Recovering from an affair. How long does it take?

By | January 15, 2023

How hard is recovering from an affair? Learning how to recover from an affair isn’t just a matter of how badly someone wants to heal. It’s also of a matter of time and dedicated intentional work. I can’t tell you how many times each week I’m asked how long does this take. And my answer is always it just depends. One thing is for sure that recovering from an affair will take longer than both of you expected and it’s not necessarily based on how badly you want to recover. It’s been my experience that it takes most couples honestly two to three years with the help of a qualified professional guiding them. And unfortunately, it can take longer when they’re not dedicated to repair and to rebuilding and when the focus is on just getting over it and moving on.

Why does it take much longer than you thought?

Paradoxically, it’s just going to take much longer. Because the psychic wounds of infidelity run deep and are severe and most often they’re disastrous to the relationship when they try to go it alone when my dad was a little boy about nine years old, he and his friends were playing in an abandoned warehouse and somehow my dad cut his foot. Not just a little bit, but multiple deep cuts. He had to have multiple surgeries over a couple of years and had to use crutches for a little over three years. And after his last surgery, he had to do months of physical therapy and strengthening exercises. You know, no one ever told him to quit faking it to get over it to get on with it. On the contrary. People were telling him to take it easy to take his time to be patient with himself because he was pushing himself. No one minimizes the extent of his injuries or the courage and the patients he exhibited and that it took as he worked to regain the use and the strength in his foot. This was because his injuries were apparent. And as a result, there was this outpoint of support from his parents and his family and his teachers and his friends. That’s not necessarily the case for those who have been betrayed because those wounds are hidden are in secret. Their recovery is certainly as difficult as that of my dad. But there’s little of any support. Instead, they’re frequently told to simply forgive and move on and quit bringing it up. They’re told that if they’re made is sufficiently remorseful and if their marriage fails, it’ll be their fault for not getting over it quickly enough. That’s the equivalent of telling my dad that he needed to jump out of bed and could be in a drama queen. If anyone who would have done that would have been seen as unrealistic or cruel or uncaring. People really need to understand that it’s going to take two plus years for all of the shock waves of infidelity to subside. It doesn’t mean that it’s all bad for two years. In fact, couples may find that they’re doing better than ever during that period, but at any given moment.

Wounds don’t heal fast

Reminders and triggers can still occur and couples will find themselves experiencing the same distress that they felt at the very beginning at the time of discovery in the best of situations during the initial six weeks couples are on a never ending roller coaster and it can take one two hundredth of a second for an injured spouse to be triggered and move into a state of being emotionally overwhelmed learning to maintain safety for partners essential during this time. There’s a season of discovery and reaction. And going slow and being honest in finding a good support group is paramount in this phase, hopefully after the first six weeks of the revelation stage. It should be complete reminders and triggers are known by both spouses. And they’re learning to deal with them, not necessarily avoid them. Empathy becomes the focus and communicated often and consistently anxiety usually begins to decrease. As anger begins to increase in the betrayed spouse, anger increases because finally the betrayed spouse isn’t quite as anxious about whether the marriage is going to make it or not. And they begin to feel their own pain as they begin to feel more secure in the marriage. And the unfaithful spouse can continue to communicate empathy, support, honesty. And be patient. That phase of anger will not last long. But if they fail to do that. It could drag this phase out for years in the next ninety days, the focus is on anger management and relapse prevention. Forgiveness is defined and a marital vision will begin to emerge normally the second six months is more manageable. Each person can hopefully see their mates efforts at recovery and they begin to understand what went wrong. Maybe they are each working at healing previous wounds from childhood, adolescence and previous relationship. Intimacy should be improving as they process all of this. It’s a lot to do and this results in a decrease in the marital tension and an increase in hope. Frequently, couples tell me that they’re doing better than they’ve ever done before, but at twelve months the wheels can come off again. The reminders created by the one year anniversary of discovery or disclosure. Can send a couple all the way back to ground zero and leave them feeling totally discouraged and thinking no progress has been made over the past year. Well, that’s not the case. Re-experiencing the same arguments and difficulties they had at the beginning of the journey is disheartening. Psychic wounds last. Anniversary reactions are a normal occurrence for most couples dealing with infidelity. Fortunately, the climb out of the difficulties created by the anniversary actions is not nearly as difficult as it was initially and couples who hold on to hope and some acknowledgment of the work they’ve done during these hard times. They’ll find new levels of intimacy in their recovery journey.

Final steps of recovering

Empathy and compassion and understanding are necessary components to overcoming these anniversary setbacks in the way I see it. Is months thirteen to twenty four represent a time of reconstruction. This is a time if both parties are working their own personal recovery, they discover what made their relationship vulnerable. It’s a time of possibilities as they find new ways of relating. It’s a time of recommitment when each party decides if they’re willing to be all in and to give the relationship a second chance while there still be rough patches if a couple is on a good trajectory, they can see the possibility of a new and a better life. And of course. The timeline that I’ve just laid out is it true for all couples. But it can serve as a guideline. And I hope that everyone will understand most importantly that it takes time. You won’t get over this overnight. There’s no way to shortcut the process. I wish there was, but there’s not so please be patient with yourself and each other. It takes time. One thing you can do to expedite the process is learn to talk calmly about how you feel about what happened. In fact, you need to do this a lot. It’s the one thing that seems to help couples work through the process and guys. This is so hard to do in addition to the infidelity that you’re working through all marriages, happy or miserable seem to have to deal with the same tasks of being married. You’ve got work and kids and aging parents and finances. You name it. The list goes on and on. Those didn’t go away. They didn’t go anywhere and every couple every couple I’ve ever worked with, including me, has messed up communication. We all do it. Every marriage has some challenges. The thing that matters most is the ability to repair when things go wrong when we’ve made a mistake repair is so important. I really believe that’s where we learn to where we heal some of our our previous wounds and it’s learn where we learn how to do it differently going forward to help with the repair from the impact of infidelity. You’ll cover a lot of ground quickly and it has the potential to put most couples about four or five months down the road on the recovery journey or at least it gives you the tools to do so. Finally, be patient recovery takes time and intentional work. But from my personal experience and our data shows that it is well worth the time and effort.

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