To you who have been unfaithful
However, it is often the case that the deceived one gets completely ballistic. Their anger, rage, sorrow and despair can be completely unlimited. Thus, your first task is to make sure that they do not harm themselves, the children or you. You may be able to reassure them or the situation yourself. However, it may be that you evoke such contradictory feelings in them that you do no good at being there, maybe the other way around.
If they unable to restrain themselves and you are unable to help, you must take action. You can ask for someone important and close to them to come around, or book an appointment with the health centre or therapist.
You cannot leave your spouse alone if you are unsure of their or the children’s safety, even though you may feel unwell. If, on the other hand, they expresses their feelings in a way that you can endure, it will be to your advantage.
Avoid making big decisions in the beginning
At the very beginning of the situation, in the first few days, you should refrain from making any major and pivotal decisions. You need to get even a little stability to the situation first. You can try to do it by saying that you have time to talk about what has happened, and that you are not going to make any quick, hasty moves, nothing tangible will happen on your part in the coming weeks. Try to avoid further hurting your spouse in the early stages of emotional turmoil. Do not insult your spouse when provoked.
Avoid disclosing the intimate details of your infidelity so that it only adds to the distress of your partner. Although your spouse has a normal need of knowing, it is not good for them to hear a description of your cheating as if you were watching a video. Once the issue has been discovered, do not continue lying. When the other one is upset, you may think it would be disastrous to tell anything more than they already know. That is not the case. Lying is much more devastating to the continuation of your relationship. Tell your spouse the basics about your infidelity; how long, how often, with whom, who else knows.
You can also try to calm the situation by temporarily cutting off communication with the third wheel, if you have not already done so, and make this known to your spouse. Cutting off communication literally means all means of contact, including calls, SMS, emails, and letters. This may be difficult for you, but your communication with the third wheel will inevitably prolong the initial instability and you will not be able to move forward.
It may also be that your spouse reacts completely opposite to the discovery. They may act as if nothing had happened, close in or withdraw to their shell. This does not mean that they were still not internally wounded. Keep in mind the above also in this case. Do not let your spouse’s seeming calmness and rationality tempt you to make quick, big decisions. Say that you think it is better to think and agree on big things with time.
You should find out for yourself what you want in the future
It may feel very difficult after the discovery. It is painful to see how bad it has made the other and possibly children feel. In addition, your feelings may be exacerbated by conflicting feelings elsewhere. You may feel that you are between a rock and a hard place. One way or another, someone always suffers.
In order to deal with the situation and move on, you need to focus and let the situation calm down. You need to find out for yourself what and why you have done and what you want in the future, unless it is clear to you already. To figure this out, you need to get distance. In addition to cutting of the aforementioned communication, you must resolve what happened to yourself, and not just by discussing it with your spouse.
You probably have a hard time discussing what happened in a civilized manner. Your spouse’s emotions fluctuate sharply, which is normal. Your own feelings of irritation, guilt and shame make it difficult for you to participate in discussions. You would rather leave it behind as soon as possible. Again, this is normal. Generally speaking, the deceived would like to talk about the issue constantly, over and over again, but the unfaithful one would want to leave the issue behind quickly. However, you must be able to talk to one another sooner or later in order to settle your issues.
Some think that since it is done and discovered, there is no undoing it – no point dwelling in it. This is not the case. While you cannot undo it, resolving it can change the way it affects your relationship.
If, even after the situation has calmed down, you cannot even occasionally break away from the “prosecutor – defence” or “pusher – dodger” position, you may want to seek help in couple’s counselling or therapy.
You should know that by going to couple’s counselling you are not yet committing yourself to continue the relationship. You can also go there to find out why you are in such a situation, and what factors have led to it. You can also go there to find out if your relationship can be salvaged or if you should break up. There you can also deal with the potential break up; if one or both want to break up, how to do it so that your children do not suffer unnecessarily and how to continue to be the best possible parents for your children.
There are many options to resolve the situation
It often seems that the contradicted unfaithful one feels that the choice should be made between two options. They should either stick to the straight and narrow and continue the relationship, or break up and continue the relationship with the third wheel. However, if the old relationship has had clear problems from the unfaithful one’s perspective, continuing it as such is neither meaningful nor safe.
Thus, real alternatives may be:
- starting a new, more satisfying relationship with your spouse
- breaking up and starting a new relationship
- living alone.
If you have a constant sense of controversy about how you would choose and with whom you would continue to live together, you might benefit from one-on-one visits with a professional. You could find out what is important and essential to you in each person, what you have been trying to solve by infidelity and what you need for a satisfying relationship. This would give you tools to make a more informed decision, and not rush into action that you might later regret.
You should be aware that if you are in the infatuation stage with the third wheel, the emotions fade on average in one and a half – two and a half years after the relationship stabilizes. Only then can you know what day-to-day life with them really is. Also, it is good to remember that if you have children, they will be part of your life in the future in any case.
Over time, you will begin to see where you want to lead your life in the future. Of course, you may have known it from the beginning. It may have been obvious to you since the discovery that you do not want your relationship with your spouse to end, but that infidelity was something other than finding a new regular partner. Or, it may be that you have been working on your dissatisfaction in your relationship for a longer time and it has now come clear to you that you cannot and do not want to continue it.
