AFFAIR RECOVERY 101
A Q&A CRASH COURSE ABOUT THE RECOVERY PROCESS AFTER INFIDELITY
WELCOME TO AFFAIR RECOVERY 101
IN THIS CRASH COURSE, I AM GOING TO ANSWER THE TOP 12 QUESTIONS I GET
ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AFTER INFIDELITY.
For more than a decade now, I have worked with men and women from all walks of life, from all parts of the world, and from every type of background to overcome the devastating effects of infidelity. During this time, I have noticed that while the people and circumstances vary, the confusion and concerns about how to deal with the aftermath do not. And so in this crash course, I will focus on the top 12 most commonly asked questions for those who are relatively new to affair recovery and my typical responses to them. Let’s jump into the first questions.
What exactly is AFFAIR recovery?
Great question. Affair recovery can be summed up like this: it’s the process of overcoming the fear, pain and guilt brought on by an extramarital affair.
Notice the word process. This word is key because recovery after infidelity is not a sprint, but more like a marathon in which you must make daily steps that move you towards healing.
It’s important to note that infidelity recovery applies to anyone caught up in the drama of deception. This includes the betrayed partner, the wayward partner, AND the affair partner. This is why when it comes to infidelity, there are no winners… only survivors.
There’s plenty of support and help for you on the road to recovery. Some examples include coaching (what I offer), traditional marriage counseling, online forums and communities, support groups, workshops, therapy and mentorship. The key here is to keep in mind that while this situation feels isolating… it really isn’t. Infidelity happens all the time and everywhere, and so there are plenty of resources and help available to you.
What’s the best way to survive this?
I believe that surviving infidelity is like surviving a fire: the more you know about the nature of fires, the better your chances of surviving. And the opposite is also true — the less you know about surviving a fire, the more dangerous things become for you. Why? Because in the event of a fire, there’s a wrong way and a right way to survive it, and knowing the difference between the two could be a matter of life and death. I’ve observed that a similar rule applies when it comes to surviving after infidelity… there’s a right way and a wrong way to survive it.
The way I see it, there are two roads to recovery: the passive road and the active road. And of the two, the passive road is by far the most popular. So, what’s the difference between the two? Well, it basically boils down to time and energy. The passive road is the long-suffering road — it depends and waits on others for rescue. The active road on the other hand is about actively participating in your own recovery process, thereby shortening your suffering. In my opinion, the active road is the right way to survive this.
Notice: A lot of things in that wrong approach feels instinctive and even normal, and yet they are not helpful in the long run. If you take the passive approach, you’re actually taking the hard road to recovery, and you’ll end up wasting hundreds of your precious life hours suppressing pain, repressing anger, and suffering in silence. My suggestion? Get on the active road to recovery as soon as possible.
What are the stages of recovery after infidelity?
There are 6 commonly identified stages of affair recovery. A quick breakdown of each stage is as follows:
Stage 1: Discovery – Begins the moment of this discovery. The Discovery stage can last from 1-36 hours. Signs include shock, numbness, nausea, distress and confusion (applicable to both wayward and betrayed partners).
Stage 2: Denial and disbelief – Prevalent during the first 30 days, and yet this stage can sometimes persist past the first 30 days. It’s not uncommon for people to regress back to this stage for months down the road.
Stage 3: Blame and anger – Voted the most likely stage for people to get stuck in, and this is why the anger stage can last from day 1 all the way up to 18 months (although I have seen people hold onto the anger for decades).
Stage 4: Fixing and bargaining – Perhaps one of the most common stages in affair recovery. Almost everyone goes through this stage. This is where radical changes and obvious attempts to fix the relationship are made, which can include anything from buying expensive gifts, to romantic getaways, and even marriage counseling.
Stage 5: Fear and despair – Perhaps the most dangerous stage of them all. The “fear and despair” stage usually sets in when it becomes clear that the “fixing and bargaining” didn’t work. At the root of this stage is a sense of discouragement coming from the reality that affair recovery is going to take way more money, time and energy than previously thought.
Stage 6: Adjustment and acceptance – Some people get here sooner than others. This is the stage where the affair is finally put in the rear-view mirror, and people shift from predominantly focusing on the past to consistently living in the present and looking towards the future.
Although these stages are common on the road to recovery, it should be noted that they are not linear, and they are not mandatory. Depending on circumstances and personality, some will experience some, all, or none of these stages. The key here is to allow yourself to naturally move toward Stage 6 (notice the word “naturally move toward”) and do what you can to ensure you don’t get stuck in any of the lower stages.
