How Can I Heal from Infidelity?

Infidelity is all too common and when it occurs it raises many questions. Should you stay? Can trust be rebuilt? Of all of the real-life stories of women interviewed for my research, Penny’s story best illustrates the searing pain of infidelity and how it can be toxic to all family members. Penny, in her late thirties, says with passion in her voice, “My dad is a musician and his pattern was to marry (three times) and be happy at first. Then he went out to play the guitar, and he didn’t come home for several weeks. As I said earlier, he wasn’t a family man and should never have gotten married.” As a young adult, Penny reenacted patterns from her past when she married Steven, who had several flings during their ten-year marriage. Penny was attracted to a partner who bore a strong resemblance to her father – who was emotionally unavailable and unfaithful to her mother.

In order to better understand infidelity and to find out if a marriage can be saved after adultery takes place, I decided to look to the experts.  What I learned may surprise you. The truth is that while infidelity can be devastating to a marriage, some specialists believe that it is important to try to resolve the crisis and rebuild trust if possible. According to therapists Rona B. Subotnik, L.M.F.T and Gloria Harris, Ph.D., getting to the root of infidelity is crucial. In their popular book Surviving Infidelity they write, “Because extramarital sex still plays a role in the dissolution of many marriages, and because the divorce rate continues to be so high, it is important to know more about it.” Subotnik and Harris’s goal is to keep most marriages together – even after they’ve been crushed by the wounds of infidelity.

Surprisingly, there are many ways to assess the seriousness of the threat that infidelity has on your marriage. But first let’s look at some basic definitions of adultery, infidelity, and affairs. Adultery is either a legal or religious term defined as sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. On the other hand, infidelity means unfaithfulness or disloyalty. Finally, an affair is defined as an illicit amorous relationship. In any case, our current culture tends to minimize or ignore the serious consequences of infidelity and to cover up the pain it causes.

The four types of affairs as described by Subotnik and Harris also include on-line affairs. They are: serial, flings, romantic, and long-term. At this point, you might wonder – what difference does it make? Don’t all affairs have a severe impact on the integrity of a marriage? Actually, serial affairs are not always serious in terms of the threat they pose to a marriage but they put a partner at great risk for exposure to AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. Serial affairs, which can be described as a series of one-night stands and/or a series of many affairs, indicate an attempt to avoid emotional intimacy. However, flings – which can be a one-night stand or can go on for months— don’t involve any emotional investment and are the least serious type of affair.

Romantic love affairs- think the movie “Casablanca”- and long-term affairs pose the greatest threat to a marriage. The romantic love affair involves a high degree of emotional investment and can be quite serious if it goes on for awhile. Just as the name implies, the long-term affair lasts for many years and poses the most threat to the integrity of the marriage because it involves a high level of emotional investment and can go on for decades.

How is it that a couple can rebuild trust after infidelity? Certainly the loss of the marriage you envisioned for yourself can cause intense rage, jealousy, and sadness. For the most part, if you survived infidelity you went through the stages of grief and loss including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In many cases, coping with infidelity can be so painful that survivors can benefit from individual, couple, and group therapy. Being able to express your feelings in a safe environment can facilitate healing and reduce stress.

Examining your beliefs about love, marriage, and commitment are important as you try to rebuild trust with your partner after adultery takes place. It takes time to rebuild trust and it happens in degrees. Over time, an unfaithful partner may be able to restore trust and love in a marriage if they show trustworthiness through their words and actions.

If you have survived infidelity, you may decide that divorce is the only option. Even if you suspected that your partner was cheating, knowing for certain is intensely disturbing. In many cases, the decision to terminate a marriage is made by your partner. Regardless, divorce is typically a painful process for all involved. Knowing the type of affair your spouse is involved in can help you determine the seriousness of it but does not take away the pain associated with it. Nonetheless, assessing the degree of severity and the threats that it poses to your marriage, can help you to make a decision about continuing in the relationship.

 Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

If you have ever survived infidelity please share your comments. We’d love to hear from you and value your feedback. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”


13 Responses to “How Can I Heal from Infidelity?”

  1. Sharona Zee says:

    I survived fidelity, sadly my marriage did not. One of the most helpful books I read in the aftermath was:

    Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley P. Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli

    In a weird way, it helped me to learn that it was just a painfully ordinary average affair…it depersonalized it a bit.

