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Moving on from infidelity is hard in the best of scenarios and is even more difficult when there are children involved. How do you come back from a situation where trust no longer exists, hearts are broken, and the family dynamic is completely out of whack? Even if your children don’t know exactly what has gone on, they’ll know something has gone on, and you’ll be tasked with helping them through their emotions during this difficult time as you work through your own.
When it comes to infidelity and the aftermath you have two choices: stay together and work it out or separate and move on. The following six steps can help ease the pain and make the process easier on all involved, no matter which avenue you choose.
1.) Give Yourself Permission to Feel All the Feelings. If you aren’t aware of what you’re feeling beyond hurt, pain, and anger you won’t be able to heal. In the beginning stage of your healing process, your mood will be all over the place, leaving you feeling mixed up and confused. Know that this is normal. You need to allow yourself to feel and dive into that pain and confusion without guilt. You also need to acknowledge that the pain and hurt won’t go away if you ignore it. You must confront it to grow and get to the root of the other underlying issues that led to the problem of infidelity.
2.) Express Your Emotions. Bottling up how you feel or trying to process things on your own won’t help. You need to find a trusted friend or loved one who will provide you a safe space to express how you feel, an opportunity to be heard, and a place without judgment where you can freely be in your feelings.
3.) Forgive. Understand that forgiveness benefits you more than it benefits others. If you are able to forgive, then you are able to release pain. After forgiveness, you will be able to shift your focus towards healing and forward progress, rather than being mired in pain and stuck in the hurt. There is a famous saying by Anne Lamott that says, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” This is true. Not being able to forgive forces you to stay in the pain and that only hurts you. It is your choice to release and your choice to heal for yourself on your own terms.
4.) Don’t Make Hasty Decisions. When emotions are running high, logic and reason will not prevail in terms of decision making. Many relationship counselors recommend that you not follow your first impulse in the wake of infidelity because often the decision will not be the wisest. Therefore, delay making any “permanent” decisions until you can think more clearly and are capable of making decisions that aren’t clouded by overwhelming emotions.
5.) Inoculate Yourself as a Couple. This is a step that should be taken after some of the initial shock and hurt has subsided and is only really useful if you’ve made the decision to stay together as a couple. If you’ve agreed to move forward as a married unit, take time to examine what happened, identify the things that allowed the infidelity to happen, and be honest about it. Take responsibility for your actions, whether it was something you did or something you didn’t do or should have. Talk about what each of you wish you had done differently at each phase, and make sure you have the same understanding of all that transpired. Going through this “naming and identification” process will help you find a way to avoid this happening again because you will be aware of what caused the initial indiscretion and you can avoid those behaviors and triggers in the first place.
6.) Seek Professional Support. We all know infidelity causes severe strain on a relationship and sometimes that strain is so great you can’t work through it on your own or as a couple and you need third party intervention. Professional counselors, therapists, and relationship experts can help you navigate the road to reconciliation and find healthier ways to communicate and overcome the damage done by the infidelity. Most relationship experts recommend couples in this situation find individual counselors and a marriage counselor. Marriage counseling services are often offered via churches and other qualified health care practitioners.
When it comes to couples in crisis with children, you need to call in support. It will be hard to see beyond yourself to the impacts the infidelity may have on the larger family. To the extent you can keep your children’s routines as normal as possible, be aware that your children will sense what’s going on. Deciding whether or not to talk to your children about what happened is a personal decision that’s often influenced by your children’s age. Call on your social networks for support until you and your partner have made a decision about what you want to do and communicate clearly with the children about your decisions and why you made them at an age-appropriate level.