As a marriage counselor in Denver, CO, I see a lot of couples who sit on my couch because one spouse had an affair. Most of the time, if both spouses are sitting on my couch, they want to repair their relationship. But in many cases, the spouses who have been cheated on aren't certain whether or not they can make their relationships work — even if they want to.
If you've been cheated on, you often wonder how you can be certain it'll never happen again. You wonder how you can ever trust your spouse again. After all, your spouse has been such a believable liar in the past, so you don't know if you'll be able to see through future lies.
Despite all the questions and betrayal that you feel, there are ways that you and your spouse can recover from an affair and come out stronger for it.
1) Create accountability
Whenever there is an affair, there's almost always two vulnerabilities going on: 1) something in the relationship that made it vulnerable to an affair, and 2) a vulnerability in one of the partners to act out and have an affair. Because of this, there is accountability for both partners to take. You can take accountability by looking inside the relationship to see what made the relationship vulnerable to the affair, and you can work to fix that vulnerability now and in the future.
This doesn't mean it's your fault that your partner cheated on you. Many relationships go through low points, and most people are able to make it through without having an affair. The fact that your spouse acted on the vulnerability in the relationship by having an affair is 100 percent his or her responsibility — and your spouse needs to take ownership for what it was inside of him or her that acted out.
2) Create new boundaries
Boundaries not only protect you, but they also send messages to others about how to treat you. As a couple, you need to identify ways to repair broken boundaries and protect your relationship from outside influences. This means the partner who was having the affair needs to show that he or she is willing to put the relationship first. This means stopping communication with the affair partner, dedicating more time to the marriage and discovering the many ways your spouse has allowed outside influences to come before your marriage.
You also need to create new boundaries. You need to make it clear to your partner what you will and won't accept in the relationship, and you need to make it clear what your expectations in the relationship are moving forward.
No one expects his or her spouse to have an affair. But in all my years of practice, I can probably count on one hand the times when a spouse has been completely surprised that his or her partner was having an affair. Most of the time, spouses say they saw signs but ignored them, or they'll say that they had their suspicions but didn't think it was really possible.
The truth is, if you really think about it, you've had an inner voice all along that was telling you something wasn't quite right. It might not have been very loud or it might have been easy to ignore, but if you look back, you'll see that it really was there all along. And listening to that same inner voice will give you the confidence moving forward to trust yourself and see for certain whether your spouse is doing the work necessary to protect your relationship from another affair.
4) Learn to love again
After creating accountability, setting boundaries and letting your inner voice shine through, it's time to learn to love again. This means it's time to soften those places that have become guarded or calloused as a result of the affair. If your partner has been taking ownership and protecting the relationship by setting boundaries, it's normally safe to let yourself love again — which means you can trust your spouse with your heart again and begin to build a new relationship.
Remember, your old relationship with your spouse was vulnerable, so you don't want that one back again. You need to make a new relationship that builds on the strengths you've learned through the healing process. In a very real way, you've become different people and are learning to love each other again. Both you and your relationship are all the better for it because you've addressed and overcome the vulnerabilities within the relationship and within yourself.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.