What are the steps to reconciliation after infidelity?
Dear Suzie, my husband and I have decided we want to rebuild our marriage and go through the steps of reconciliation. We both want things to be different (better) than they were before the affair. We just don’t know where to start and what we need to focus on. Do you have any suggestions?
I would like to begin by making one key distinction:
Reconciliation after infidelity is not the same as rebuilding your marriage. Like a horse and buggy (a horse and carriage), they go together, but they are two separate things. And just like you must put the horse before buggy – reconciliation must come before rebuilding.
Sadly, this is where many couples miss the boat.
Because if you attempt to rebuild before you reconcile, it winds up prolonging your recovery process far more than necessary. And if that’s not what you want, then you will need to need to do the right things in the right order.
Let’s begins that journey now by defining exactly what reconciliation means.
Definition: Reconciliation: To put back together, to reunite that which is apart. It’s the restoration of what was lost.
The formula for reconciliation implies that:
(a) what is lost can be retrieved
(b) what is separated can be reassembled
(c) what is broken can be repaired.
Reconciliation is like resetting your computer back to “safe mode” after you have a crash. While rebuilding is like re-installing better programs so that it doesn’t crash again. And so far as I am concerned, the goal of reconciliation is to create a space where both partners feel it’s safe enough to work on rebuilding their marriage.
Moving back into the house or back into the bedroom, making love again, taking a trip, or buying jewelry may facilitate reconciliation… but they are not reconciliation itself.
So, what goes into a successful reconciliation?
Good question. Coming up next are some key insights to point you in the right direction. Here’s what I suggest you do.
7 key insights for a successful reconciliation after infidelity
The road to reconciliation after infidelity begins with these two key questions:
I believe that every successful reconciliation begins with the following two questions…
Question #1: What do you each need in order to feel safe enough to give this relationship a second chance?
Question #2: If you could wave a magic wand and rebuild your marriage so that it matches your desires exactly as you’ve always wanted, what would it look like… feel like… and be like?
Why answering these two questions first is important.
I believe that before you can repair what’s broken and try to restore what was lost, it’s important to have a vivid picture of what you both want. Answering these questions first gives you both a clear vision and a better understanding of what a successful marriage looks like to you both of you.
Take the time to answer these questions first, and your road to reconciliation will be made a whole lot much smoother.
Reconciliation after infidelity is a process, not a gesture.
This reminds me of a story…One day, a man was using a rusty ax to cut down a huge oak tree. A friend was passing by and saw that the man was making little or no progress. At this rate, it would take him years to chop down the mighty tree.
The friend stopped and asked, “Sir, why don’t you spend some time sharpening your ax first?”
“Because,” the man replied, “I can’t afford the time. I must cut this tree down by tomorrow.”
When it comes to reconciliation after infidelity, it’s been my observation that many couples put themselves in the same boat.
This is the boat where they become so focused on hurrying to make “things back to normal” that they end up trying to turn reconciliation into a “single gesture” – rather than a process. And what ends up happening is that they spend months chopping at the tree, when if they had simply sharpened the ax, the reconciliation efforts would have paid off a lot sooner.
Treat your reconciliation efforts as a process – not a single event or gesture. And so you are better to focus on doing things for the safety of the long run, rather than the things that make people feel good in the moment.
Reconciliation after infidelity is a two-person job.
Let me ask you this: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
If you said – there is no sound. Then you understand why I firmly believe that reconciliation is a two-person job. Because just like how takes two people to make a marriage vow– it takes two people to reconcile after a breach of vows.
Just because reconciliation is a two person job, that doesn’t mean that both people have wanted to have reconciliation at the same level. (Banish that thought!) Because it’s more likely a reality that after a brush with infidelity, you would expect to find ambivalence, hesitation, and uncertainty between couples. All of which can be overcome. The only thing we can’t overcome is total unwillingness of one partner to try. Hence, the reason I believe reconciliation is a two person job.
It might take one to ruin a marriage, but it takes two to reconcile. And your bet to inspire willingness is to think of it like you would treat peanut butter – knowing that a little goes a long way.
The secret ingredient for reconciliation is cooperation.