If you have chosen to break up, it would be beneficial for you to be able to explain the reasons for your decision to some extent. This is important for you so that you can learn from the experiences of this relationship for the future. That you would not repeat your actions or omissions that contributed to the deterioration of your current relationship in your new relationships.
It would be very important for your current spouse to hear about your experiences in the relationship so that they can gradually see which factors led to the break up. Thus, they can gradually discover their own contribution to what has happened, and can also avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.
In general, it can also be said that it is at least a little easier to get over the break up if you can come up with some kind of an understandable story of what has happened. You cannot do it by reflecting on it just by yourself.
If you were ready to break up from the start, it may be very difficult for you to stop yourself from acting. However, due to the aforementioned reasons, try to restrain yourself while allowing your spouse to adjust to the idea. If you have children, you will not be able to make a quick exit. In order to be able to work as parents of your children in the future, even somehow, you must both be sufficiently prepared to break up.
This does not mean that you are both up for the break up, but that you both must have had time to process the different aspects of the issue. The situation is often such that the other one has been thinking about breaking up for a long time. The other knew nothing of this, and the idea of a break up comes as a complete surprise; the other needs a lot of time, often months, before the other is even somewhat on the same page as the other. It is important to remember that children also need time to prepare for the break up.
The issue must be processed for as long as it is necessary for the spouse
If, at the beginning or later on, you have decided to continue the relationship, you are likely to start thinking about whether it is possible to continue the relationship after infidelity. It is a question that will only be answered over time. It is partly about what you are ready for. If you want a close and open relationship with your spouse in the future, you need to be prepared to process the infidelity for as long as your spouse needs.
Since infidelity is often a traumatic event, the deceived cannot intentionally push it aside. Thus, the fact that they return to it every now and then is not because they might want to irritate you. It just pops to mind, even though they find it hard and often want to get it out of their mind.
The nature of a traumatic experience is that it bothers for a long time. The effect of the trauma will slowly diminish if the spouse can, over time, build a relatively clear and understandable picture of what has happened and also of their own contribution to it. This cannot happen without you. Your spouse cannot know what significance infidelity had to you. Only you can discover it and tell them. If you yourself do not know why you did what you did, you can get help resolving it in couple’s or individual discussions with a professional.
Another key question at this point is whether your spouse can ever trust you again. This is essential because a long-term relationship is not possible unless trust is even substantially restored. However, you should be aware that in such a case, trust is lost in an instant, but regaining it is slow. For your part, you can help your spouse by helping them understand what has happened and its significance.
You should also have to be able to pinpoint the key factors in your life, circumstances or relationship that influenced this to happen. You will then be able to look for other, new and harmless ways to solve those challenges. Thus, it is not enough to apologize and promise that you will no longer be unfaithful. You have probably already promised or implied that you only have an intimate relationship with them. Why would you stick to the decision in the future, if you did not do so in the first place?
If you do not even know yourself why you were unfaithful, you cannot trust that it would not happen again someday. Your spouse can count on it even less. Thus, you need something more tangible to build trust.
Forgiveness is difficult
Forgiveness may have arisen from the outset. You should know that forgiving such a thing in your heart is difficult. If you can ever do that, it will take a long time. It usually requires that you have a good enough picture of what has happened and that the other person has taken part in the processing of it.
You may also progress the issue by assuming full responsibility for infidelity and not trying to transfer it to your spouse’s account. They could not have caused it or driven you to it. Sure, they may have been unsatisfactory in regards to your needs, but there are solutions to those issues other than infidelity.
If your spouse at some point forgives you, it does not mean that they should not be allowed to get back to it. The traumatic event may pop to your spouse’s mind in some occasions. It is normal. It is better that they not have to act like they is no longer bothered. Instead, you should find ways to deal with the issue so that it does not pop to your mind and strain your relationship for an unreasonably long time. It will probably come to mind at times or places that were associated with the event, or when you face a temporary separation, for example due to a business trip.
Intensive processing of the issue takes at least months, and often longer in some ways. As you progress, you will notice that from time to time you are able to concentrate on things other than this. This interval gradually increases, and at some point the occurrence of the issue will only be sporadic. The time it takes depends on many things; what was the nature of the infidelity, how long did it last, who was the third wheel, how it was discovered, how you participated in the processing of the issue, how you grasped to the factors behind infidelity, and how you found new constructive ways to respond to them.
Sometimes it may happen that, even if both want to continue the relationship, you cannot simply get over the issue. It is always between you, and in no way can it be left behind, not even over time. Thus, it may not be possible to continue living together because it easily turns into a constant torture for both. Before you think about these, however, you should do all of the aforementioned. Only then can you say that you have done your best. You should remember that addressing the issue with a good manner can also lead to a better relationship.
The best remedy for infidelity is to attend to the pain it causes to your spouse and help them resolve the issue by all means at your disposal and from outside.
Authors: Relationship Experts, the Family Federation of Finland
Reference: Glass, Shirley P.: Not “Just Friends” – Rebuilding Trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. 2003. Free Press.