Betrayal is one of the hardest emotions to experience. It lingers, it’s heavy, it changes the way you see several aspects of life, and it’s deeply painful. At Map Psychology Solutions, our therapists have helped many couples process and heal from affair betrayal.

We have witnessed an affair damage the foundation of a relationship past the point of repair. We have also witnessed many couples work through affair recovery in a way that they are even more connected than before the affair. Some couples can emerge with new understanding, connection, and hope.

Below is a 3-stage roadmap to heal from affair betrayal:

Stage 1 (weeks to months):

Partner who had the affair:
  • Take accountability: Do not be defensive or tell part-truths. Tell the whole truth and take accountability for it.
  • Empathize: Hear your partner’s pain and understand what they’re going through. Understand that this breach of trust has impacted the foundation of your relationship and possibly led to the development of trauma symptoms for your partner. Express continual remorse.
  • Set boundaries: This may involve limiting activities or interactions with people connected to the affair. Boundary setting also involves stopping all contact with the affair person. Work hard to create proof that you’re no longer engaging in betraying behaviour.
  • Be patient and compassionate: Remember, you may have processed more emotions throughout the affair … and your partner has not processed these emotions yet.
  • Open communication: Initiate check-ins where your partner can ask questions about the affair, and you answer them in an honest and full way. Do not leave information out that might be found out later. It is best to disclose everything up front. Be honest and empathetic to your partner’s feelings and questions. One exception to the tell all approach is specific sexual details, as this can lead to rumination and traumatization for the hurt partner (e.g. “what were they wearing?” “what sex positions?”). Try to limit the check-ins to 1 hour per day.
  • Self-care: Processing and working through an affair is emotionally and physically exhausting. Your body is full of stress chemicals. Get lots of sleep, eat well, exercise, get some sunshine, limit technology use, and connect with loved ones for support. Remember that the emotions of shame and guilt take a significant amount of time to work through. Be patient and not overly hard on yourself. If you’re overly hard on yourself, you may shut down and shut your partner out when they need you to be emotionally available.
Partner who did not have the affair:
  • Ask questions: Asking questions is a big part of processing the affair. Ask all the questions you need to ask in as many ways you need. Your brain is trying to make sense of what happened.
  • Forgiveness: Start to work at keeping the door to forgiveness open. Forgiveness does not mean absolving your partner. Forgiveness means you are willing to cooperate and try to trust, even in the face of uncertainty. Part of forgiveness is acknowledging that anyone can be untrustworthy at times.
  • Self-care: You may be experiencing anger, devastation, inadequacy, and paranoia. You may find yourself very pre-occupied with thoughts of your partner with the affair person. These thoughts can feel intrusive and like PTSD symptoms. Be gentle with yourself and try to focus on self-care (e.g., eating, sleeping, connecting with loved ones).

Stage 2 (months to a year):

Partner who had the affair:
  • Trust building: Build trust through small and consistent follow through. Keep your promises and create ways to verify them. For example, if you say you will be home at a certain time, be home at that time. Open and honest communication is crucial to build trust.
  • Manage triggers: Be aware of your partner’s triggers and work to minimize them. Trust building is a process with many ups and downs. As stressful as this process is, it can be an opportunity to build a stronger relationship and connection.
  • Rebuild your friendship: Ask curious questions like you used to when dating.
  • Be vulnerable: Share your inner world (e.g. fears, worries, insecurities, feelings).
  • Manage conflict: Learn to handle conflict better so it doesn’t overwhelm you and create distance.
Partner who did not have the affair:
  • Reflection: Process what was occurring in the relationship before the affair. For example, understanding the risk factors and vulnerabilities that lead to the affair. Both partners need to grasp what went wrong in the relationship. For example, why did the involved partner turn away, invest less in the relationship, and become less dependent on getting needs met through the relationship? The involved partner must avoid accusing the hurt partner. The goal is to understand what went wrong, not shift blame.
  • Forgiveness: Ongoing forgiveness during this stage helps build a new relationship. The old relationship did not meet both of your needs, and you should not be blamed for the past deficiency, but rather work cooperatively to construct a new relationship. To do this, you need to continue to work on forgiveness.
  • Togetherness: Present a united front to friends and family by going public with the “new normal” of your relationship. Tell the people closest to you such as children, in-laws, and close friends that you have recommitted and are working towards rebuilding trust. This idea of getting the word out helps establish this new relationship as “real” and garners support from those closest to you.

Stage 3 (years):

  • Continued boundary setting.
  • Continued trust building.
  • Increased communication, including sharing emotions and needs.
  • Develop new habits to support connection, friendship, and trust.
  • Develop sexual intimacy.

Written by: Hadley Mitchell, R. Psych
Map Psychology Solutions
[email protected]
(587) 330-2999

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