Healing After Cheating: Two Experts Offer Hope and Specific Steps

Most experts agree: it’s possible for there to be healing after cheating. Couples can—and often do— survive. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by, Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity (2013), believes at least 50 percent make it.

I. Scott Haltzman

In an interview with Michel Martin, NPR, Haltzman noted the same pattern I’ve seen myself regarding marital affairs: “…10 years ago, the most common complaints that I heard had to do with people in the workplace. And that has entirely shifted…[to situations in which] their partner has been texting somebody, receiving emails, spending time messaging them on Facebook.”

Affairs frequently have characteristics of addiction, and Haltzman actually labels cheating a “flame addiction“: “The chemical rush, cravings, and after-the-fact guilt of a new conquest can be a powerful draw, like a moth to a flame, without regard to the cost.”

His model involves prescribing the following steps to couples aiming for healing after cheating (Hitched Magazine):

  1. Abstain–“For the flame addict, it means having no further contact with the extramarital person who ignites your passion.”
  2. Avoid Triggers–This includes avoidance of anything associated with the cravings, which in today’s world is often the internet.
  3. Foster Recovery–Practice such 12-step recovery principles as taking things one day at a time, finding serenity, turning toward one’s higher power, and seeking support and guidance.

II. Janis Spring

Another expert who helps couples stay together is Janis A. Spring, author of After the Affair (updated 2012).

It takes time and patience in order for there to be healing after cheating, of course. Spring: “The process is a rollercoaster. I tell patients that it can take a year-and-a-half, or longer, to feel okay again.”

The following 10 steps are advised by Spring (rd.com):

  1. Honesty First–“…In the wake of discovering infidelity, Spring asks the wronged party to detail their grievances to their partner by articulating an unsparing and emotionally raw declaration.”
  2. Bearing Witness–“…Spring insists that the offender ‘bear witness’ to the pain they’ve caused rather than defend or deflect the impact, and pinpoints this willingness to take responsibility as vital to the rebuilding of trust.”
  3. A Written Apology–The cheater is counseled to paraphrase what the partner has said and then write a letter showing a detailed understanding of the hurt that’s been caused.
  4. Avoid Cheap Forgiveness–Which is what Spring calls the common tendency to offer perhaps-not-yet-deserved forgiveness.
  5. Sharing Responsibility–“…(T)he wronged party must also acknowledge their own role in fostering an unhappy union, however minuscule. The hurt person must see how they had a hand in facilitating the loneliness or isolation that compelled their companion to have an affair and take steps to ensure greater emotional intimacy in the future.”
  6. Setting Rules–Guidelines need to be established about how a partner might have access to specific areas of the cheater’s life, e.g., phone records, computer sites.
  7. Redefine Sexual Intimacy–Acknowledging that this takes time, “…Spring suggests that couples foster sexual intimacy by creating an ongoing dialogue of fears and desires that eventually leads to physical vulnerability.”
  8. Ignore the Aphorisms–Such as “once a cheater, always a cheater”—as common wisdom is often false.
  9. Reality Check–“In the aftermath of cheating, it’s easy to feel as if your relationship is uniquely dysfunctional, yet the majority of long-term couples undergo at least one instance of infidelity. The stigma surrounding adultery keeps the issue on the DL, but take heart: many couples emerge from an affair feeling closer and more honest than before. Most relationships could benefit from some degree of trust-building and emotional closure, regardless of what spurs the development.”
  10. Letting Go–As things improve, it’s important to lessen the monitoring of the cheater’s behavior. “The onus rests on both parties to prove they are willing to put renewed energy in their relationship, which requires taking risks in a partnership that was formerly fraught and alienating.”
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