When I work with couples who are attempting to reconcile after an affair… during the first session we have together, I usually start with a five-minute “pre-talk” about how to make the most out of working with me. One of the points I will cover is why it’s in their best interest to cooperate rather than conflict or compete with each other during the reconciliation process. I also try to help them understand that betrayal generates conflict. Cheating brings out the worst in us (competitiveness and power struggles) and this is why reconciliation requires the exact opposite – developing cooperation. Some couples get it right away and immediately adjust their mental game. Others take a must longer time to make the adjustment.
The secret ingredient to reconciliation is cooperation, and if you’re going to therapy and counseling or doing it on your own, I believe you ought to begin with learning how to increase the cooperation dynamic between the two of you.
Reconciliation is a process of removing, rather than adding anything new.
Once trust is broken – a lot of darker emotions will try to take its place. For example, when trust is present, there is peace – but when trust is gone… chaos, fear, and suspicion will rush in the filled the space. And marriage where certainty is gone – uncertainty takes control. Any heart where love is gone, fear will make it a home; and any mind where compassion is absent, contempt will reign supreme.
The challenge? There’s no substitute for trust. And this is why for a reconciliation to be successful, you will need to remove those counterfeit emotions that are trying to replace trust.
Trust is a natural state (you were born trusting). Therefore, anything else is learned behavior. And since reconciliation is about making it safe again – it’s a good idea to find and remove those emotions that are blocking your ability to trust again.
Reconciliation is about overcoming obstacles.
There are two major obstacles you will have to overcome to have a successful reconciliation.
– You must calm these fears: the fear of this happening again, the fear of being deceived again, and the fear of making another mistake. Both partners must get to a place where they can find the courage to take the risk to try again. To get to this place of courage, fear must be managed.
– You must dismantle the resistance. Once people have been hurt, it’s only normal to build up a defense against being hurt again. A lot of that defense will show up as resistance to forgiving, to trying, to making a sincere effort. Both partners need to get to a place where they lower those defenses and become willing to try.
My Reconciliation tip?
You can expect to spend much of your reconciliation efforts toward calming the fears and lowering resistance.
Emptying the resentment bucket is job number one.
Here’s something that might come as surprise to you (or not):
The majority of marital issues stem from unforgiveness.
From petty squabbles to money arguments, to full-blown adultery –, if you drill down deep enough, the one they think they all have in common is some type of resentment or unforgiveness.
And here’s an even bigger twist.
In many cases, that unforgiveness has nothing to do with their current partners. People often come into marriage carrying all kinds of buried hurt, anger, and previously repressed resentments – that then gets intertwined with the current ones, and they can’t tell the difference between the two.
I remember asking a betrayed client of mine if she was more resentful at her husband for cheating on her or her father for cheating on her mother. To which she replied: What’s the difference?
I am here to tell you it makes a huge difference. There’s no point in working on the sex, the communications issues until you’ve become willing to empty the bucket of resentments you’ve built up between each other. And it’s amazing once the resentments are gone, how quickly Love can blossom again.
To empty your resentment bucket, it helps to start small – start by letting go of the petty and the superficial grudges first, and build up to the bigger ones.
And now, a bonus key insight, and the one I consider to be the most important of them all:
Forgiveness is the superglue that repairs relationships.
I believe that at its core, an effective reconciliation process is really a forgiveness process.
And if you’ve spent any time on this website, then you already know that I am a true forgiveness advocate. And not because I think it’s a cool concept or a religious duty, but because as a marriage and relationship coach, I have seen firsthand the miracles that it brings to marriages devastated by infidelity.
And that’s why I consider it to be like superglue when it comes to repairing relationships rocked by infidelity.
And what’s more…
Many couples discover that as they move through the stages of true forgiveness… many conflicts, confusions, and resentments they never thought they would ever resolve fall away naturally.
And if you’d like more advanced help from me to facilitate your road to reconciliation, then I would encourage you and your wife to take my Rebuild Your Marriage masterclass collection. This is where you will find my best tips, techniques, and strategies that take you both through all the stages of affair recovery – from surviving to healing, reconciliation, and beyond. You can read more about it here.
So. there you have it.
My key insights for having a successful reconciliation after infidelity. And I have faith that you have found something from these insights to help you on your own road to recovery.
Because, as Frank Andrews once said… “It seems impossible to Love people who hurt and disappoint us, yet there are no other kinds of people.” This means that being able to forgive is what helps us to be able to reconcile and learn to trust again.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!