Life After the Affair


Earlier: Recovering From an Affair

“The cruelest lies are often told in silence.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

There is no bigger paradigm shift that a relationship experiences than in the aftermath of disclosing or discovering an affair. The betrayal cuts deep and shreds not only the trust between the couple, but often the ability to trust one’s own judgment and the agreements that we believed defined our lives. Less than a third of all couples who encounter the experience, which is more than half of all of us, actually heal the experience. Many couples never get beyond the initial crisis that the affair creates, choosing to leave the relationship with their wounds intact and the rest of the relationship in tatters.

Often this knee jerk response is a result of fear and ignorance. The pain and instability it creates feels all-consuming and we don’t know how to navigate the process. Considering how prevalent the experience of affairs is, there has been little education about the process of recovery that can renew a relationship and even spark a whole new level of physical intimacy. Culturally we are trained to vilify the betrayal and rarely consider that the affair may not represent pathology in the relationship but rather be an essential wakeup call that offers an important opportunity to redefine and renegotiate what your monogamous relationship and commitments mean to each of you.

Dr. Tammy Nelson, author of Getting the Sex You Want, is leading the way on the research on affair recovery for her new book, “The New Monogamy”. In our recent interview, she shared,  “Often affairs are like viruses, in that they are opportunistic and they feed on a part of oneself that is kept underground, unknown even to oneself. ”

Affairs are one of the most important wake-up calls, too. But we don’t have to always jump to our initial response of trashing the relationship from the moment of discovery. The recovery process is rich with the opportunity to really see aspects of your partner and depths in your relationship of which you were probably unaware. Processing the crisis requires establishing emotional safety and an agreement to not make any immediate decisions. It is a time that demands the courage to address the painful effects of the affair to the relationship while allowing the room for the volatile emotions that need venting. Because an affair is an erotic injury to the relationship, it has to be dealt with in the erotic lives of the partners. Reclaiming your sex life is critical to recovering from an affair.

Taking the steps to reconnect intimately can feel like pouring salt on an open cut. This is especially true if your attempts to understand the affair are demanding a full disclosure of events. The more time spent on the detective work of who, what, where and how the affair happened, the more painful will be the attempts to re-connect. Opening up and dealing with the insecurity and uncertainty of this fragile time can become quickly impossible if the meaning of what happened gets overrun with its details. Learning to ask for what you really need to know in your heart and not your mind is a big step towards discovering a path towards a newly defined relationship — whether it be reconciliation or separation.

Successfully working through these painful passages depends on developing a whole new level of empathy. Empathy exists between people in the field out beyond right and wrong. It takes and holds both partners’ experiences equally and creates a kinship of shared humanity. Asking questions that allow both partners to focus on why the affair happened and what it meant to each of them is an entirely different kind of discussion. Having the courage and curiosity to want to know what your partner learned about his or her self with someone else and what it felt like for them to feel like they were betraying you even as they had their own needs met is where a new intimacy can be born.

Beyond the guilt, shame and anger that classically defines the experience of infidelity lies an untapped depth of knowing another person’s erotic needs and desires and being able to learn to reveal your own. It is rich with sexual energy that can actually reinvent the monogamous contract you are grieving. Seeking forgiveness or even granting it mentally or verbally will not end the affair; there will always be someone else in the bedroom until both partners re-engage intimately with a new shared understanding and agreement about the sharing of their erotic selves.

Becoming Fearless
Monogamy’s Bad Rap
Can Talking Prevent Cheating?

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Angela J.
Angela J.1 years ago

Thank you.

Wisteria K.
Past Member 1 years ago

""even spark a whole new level of physical intimacy.""

Hmmm. So my sexual desire for my husband is suppose to increase after his flings ?
I don't think so. It is turn off.

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago


Jane Barton
Jane Barton3 years ago

Obviously sex isn't heartless at all, sex IS the HEART of it. It's the person who is heartless. Sex is the very thing that gives us all this grief, but at the start it gives us all this bliss and feeling of cloud nine as well. Sex is at the bottom of everything and it has to be dealt with in a realistic manner. Communication is everything but that's another stumbling block. Problems always arise when the wrong two people hook up. There is always one who just won't "give".
Dragging out a bad marriage hurts everybody. It's best to give up and move on.

Benjamin K.
Benjamin K.4 years ago

I guess using of lines mentioned on
wouldn't help?

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Well, you know, I think that many a times, it's not the sex, or the lack of, that makes one turn to an affair. Many times, the companionship is missing, or because of various work schedules, that make people grow apart.

My ex ended up refusing to be intimate within 2 years of being married. I stayed, tried to be supportive for an additional 8.5 years, because we share a son. I considered an affair, and had to take a serious look at the marriage. I'd asked, pleaded, demanded, argued, etc for us to get couples counseling, marriage counseling, what ever... I hit a brick wall every time. Even when trying to share intimacy, I'd get pushed away, so, often it's rejection that happens within the marriage that also contributes to an affair.

I had decided that considering that we were estranged, very completely in fact... roommates were emotionally and psychologically closer than we were. So I figured that rather than an affair, which would only make the situation worse, that we're better off divorced because there really was nothing left to us but bitterness and resentment.

Plus, if he's refusing to meet me half way, I can't counsel by myself and have the marriage work. For healing to occur, and regain bliss, BOTH parties need to be able to communicate, and be able to put forth what we want, what we need, what we expect from each other as well as ourselves, etc.

Most often, once the affair already exists, there is a whole lot wrong with the marriage.

Karen Langer
Karen L.4 years ago

My heart goes out to all those who have been touched by this painful experience. Nobody really wins, unless you can get to the healing point.

Jeanne-Marie A.
Jeanne Marie A.4 years ago


Elle G.
Elle G.4 years ago

And for those who've experienced infidelity and are looking to find a place of healing and support, please visit my site at

Elle G.
Elle G.4 years ago

This article has clearly struck some nerves. As someone who has been cheated on, I don't think it's as clear-cut as Wendy presents (though, to be fair, it's hard to cover everything in 400 words). But I also don't think it's as clear-cut as some of the commenters suggest (just dump him, etc...).
I think there are things we can learn from the experience...if we're open to them. We can either chalk it up to bitter experience, or we can determine what lessons there are to learn. My husband is someone who cheated for a number of reasons -- primarily a desperate need to feel valued that one person simply couldn't meet because he never quite believed that I wouldn't leave him. He's done a lot of really tough work to figure out why he did what he did...and a lot of work to earn back trust. Yes, I could have tossed him. But the cost to my children and the loss of him in my own life made that the last resort. Fortunately, I haven't had to go there.
Please, people, don't judge anyone until you've walked a mile in their EXACT shoes.