What does recovery look like for the parties involved?
Another great question. Since affair recovery extends to all three in the affair triangle, it only makes sense that the process will be different for each depending on what role they play in the situation. A quick breakdown is as follows:
Road to recovery for betrayed partners: The journey is moving from hurting to healing, from feeling like a victim to seeing yourself as a survivor, from anger (what happened) to adjusting (what happens next), from unforgiving heart to a forgiving heart, and from living in fear of a bad future to having hope in a good future.
Road to recovery for wayward partners: For the wayward partner, recovery is about moving from dishonor to redemption, from making promises to making commitments, and from being vulnerable to extramarital temptations to being temptation-proofed.
Road to recovery for affair partners: For the affair partner, recovery is about moving from attachment to freedom, from living in denial to living in authenticity, and from addiction to unrequited/inappropriate love to true unconditional love.
Road to recovery for couples: For couples, the road to recovery is about moving from attacking each other to communicating with each other, from having mistrust to demonstrating trustworthiness, from resentment to forgiveness, from breaking up to breaking through, from trying to control each other to learning how to empower each other, and from passive marriage to a more passionate marriage.
You’ve probably noticed that recovery is about shifting from a negative place to a positive place. There’s both good and bad news when it comes to making that type of shift. Here’s the bad news. Negative emotions can be stubborn, and once they take hold, it requires effort to shift out of them. The good news is that once you do, you’ll be grateful you did.
How can you tell when you’ve truly recovered?
Since nothing in your previous experience could ever have prepared you for dealing with this type of situation, chances are you have no idea how to discern what is true recovery. So here’s a couple of guiding signs to help you discern if you’re moving towards true recovery.
You’ve noticed benefits. In other words, looking back, you realize it wasn’t all bad. Despite the pain, some good did come out of it. For example, maybe you’ve learned that you’re much stronger, or maybe you’ve realized that your love and capacity to love is deeper than you thought.
Seeing yourself as a survivor. At some point along the way, you stopped identifying yourself as a “victim” and started thinking of yourself as a survivor. You move out of shame or blame and move into testimony and empowerment.
Willingness to forgive. You are no longer beating yourself up about it, and you’re no longer punishing your partner either. Finally, the past is over (even in your mind).
Return of optimism. Where you used to think that nothing good could come out of this, now you’re beginning to understand the clichés like “every disappointment leads to a good”, or “when one door closes, another one opens”. In other words, the future doesn’t scare you anymore.
Looking forward. Where you used to obsess about what happened and get lost in constantly reliving and rehashing, you’re no longer compelled to do that. Now the majority of your time is invested in dreaming again, planning again and envisioning the future you want.
When watching for the signs of true recovery, keep this in mind. Affair recovery is not about returning to normal; affair recovery is about returning to happiness. That which moves you towards happiness is helpful, and that which takes you away from happiness is not. And so the biggest sign of true recovery? You’re happy again.
Can you explain some of the terms commonly used?
The world of infidelity is like visiting a foreign country — it has its own subculture, lingo, cliches and memes. And chances are before this experience happened, you probably had no idea there were many websites, forums, chat rooms, experts, books, articles and information available on this topic. For those of you who are new to this experience, let me say I totally understand how overwhelming and confusing this can be… at first. In a way, I can only imagine that it feels like you stumbled across the border to a foreign country where people speak a different language and where the customs are weird and unfamiliar to you. So to help you navigate the landscape, below you’ll find an overview of some of the more common terminologies, phrases and jargon you might run across as you move through this process.
These terminologies are all just pointers… a simplified way of describing a complex experience. The key here is not to get too caught up in the label, term or pointer, but rather to let yourself be more caught up in the process of moving through this process with as much of your self-esteem and self-respect intact as possible.
What are the more common reasons people have affairs?
This is perhaps the most common question I answer from the media: “Why do people cheat?” The bad news is, there’s no one-size-fits-all type of answer for that question, and no “off the rack” response that will be applicable across the board. People cheat for many different reasons, and people cheat for many of the same reasons. So instead of trying to answer that question in the ways it’s usually asked, I prefer to answer it by referring to the type of affairs that are most commonly seen. The infographic below describes 18 of the more common types of affairs.
Notice how the type/category the affair falls into also gives a clue as to the reason (or rationalization) behind the affair. However, be careful not to believe that the category is the entire story or reason for the affair. A classic example is an emotional affair which can have no rational basis or predictable pattern.
What are the biggest obstacles facing the betrayed partner?
