Infidelity happensÃ¢â‚¬”often. Twenty-five percent of people admit to an extramarital affair, per the Journal of Comparative Family Studies (some experts put that figure even higher). But counselors no longer advise extreme coping methods, like ignoring the cheating or automatically splitting. So whether you were caught with your pants down or he was, ask yourself whether the relationship is worth saving. If so, this advice can help you work (and we really do mean work) through the wreckage to come out a stronger, happier couple.
Sever Ties with the Other Lover
Start with the obvious: End the affair for good. The first and most crucial step is to remove the other man or woman from your lives, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., a psychiatrist in Naples, Florida, and author of The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity.
Don't just take his word that he's cut off his mistress, or expect him to trust that you've ended things. The two of you have to handle this breakup together. Even though it will be an emotionally charged, and possibly surreal, thing to do, sit down with your guy to write an e-mail or letter to this person that states very clearly that all contact must end, that he or she can no longer be a part of your life. Haltzman suggests phrasing like "My partner is writing this with me. I can't see you again. I need to work on my relationship. Please don't contact me."
This way the person who was cheated on regains some power, and the cheater shows that his or her priorities are back on track.
Odds are, the mistress or mantress will respond or get in touch in some way (after all, this person hasn't respected the boundaries of your relationship before). That's why it's crucial that both you and your guy agree to being what Haltzman calls "completely transparent," and that means some intense, privacy-busting stuff.
You both must be allowed to look at each other's text messages, phone records, e-mail, social media accounts, and banking passwordsÃ¢â‚¬”even STD test resultsÃ¢â‚¬”for as long as the partner who was cheated on deems necessary. Sound overly intrusive? Maybe so. But, Haltzman says, "all of your efforts should be toward reestablishing trust, and part of that is showing you have nothing to hide."
Keep in mind, however, that "you have to shift out of the mode of being a detective out to catch someone doing something wrong, to a partner working to make sure things continue to go right," says Haltzman.
So, if your guy receives a message from his ex-mistress and you happen to see it first, don't instantly accuse him of relapsing. Or if your ex-flame contacts you, don't withhold that info out of fear. Instead, discuss it calmly until the trust is restored.
Do Ask, Do Tell
Get ready to ask and ask (or answer and answer) lots of probing (and heartbreaking) questions. According to Haltzman, a healthy way to discuss infidelity is for the partner who was cheated on to get all the details he or she wantsÃ¢â‚¬”the who, what, when, where, why, how, and how often. "They may also want to know how far it intruded into their own lives: Did their partner buy gifts or invite the person back to the home they share?" he says.
If you're doing the asking, try to stick to questions you'll be comfortable learning the answer to. (Ask yourself, "Can I live with my partner if I know this information? Will I find out something useful or not?") If you're doing the answering, respond to every question directly and honestly, even if they're as specific as what sex positions you used or if there were toys involved. Really. That's because, much like a crime-scene investigator, the cheated party won't be able to consider the case closed and move on until they hear all the facts that they've deemed important.
Being this honest also shows that the cheater is done lying (something he or she probably did a lot of during the affair). But you don't need to offer details your partner didn't ask for, and if a question comes up related to your own feelings, you can filter your response. There's no reason to be hurtful by saying something like "He was hotter than you." "It's more important to share the facts," says Haltzman.
Take a Break, Together
A post-affair honeymoon sounds bizarre (and like the last thing you need right now), but it will jump-start healing, says Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of His Needs, Her Needs. So leave talk of the affair, as well as your friends, families, and jobs, behind for an extended period of undivided couple time. "This is an emotional step, not a rational one," says Harley. "If you want to stay with your partner, you'll have to open yourself up." This will also help you get away from everyone else's comments about what happened, which can cloud your judgment and desire to work things out.
Harley recommends a trip that doesn't allow for much wandering, like a cruise. The point is to spend time together. Avoid finding another couple to hang with or talking about the affair (or anything else that might make you want to flee). "Just be together and try to make it as romantic as possible," he says. As for sex, you can get back to it as soon as you're both ready and there's no more anger or dishonesty. There's something to be said for making an effort to reconnect physically, and by the time you return, you may both feel a lot better about your union.
Spark the Passion
The cheating itself is not the only factor in most divorce cases. Says Margaret Klaw, author of Keeping It Civil and family lawyer and partner at Berner Klaw & Watson, LLC, in Philadelphia, "I hear, 'Yes, there was cheating, but the marriage has been over for years.'" So how can you make your own union one you want to be a part of again?
"Don't go back to your [pre-vacation] schedule and routine," says Harley. Instead, devote at least 15 hours a week (two hours a day or the majority of the weekend) to couple time, during which you can rebuild your romance and meet each other's emotional and physical needs. Do activities you both like (check out new restaurants or try trendy workouts), and keep up the honesty and transparency.
If after all of this, you don't feel like your relationship is becoming better, consider therapy or couples counseling to help you work through your feelings and figure out what your next best move should be.