see you as being completely dedicated to them and the relationship. Get to know your partner’s desires and needs inside and out, and then absolutely do it! Follow through!
Click here to receive the Show Guide for this episode with Michele Weiner Davis
Resources:

Go to Michele’s website to get the first chapter of the brand new book Healing from Infidelity for free!

Read Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage

Buy Michele’s brand new book Healing from Infidelity: The Divorce Busting® Guide to Rebuilding Your Marriage After an Affair

Learn more about Michele’s work and find more resources on her website

Call today to schedule a consultation! 1800-664-2435

Feedback? Questions? You can contact Michele directly at: michele@divorcebusting.com

http://www.neilsattin.com/busting2 Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Michele Weiner Davis.

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Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of:

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