The truth is out.
That secret you held on to for so long, that double life you worked so hard to hide – it has finally come to light. Chances are you always expected for the truth to come out. Part of you probably wanted the truth to be known. Yet, the aftermath is far greater than you could have ever imagined.
One thing you may be thinking: there were problems even before the affair. For you, it might have been a disconnect in the marriage, or unspoken yearnings in yourself, or the added stress of a new child or job. Whatever the case may be, you may be thinking this affair is clearly a symptom of some greater problem that has gone unaddressed or unresolved. These problems do need to be addressed. However, now is not yet the time for that.
An affair is like a fire in a house with pre-existing structural issues. You must first put out the fire and deal with the smoke and damage it caused before you can fix the structural problems. Likewise, the problems in the marriage that led to the affair cannot be worked on until the fall-out from the affair is dealt with.
So how do you do that?
Step 1: Decide what you want – to save the marriage or to end it.
If you have decided to stay in your marriage, you need to end the affair. The time for secrets is done. For things to get better, you cannot have one foot in the door and one out. If you have decided that this affair is the end, then there are healthy and honest ways in which to end the marriage with the least amount of pain. Mediation and divorce care are powerful and beneficial tools that many therapists can help you with. Whatever you decide, you will have some healing to do personally. There are therapists, clergy, and other trained professionals who help couples dealing with infidelity. If you can be the one to start this help, and you are willing, then now is the time. The sooner you get in front of someone, the sooner the healing process can begin.
Step 2: Allow for your spouse’s pain.
Whether this affair lasted one night or 3 years, your spouse has just discovered that their world was a lie. Most spouses, when confronted with this unfaithfulness, are incredibly affected and often traumatized by this shift in their reality. They will be angry. They will have 1000 questions – some you will know the answer to, some you won’t know, and others that you will not want to answer. You need to begin making space for their pain. Work at staying present. If their emotion is scary for you, work on leaning into it. If they ask for space or give you the silent treatment, work on respecting that desire. A therapist can help you in doing this and can help you address your own feelings in the process.
Step 3: Realize that the fall-out to your choices is widespread.
Affairs always have ripple effects and affect more than your spouse. The list can include kids, family, jobs, and other relationships. Some of these you may see coming, some you may not.
Step 4: Settle in for a marathon.
Healing from an affair is possible, but takes time. Trust, that can so easily be broken in a moment, can be restored. Things can and should improve along the way, but it can take an average of 2 years of hard work in therapy to restore the trust broken through an affair.
As your relationship begins to heal from the wound of an affair, there will be an opportunity to begin to address the structural problems you believe were there before the affair occurred. As the two of you begin to heal together, there will be opportunities for new intimacy and honesty between the two of you unlike anything you ever expected. The marathon is long, but it can lead to a finish line – the marriage you always wanted. There is still hope.