Post-Affair Coping Moves

Some marriages can survive an affair. Here's what you need to know.
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Adultery doesn't have to end in divorce. But it is a wake-up call--a very loud one--that something is seriously wrong with the relationship, says Bonnie Eaker-Weil, Ph.D., a marital therapist in New York City and co-author of Adultery, The Forgivable Sin and Make Up, Don't Break Up. If a couple can learn to recognize the real motivations for the infidelity, and develop the skills to deal with the underlying problems, they have a good shot at surviving the trauma. Here's what Dr. Eaker-Weil suggests:

Acknowledge the infidelity.

Many people choose not to acknowledge their spouses infidelity to themselves, let alone to others for fear of risking all that they have. To lose even the semblance of a happy home, one they've nurtured for years, is too much to bear. They ignore their instincts, fail to confront their spouses, and make emotional tradeoffs with themselves--tradeoffs that ultimately serve neither themselves nor their marriage.

End the affair.

In order to rebuild the marriage, the unfaithful spouse has to take responsibility for his actions and end the affair. That means breaking off all contact with the third party--no phone calls, letters, emails or messages.

Determine the reasons for the infidelity.

Without placing blame, discuss the underlying problems that contributed to difficulty in the marriage. Often, couples get so caught up in the minutiae of everyday life that they don't heed the signals that the road is getting rocky. Try to figure out where each partner's needs weren't being met. Empathizing with each other's emotions will make you feel more connected.

List the behaviors you want your partner to change.

Once you're aware of where each partner's needs weren't being met, work towards correcting those problems.

Let your partner know where she can find you.

The most difficult task is restoring trust, so the partner who strayed must be willing to go to great lengths to assure his spouse that he is being faithful. This means keeping her informed of business meetings and travel so she knows where he is, when he's working late and with whom.

Go beyond words.

Find concrete ways to show the faithful partner that she is valued and respected. A small gift with special significance, a call in the middle of the day, or a thoughtful card are all good choices.

Re-romanticize the marriage.

Think back to what turned you on when you first met. What clothes did you wear? What perfume or after-shave? Get dressed up when you go out for dinner. Spend more pleasurable time together, playing tennis or taking golf lessons, for example.

Begin to reconnect.

Share your hopes and dreams about your new--and improved--future together.


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