Does infidelity always have to mean the end of the relationship? Affairs can be painful and shocking, and can often cause untold damage. However, for some couples, an affair may also be a path to strength and to a renewed and even stronger relationship.
Here are six steps that will help you move through the aftershocks of an affair so that you can recover your equilibrium as a couple.
Step 1: Take care of yourself.
If you are in the crisis phase, if you just found out about your partner's affair, it's normal to feel distraught. You may be overwhelmed and in shock. It's important to take care of yourself at this time. Even if you have a family to care for, your needs must come first now. Remember, you can't pour from an empty pitcher. Take care of yourself during this phase by letting yourself feel your feelings, getting sufficient rest and nutrition, and finding a support system. You may want to do additional self-care, like massage, acupuncture, or yoga. Think of friends you can call whenever you need to talk. Being alone in your pain can make it harder. Find an online group of helpful, nonjudgmental people to help support you right now.
Step 2: Communicate. Learning to communicate can be difficult, and if your style or skills at dealing with conflict before the affair weren't great, they are probably not helping you now. The skills you can learn in a book like The New Monogamy will give you a good framework for communicating within your relationship. You will need to carve out some time to practice your new communication skills, and you may need a therapist to help you do that. Or you can use the exercises in the book to practice a new kind of dialogue about your feelings and needs with your partner.
Step 3: Have a date night. If you choose to stay together, set aside one night a week just for you and your partner. This is time that is separate from therapy and the children. You may feel awkward at first, as if you were dating, just as you did in the beginning of your relationship. But you need this time to explore your new relationship together. On your date, find something other than the affair to talk about. Give each other a break on date night by keeping things light and polite. Even if you are feeling intense emotions, you may need a break from the constant worry and frustration.
Step 4: Address the reality. Why did the affair happen? Through insight and discussion, you will explore together how you got to this place. Now that you are taking care of yourself, practicing your communication skills, and setting aside time to be together, you can begin the real work of figuring out how you both created the path you are now on. Only one of you may have cheated, but both of you need to change now if you are to stay together. In what ways can each of you grow from this experience?
Step 5: Create a new monogamy agreement. Your new monogamy agreement will clear away all the unspoken expectations that led to the betrayal and hurt that you feel now. You can rewrite your agreement to include anything that the two of you may find valuable for your future. This new vision of your relationship going forward is a new beginning. It's not a way to go back to your old relationship, but rather a way to create a new partnership based on a mutual understanding of what will work for both of you.
Step 6: Initiate erotic recovery. Spending a lifetime together and staying monogamous won't be easy. Let's face it: desiring one person for a lifetime doesn't happen effortlessly. It happens because you apply the energy and practice it. Monogamy isn't something that happens automatically because you made a vow when you first committed to each other. Monogamy is a practice. You must focus on it, honor it, and choose it every day. Working every day on your erotic life means that you are both committing to that practice. And as with anything that you need to practice, some days will go better than others. Eventually you will get better at it, until one day you may even find that you are monogamy experts.
For more information on creating your new monogamy agreement, click here.
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a world renowned sex and relationship expert and the author of The New Monogamy and Getting the Sex You Want. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com