A betrayed partner’s recovery is practically a challenging one. Perhaps the biggest reason is because many of the obstacles to a betrayed partner’s recovery feel so instinctive and natural to do, and yet in the long run, many of them are in fact not helpful. Here’s some examples of those obstacles.
Obstacle # 1: Blaming self. It can be hard NOT to blame yourself when a partner strays, and yet that’s exactly what you have to do in order to survive. So keep this in mind: the innocent should never feel guilty about being innocent.
Obstacle # 2: Mentally competing with affair partner. Another almost “compulsive reaction” is to compare yourself with the affair partner. Try to evaluate or judge your relationship with theirs to see if they were getting more or better than you’ve gotten. Sadly, this type of mental competition only leads to obsession and jealousy… all of which harm you. So keep this in mind: never compete with anyone in your mind.
Obstacle # 3: Telling/talking to the wrong people. The pain of this type of betrayal can feel so isolating, like you’re the only one that’s ever gone through it. And so the urge to share, to unburden, to seek advice or to simply process can feel overwhelming. And yet here’s the thing. When it comes to infidelity, everyone has an opinion and everyone judges (and most very harshly). So keep in mind: only share your problems with those who’ve earned the right to hear them.
Obstacle # 4: Failing to verify or get proof. This is a biggie for me, and I am well aware that not everyone agrees. And yet I think it’s important for betrayed partners to verify and get as much proof about what happened as possible. Why? Because it will go a long way in helping with closure later down the road. So keep this in mind: when you’re dealing with deception, words are not enough — you need proof.
Obstacle # 5: Holding on to anger/pain too long. Perhaps the most dangerous obstacle is holding on to the anger and the pain for longer than necessary. If you do, then you risk a situation with anger making you into an “angry person”, and the pain associated with the event becoming like a “badge” that others identify you by. So if you don’t want this to happen, I suggest you forgive — not because they deserve it, but because you deserve peace.
Think about it like this. If your car were skidding on black ice and you were to follow your natural instinct (panic and step on the brake), you’d only make things worse. Instead, you know what you need to do is what feels counterintuitive (ease off the brake). Betrayed Partner Recovery (the right way) feels counterintuitive at first, and yet it’s what works in the end.
What are the biggest obstacles facing the wayward partners?
Although the obstacles facing the wayward partner might be different, they do have one thing in common with those of the betrayed partner’s, mainly that many of them feel “natural” or “right” while being the exact wrong ways to respond. And it’s because of these obstacles why so many wayward partners end up doing more damage AFTER the affair than the affair itself does. Here’s some examples of the types of obstacles I am talking about.
Defending the right to stray. It can be instinctive to defend yourself when you’re being attacked or backed into a comer, and yet when you’re the one that’s in the wrong, being defensive actually comes across as an attack. And since the last thing you want to do is attack the very person you’ve already hurt, keep this in mind: if you’re defending your mistakes, you’re making an even bigger mistake.
Blame shifting/rationalizing. No one enjoys having their deceptions exposed, and so there’s the tendency to blame something else for our actions (alcohol, seduction, lack of sex in the primary relationship) or to find a way to rationalize what was done. But that’s like responding to a fire with gasoline rather than water — as both only cause the situation to escalate. So, keep this in mind: there are no good reasons to cheat, only excuses (and the last thing you need to be now is an excuse-maker).
Not exiting the affair. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is where once the affair is busted, the wayward partner chooses to “pause” the affair (rather than actually end it) — waiting for things to calm down and then resume. Or they go into hyper “stealth mode” — continuing the affair all the way through marriage counseling. Of course, it’s only a matter of time until they are busted again, which sets back any progress that was made and prolongs the recovery process. So keep this in mind: telling a half truth is the same as telling a lie. And as long as you’re still lying, you’re prolonging your suffering.
Allowing Hubris/Ego to run the show. In my opinion, the ego creates the most obstacles to recovery because the main mantra of the ego is “I’m better than you.” And so a wayward partner will go out of their way to prove they are better liars and secret keepers to show they can “get away with it” — turning recovery from healing into a power struggle. And if you don’t want that to happen, keep this in mind: if you let the ego run the show, it will ruin everything.
Notice that all the obstacles fall into the “normal” category, and so it’s no surprise that most wayward partners encounter them. The key takeaway here is this. Just because it feels like a normal way to act or react doesn’t mean it’s the most effective way. Instead, I strongly suggest you pause before you react and ask yourself… Will this take me towards my happiness goal or will this move me away from it?
What are the biggest obstacles facing affair partners?
