Is anything more painful than betrayal? Perhaps not, at least on the topic of relationship. Though common (one fourth to one half, depending on who you ask), this type of rupture is excruciating, and often fatal to the relationship.
Most often, the betrayal seems insurmountable at first. Reactions are understandably strong and absolute; e.g., “I could never be with you again”. “I will always be angry and resentful”.
Healing from an affair does take time, but it is possible, if both people are willing to do the work. How long it takes depends on a number of variables, but I have found on average that two years is a fair estimate. Obviously, for some it takes longer, and others dig deep and work it out sooner. Much of it depends on motivation and willingness to listen and understand.
In the couples with whom I have worked successfully, the repair work actually improved the relationship beyond where it was prior to the affair. How so? Because they both deeply wanted the relationship to heal, they did the work. Telling the truth, no matter how painful. Taking responsibility. Listening to understand. Patiently answering questions over and over again. Compassion. Curiosity. Grace. Replacing negatives with positives. Choosing a response. Big things. Little things. Both people. Believing it could happen. And when it did, both people were able to acknowledge the other’s hard work. Ultimately, the repair work can lead to a deeper connection than ever before,.
I most often recommend that couples read After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D. The book is helpful in normalizing feelings, and offering help in understanding what is going on on both sides. According to Spring, the recovery process is as follows:
Reacting to the Affair.
Dealing with trauma and loss.
The unfaithful partner and choices.
Should we or shouldn’t we stay?
Exploring what love means to you.
Confronting doubts and fears
Learning from the infidelity
Talking about what happened
Learning to forgive.
Regardless of whether or not the relationship can survive the rupture, we hopefully and eventually learn to forgive. This is possible when we are willing to let go of the armor that is anger and resentment. We learn that trust has a deeper and more rewarding meaning when we do the internal work of forgiving, and letting love flow again.