The path forward won’t be easy, but healing is possible.
When infidelity quakes a marriage, concern usually rallies around the betrayed spouse. Figuring out how to get over an affair when you cheated is most often left to…well…you.
Overcoming infidelity is a gut-wrenching process, regardless of a decision to stay in or leave the marriage.
Your load of guilt, confusion and loneliness may weigh in close to the weight of your spouse’s pain. But you may not feel worthy of the same sympathy and support available to your devastated spouse.
The jilted spouse may feel surprising emotions like shame and embarrassment, and may not want to share the reality with anyone. But there will always be an abundance of supportive resources to guide him/her to healing.
Learning how to get over an affair when you cheated, however, and assuming you want to repair your marriage requires your commitment to healing two lives: your spouse’s and your own. And that can feel like a double life in itself.
Even if your marriage dissolves as a result of your infidelity, you will have to do a lot of work to heal from your affair. You will have guilt, loss and behavioral patterns to process.
And you will have to evolve into a person not forever mired in guilt, and also not predisposed to cheating again. If you don’t, you will most likely repeat old behaviors with similar outcomes.
If you and your spouse survive the early devastation with a desire to save your marriage, you can learn how to get over an affair. When you cheated, you may not have known what you wanted. But now it’s time to decide…and to begin the healing.
And that includes healing you. Yes, you chose to stray, and yes, that onus will always be yours. But creating a new and better marriage means you both have to bring the best of yourselves to it.
For this reason, you need to start with healing your own heart and self-esteem. You will then be much better able to embrace the humbling, challenging work of healing your spouse and marriage.
Self-love may sound like an oxymoron in the aftermath of hurtful, destructive behavior. But no relationship, whether with yourself or a current or future partner, can thrive if your heart pumps only self-disdain through your veins.
Please give pause to the following acts of self-healing. Once you understand these, you’ll be in a better position to do your part in healing your marriage.
- Forgive yourself.
In no way is forgiveness a dismissal of accountability. It is, however, permission to pick yourself up and learn from your fall. It is the green light to move forward in gratitude for grace and the opportunity to grow.Take personal account of your beautiful gifts and your capacity to love. Write them down. Chant them to yourself. Express gratitude for them.
And extend your self-forgiveness to a commitment to use those gifts in a transformational way going forward.
- Practice acceptance.
You will have to come to grips with the choices you have made and the suffering those choices have caused. Acceptance is about owning that truth and being able to stand in that reality without immediately tossing the hot potato off to someone else.
There may have been many defects in your marriage, but the choice of infidelity as a response was completely yours. Your acceptance will ground you so that you can take appropriate action.
- Give it up to your Higher Power.
There’s a reason the 12 Steps have brought sanity, healing and livability to millions of people.
You don’t have to be a religious person to believe that there is a “bigger plan” at work in our world and lives. By tapping into that seed of faith, you could open yourself to miracles you might never create on your own.
- Embrace the balance.
Remember the Law of Duality that keeps the Universe in balance. There are two sides to every coin, but one coin.
While you have caused a lot of pain, you are also responsible for a lot of good. Trust that your Higher Power is at work to bring these two extremes into balance, and that all will be well.
- Learn, learn, learn! And then move on.
The essence of how to get over an affair when you cheated lies in what you learn from the experience.
You can demonstrate your remorse by your ardent self-exploration and application of lessons. What are your beliefs, values and communication/behavioral/response patterns? What needs work?
You can turn this painful chapter of your marriage and life into an inspirational life (and potentially an inspirational union too).
As challenging and “raw” as the above work may be, doing the recovery work with your spouse may challenge you even more. That’s why it is so important that you not neglect the work with yourself and your Higher Power.
You will draw resolve and strengthened virtues like humility and trustworthiness from that work. And these will nourish you, your spouse and your marriage-in-the-making during the work ahead.
The work of getting over your affair and restoring your marriage doesn’t belong to you alone. Both you and your spouse will have high-level tasks to complete. Some will be tasks you can “check off,” and some will be ongoing and evolving.
Because you are reading about how to get over an affair when you cheated, here are your five high-level tasks.
- Stop the affair.
The cheating has to stop — completely. And only you know if you have forged a relationship that you want/need to end.You can’t work on any relationship while you are holding onto another. Saving your marriage means cutting off the potential for temptation by cutting off all contact with your affair partner.
- Commit to complete honesty.
No more lying, and no excuses or justification for the affair.
You are going to have to answer a lot of questions, and they likely won’t end anytime soon.
The sensitive and fragile nature of this process is good reason to go into couples/marriage counseling as soon as possible. Therapists who specialize in couples only will be able to guide this very delicate process with wisdom and safety.
They will also know how to ensure that your spouse gets deserved answers to their countless questions, while not sneaking into potentially traumatizing details.
- Take responsibility for your actions.
If you have been committed to the above healing work for your own life, you will be prepared for this task.
Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you sign off as a perpetual punching bag as punishment for your transgression. It means you don’t blame the marriage or your spouse — no matter how many defects they may have — for your choice.
It also means you show up for the atoning work ahead, even when it’s uncomfortable. (And it will be.)
- Be sympathetic, loving and patient.
Your spouse isn’t going to seem like the spouse you once loved or even want to love for a long time. How could they?
Regaining trust is a long earned-moment-by-moment process. You are going to have to be selfless and committed more than ever before.
Your spouse has essentially “waited” for you. Now you have to “wait” for your spouse.
When you feel your patience waning, call upon your gratitude that your spouse has agreed to stay and work on your marriage.
- Be willing to create a new marriage.
If you have to formally say goodbye to your first marriage, do so. What’s important is that you don’t set yourselves up for failure by clinging to a relationship that no longer exists.
Yes, you are the same people with the same children and the same “marriage.” And yet, you’re not the same people. And your marriage isn’t the same either.
And that vulnerable, mysterious, unchartered place of creating a new marriage together is also where the power of choice comes in.
Some of the greatest journeys have stepped out of original-plans-gone-wrong.
When you are the one who has been unfaithful, it’s natural not to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The self-damnation is often worse than any sentence your spouse or the world could impose.
But it’s important that you can look in the mirror and see a person whose goodness balances painful choices. It will never justify infidelity as a response to your dissatisfactions, but it will be the wellspring of new and better choices going forward.
Knowing how to get over an affair when you cheated starts in that deep, inner space where all “knowing” exists. And that means you are going to have to be the first to do what you eventually hope your spouse will do: trust you.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals navigate the repercussions of infidelity. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.