The affair partner’s obstacles are perhaps the most perplexing, mostly because so many of them come from within the person and not from outside. And so from the outside, it might seem so easy to resolve these obstacles, and yet the reality is that the obstacles we create for ourselves are often the most difficult ones for us to overcome. Here are classic examples of those types of obstacles.
Lying to self and others. Before we give ourselves permission to participate in an affair, we find reasons that make it “ok”. There has to be some type of argument that you used to give permission. The most common reason? “Love”. And yet, this creates an obstacle because by its very nature, love is truthful. So to overcome this obstacle, keep this in mind: true love would never ask you to lie.
Staying in denial for too long. Denial is the decision not to know, and sometimes it can be seductive to “pretend to not know what’s right”, especially if “what’s right” means giving up what’s wrong. So to overcome this obstacle, keep in mind: there’s no escaping reality. You can deny it, but you can’t change it.
Failing to consider the consequences. The textbook excuse for affairs is the idea of just “having fun”. For example, you’ve been a “good girl all your life”, so you deserve to have a little fun, and so the affair becomes the “reward” for years of good behavior/ fidelity. Unfortunately, making a bad choice as a reward for previous choices is how good people get themselves in trouble. So to overcome this obstacle, keep in mind: it’s not fun if people get hurt, lives get wrecked, and families are ruined.
Believing the affair was different than others. “Specialness” is the secret ingredient that makes affairs so highly pleasurable and so highly addictive. And the most seductive of them all is the belief that “our affair is different” (deeper, better, truer), thereby placing it into a “special category” where all the affair stereotypes don’t apply — which of course makes us blind to the ones that do. So to overcome this obstacle, keep this in mind: sometimes the stereotypes do apply.
Not ending it sooner. Affairs are like lobster pots, in that they are much easier to get into than out of. Sadly, most people aren’t aware of this going in. So what might take 3 weeks to get into might take 3 years to get out of. My theory? I think it’s because more people associate “ending” with “losing”. And since no one wants to “lose”, they end up staying in the affair far longer than needed. To overcome this obstacle, remember: ending it sooner is always better than later.
Notice that affair partner obstacles are mostly mental ones. And if you think about it, it’s not really surprising because the basic nature of affairs are rooted in fantasy, pretense and denial. And so it only makes sense why so many of the obstacles to ending them appear to be imaginary as well.
What are the obstacles to rebuilding a marriage?
The obstacles the primary couple faces when attempting to repair and rebuild the relationship after it has been rocked by infidelity can be very challenging, and yet just because a thing is challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say… while the obstacles are challenging for couples, the rewards for overcoming infidelity are absolutely worth it. So let’s take a look at some of those obstacles now along with some tips on how you can overcome them.
Toxic communications: Communication is not just about words; it’s also about the energy behind words. It includes body language, motivation, and of course, intent. If anger or unkindness is present, no matter the words (or the intent), the communication becomes toxic, and toxic communication is the leading cause of dysfunctional relationships. To overcome this obstacle, keep in mind that your words are either weapons or healers — if you want to rebuild, you’re going to need healing words and not attacking words.
Fear of social judgement. In my opinion, this is the most insidious obstacle facing a couple. So much of our society is actually against rebuilding a marriage after infidelity that sometimes, even when a couple really wants to save their marriage, they end up abandoning it due to fear of looking weak, or fear of what their friends and family will say if they choose to stay with a “cheater”. And so to overcome this obstacle, keep this in mind: it’s not important what others think — only what you think and that you think your marriage is worth saving is all that really matters.
Anger. One of the best descriptions for anger is that it’s only one letter short of danger. And that’s exactly the problem with anger. It’s like a fire, in that once it gets heated, it’s very hard to control it. And here’s another thing. Anger erodes trust. And when it comes to saving a marriage after infidelity, rebuilding trust is job number one. So keep this in mind: where there’s anger, there’s danger; and where there’s danger, there’s no trust. You can’t rebuild without trust, so as far as I am concerned, one of the most important steps to rebuilding trust is healing anger.
Negative psychology. A negative psychology is created by holding confident expectations of negative results. On the other hand, a positive psychology is about having confident expectations of positive results. And so it’s easy to see why negative psychology can be such a big obstacle to rebuilding after infidelity. So to overcome this obstacle, keep this in mind: put more trust in what you love, than in what you fear.
Urge to punish (self or partner). Perhaps the biggest thing I work on in private couples coaching is helping partners defuse the urge to punish — either themselves or their partners. And it’s not always easy because at it’s root, infidelity is about unfairness, and so it’s only instinctive to want to lash out or even the score. And yet I am here to tell you that until you let go of the urge to punish, you won’t go very far down the road to recovery to help overcome this. Keep in mind: punishment doesn’t lead to correction… only compliance.