    • Terry says:

      Thanks Sharona! I’m glad you liked the blog and I also enjoyed “Just friends” – it’s an amazing book. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Regards, Terry

  2. My ex-husband’s infidelity was heart-breaking and crushed me. It was from doing pigeon pose in yoga, therapy, and learning to be able to care and love myself again that I was able to forgive him for it and take responsibility for my part in it. No, it is not okay for a partner to cheat but I truly believe there are always two people in a relationship and no one person is all to blame.

    My marriage did not survive partly because of timing. He was not ready to heal and work on the marriage when I most needed that from him. And, once he was ready, I had moved on.

    Now, we are good friends and wonderfully honest and loving co-parents to our daughter. All is possible and healing and love are key.

    Thank you so much for the article Terry!

    • Terry says:

      Candace, You are welcome! It sounds like you are at peace with your divorce and have moved forward. I’m so pleased to hear that you appreciated my article. Keep in touch! Regards, Terry

  3. Jerry says:

    My marriage didn’t survive after years of her infidelity. Unfortunately there are so many unresolved issues between us . We have been both great co-parents for our kids though. For that, I’m thankful.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Jerry, Thanks for sharing! I’m sorry to hear about your marriage ending but glad you can be good co-parents. There are so many reasons why a marriage doesn’t survive infidelity – especially is it’s repeated and a person isn’t motivated to change their behavior. Please visit us again! Regards, Terry

  4. Donna says:

    I was able to move on from the infidelity, but giving that trust back was proving to be very hard, it always sat in the back of my mind and made me wonder where he was, who he was with or who he was talking. I was working on giving the trust back but unfortunately he did not want to work on earning it back and left he marriage instead. Not sure how it would have worked out if any different should he have been a willing participant in the healing process.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Donna, Thanks for sharing your journey with infidelity. I appreciate your situation and how difficult it can be. I hope you come back and visit us soon. Warmly, Terry

  5. Terry says:

    Hi, I can’t erase your name so won’t publish your comment. You sound like you can benefit from professional counseling and reading and blogging about your issue. Most people can’t rebuild trust and a marriage after situations such as yours.

    I am a divorce adjustment expert but can’t give advice about specific cases – it would not be fair or ethical.

    Best Wishes,


  6. Natalie says:

    I am trying to move on from the infidelity. He left (literally- I came home from work one day to find his closet and dresser empty) the marriage and lied to me about why he left when I called his cell phone. Found out after a few weeks of his being gone that there was a girlfriend he had been seeing for a few years! I have been through the feelings of doubt, low self-esteem, blaming myself, all the bad emotions. It has been a year and I still have moments of overpowering grief. I am also struggling financially as I was a stay at home mom for 20 years. I have no marketable skill so can only find low paying work. It has gotten better but when will I feel that I am better off as everyone tells me.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Natalie,

      Sorry to hear about your situation. You can’t put a time frame on dealing with grief/loss but things do improve over time. As you move on with your life and feel empowered by getting training, perhaps a new job, making new friends, etc. Getting support from people who share similar situations and receiving counseling can help you deal with all of the emotions that go with feeling rejected and blindsided by your ex leaving.Also, keep reading and hope to see you back on our site!

  7. Adrienne says:

    After cheating for 7 years, and always believing his words (lies) I stayed and stayed, and gave and gave. I’m emotional and physically exhausted. Suffer with depression and anxiety. I feel as though I’m sacrificing my happiness and sanity. I always said my parents should have divorced because growing up I was miserable. I wanted this marriage to work so bad, I’ve lost all of my immediate family and close friends because I have faith, believed in my vows and wanted my son to grow up with both parents. At 41, I’m now realizing I HAVE to do it, I can’t co to ur living this way, he hasn’t changed, refuses to thing he has to and blames everyone for anything. I’ve also he is a narcissist and I’ve been a victim. I refused to listen to my therapist and my Pastor believing the words of my husband that he wanted a family, loved us and would begin to “show emotion. It’s been a year and I’ve yet to see a change. I’m praying for strength and courage to finally leave this miserable life I’m in.

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