Healing after an affair is painful, tough, and takes time. While a relationship can survive infidelity, both parties have to commit to repairing the damage and begin to rebuild trust. It’s not an exaggeration when you say that it can be a gut-wrenching process. Regardless of the decision to stay or leave, learning how to get over an affair is crucial in moving forward. Whether you’re experiencing guilt from cheating or confusion and loneliness from being cheated on, there are steps you can take to get over an affair.
What is Considered an Affair?
So, what is considered an affair? Most people agree that a sexual relationship is an affair, but what about messaging an ex on social media or sending a flirty message from an online dating profile? Where is the line?
Research into the opinion of 1,000 Americans found that 71-76% of respondents agree that physical, sexual contact is cheating. Some respondents also consider the following as cheating:
- Maintaining an online dating profile
- Going to a strip club
- Sending flirty messages
- Following an ex on social media
Often, emotional cheating is just as bad as a physical affair. It sometimes feels easier to label a physical affair. An emotional affair tends to include more intimacy plus an emotional investment and connection. While cheaters may not view an emotional affair as bad as a physical one, you typically feel the same hurt and betrayal because of the deception.
Why Do Affairs Happen?
There is no one perfect answer as to why people cheat. Dr. Tirrell DeGannes, Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York City, says, “In my experience, clients end up cheating because there was unaddressed unhappiness. An opportunity presented itself that the cheater never mentally prepared to reject, and they found themselves going further without justification. Close relationships outside of the relationship progressed without acknowledgment or boundaries.”
The reason why a person may cheat is usually complex. Cheating is notorious for being a relationship killer. One study sheds some light on the reason why people cheat, and it’s far from simple. The main reasons for cheating included:
- Low commitment
- Lack of love
- Sexual desire
The study found that different motivations influenced why people cheat, how long they would cheat, the emotional investment in the affair, and the outcome of the primary relationship.
There isn’t usually one apparent reason why someone cheats. The truth is that everyone’s relationship or situation is unique. As much as you can try, you can’t control someone else’s actions.
6 Steps: How to Overcome an Affair
It’s normal to feel a range of emotions after an affair, from grief and longing to anger and betrayal. Working through an affair is a harrowing experience that takes a lot of effort from both parties. While infidelity causes emotional pain, you can take the first step to mend the relationship if both parties are committed to healing.
Stop the Affair
If you’re looking to work through the affair, naturally, the first step is to sever all connections with the third party. That means promising to stop the affair immediately and no longer see the other person. All texts, phone calls, coffee breaks, and in-person conversations should end. If you work with the person, keep your relationship strictly professional and limit contact where possible. It’s important to be open and honest as you begin to rebuild trust with your partner.
Seek Couples Therapy
Research shows that some couples choose to remain together and overcome the hurt of the affair. Forgiveness is a critical component of the healing process. Although forgiveness is an essential part of moving forward, it’s also one of the hardest parts. Couples often seek couples therapy to help.
Understand Why the Affair Happened
Another key element of the healing process is exploring the emotions and thoughts surrounding the affair. Think about structuring the communication of the affair. Dr. Tirrell DeGannes says, “the top priority is to open up dialogue to its fullest extent. There cannot continue to be a line in the sand about what is acceptable sharing and what isn't. A culture of secrets leads to perpetual trust issues.”
Talking about the affair, asking, and answering questions is hard, but it’s difficult to recover from something you never speak about. Understanding why the affair happened is the first step before acceptance, accountability, and responsibility.
Address Problems in the Relationship
The reason that someone has an affair is usually complex; it can signify deeper problems within the relationship. By talking through the affair and addressing any other issues within the relationship, you can begin to rebuild trust. After a partner cheats, it can feel almost impossible to trust them. Committing to being honest and open with each other is crucial.
Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions
It’s natural to feel angry, hurt, bitter, and any other emotional state you find yourself in. Don’t try to hide or bottle up your emotions. To get over an affair, you have to work through the pain, which means being honest with yourself and your partner about how you feel. Begin to deal with your emotions so that you can start the healing process.
While there will be yelling, Dr. Tirrell DeGannes says, “I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. To get to the point where yelling doesn't occur, take deep breaths, write down your thoughts, and read them to your partner until you're used to speaking calmly.”
How long does it take to get over an affair? With different types of cheating, couples, and emotions, several factors affect the affair’s recovery timeline. From discovery and grievance to acceptance, you can’t put a precise time on that. It takes time to work through an affair. Whether you decide to stay together or separate, try to be patient with yourself and your partner.
Relationship Issues: Speaking to a Couples Therapist
As an affair is an intense emotional experience, seeking help from a couples therapist can help you deal with the events. Couples therapists are not there to take sides; they help you put the situation into perspective and identify issues that could have led to this moment. Ultimately, their job is to help you to learn to rebuild your relationship. Whether you decide to separate or stay in the relationship, both parties can still benefit from seeking couples therapy as you can apply your new learnings in the future.
Treating the trauma of an affair, processing, and healing all takes time. While you may seek outside support for an affair, many couples also benefit from ongoing treatment. If you’re feeling stuck in a troubled relationship, asking for help can help you move forward. Sometimes, asking for help can be the biggest step in itself.
Relationship therapy is about helping you to build healthy steps towards a more positive future. When there’s so much intense emotion involved, as with an affair, it can be difficult to communicate and find a resolution. If you or your partner need support, the Thriving Center of Psychology team can help you. Schedule an in-person or online therapy consultation by booking an appointment online or over the phone.