Let me ask you a question. If you look back over the obstacles we just covered and find a common denominator, what would it be? In other words, can you spot the one thing all the obstacles have in common? If you said unforgiveness, you’d be right. So here’s the takeaway. No matter what obstacles or challenges are facing you, forgiveness will give you the wings to rise above them.
What can I do to shorten my recovery timeline?
What a good question! Because who wants to stay in pain a moment longer than necessary? That’s right, none in their right mind. So here are my seven quick tips to help shorten the road to recovery.
Here are seven things you can do help shorten your recovery time:
Go to marriage counseling/or therapy. But here’s the caveat. You’ve got to attend at least 12 sessions. This is important because recovery is not a “quick-fix” process, and impatience is what prolongs the process. So give it a minimum of 12 sessions with a good counselor or therapist before you decide.
Read this book: Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald Jampolsky. It’s a short and powerful read that’s always on my recommended reading list.
Watch this TED Talk: The Surprising Science of Happiness: A great introduction to positive psychology and a wonderful place to begin your journey back to happiness.
Talk to your spiritual leader. Whether it’s your pastor, priest or rabbi, it can really be helpful to talk to someone with a strong spiritual knowledge in the aftermath of infidelity, primarily because so much of the hurt comes from our own guilt, judgments and unforgiving hearts.
Attend a workshop on compassionate communications. Personally, I think this should be a required course for all couples and parents. Compassionate communications is about learning who takes the “war” out of your words and how to express yourself in ways that empower rather than disempower.
Take one of my online home study courses. I currently offer four different home study online courses, during which I will coach you step-by-step through my active approach to recovery. You can choose the one that works best for you: Happiness After Infidelity (for couples), Betrayed Partner Recovery (for betrayed partners), Wayward Rehab (for wayward partners), and End of the Affair (for affair partners).
Consider a private couples retreat. My private couples retreats are weekend workshops that are totally customized to meet the needs of the particular couple. It’s designed for the highly discerning couple who wants my specialized attention and prefers to work with me in a private setting. The bad news is, it’s a lot of work — more than 30 hours compacted into a 3-day weekend. The good news is that, it will accelerate your recovery process. You can learn more here.
Taking even one of these steps is a big step towards your goals, doing two will help you take a big leap, and three will move you even further. The key here is to remember that the more of these seven you do, the further they take you towards what you really want: end of pain and suffering, which is the same as the return to happiness.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
I believe the return to happiness must be your highest priority. Therefore, I see my job as a coach is to inspire, teach, motivate, coach, coax and (yes, sometimes even nudge you) towards that goal.
It’s for this reason I’m an advocate of the active approach to recovery.
Once you take this active approach, I believe you’ll be surprised to discover there’s a way to turn stress into high self-esteem, and there’s a way for you to become more (not less) despite all that has happened. With the right tools, tips, guidance and strategy… you need not suffer in vain. However, it’s up to you to decide for yourself if my approach is right for you.
Couples online home-study
I offer four different online courses. That take you step by step through my specific process for dealing with your particular situation. The best part? They are all online you can access them instantly (no waiting or appointments needed)
skype or phone coaching
(Individuals and Couples)
If you want more personalized attention, then you’ll want to consider a phone or Skype session with me. The best part?
You can access my calendar and book the time and day you want online.
My couples retreats are 3-day weekend intensive for highly motivated and highly discerning couples. It’s 100% customized for you. The goal is to leave with a clear and working plan that will ensure your relationship is stronger and better than it was before this all happened.
Here's my goal on this website and all the resources I provide
To teach only the best of what works for overcoming the fear, guilt, hurt and pain unleashed by infidelity and to share the more effective strategies for helping you return to happiness in the shortest amount of steps possible. And if you’d like me to help you do that…
Here are some options for working with me:
Home study online course (most popular). I offer four different online courses that take you step by step through my specific process for dealing with your particular situation. The best part? They are online so you can access them instantly (no waiting or appointments needed).
View home study courses here
Skype/or phone coaching. (individual and couples) If you want a more personalized attention, then you’ll want to consider a phone or Skype session. Best part? You can access my calendar and book the time and day you want online.
Book phone or Skype session here
Couples Retreats. (limited availability) My couples retreats are 3-day weekend intensive for highly motivated and highly discerning couples. It’s 100% customized for you. The goal is to leave with a clear and working plan that will ensure your relationship is stronger and better than it was before it all happened.
Learn more about couples retreats here
Until we speak again…