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Helping your partner heal from your infidelity

Updated: Jan 14

Linda MacDonald's book: How to help your spouse heal from your affair identifies 15 tips to help your partner heal from your infidelity. You can buy it in digital format (Kindle) or in hard copy. This is an excellent book which I highly recommend to all my couples where there has been infidelity.

In her book, Linda MacDonald talks about and distinguishes between those who are able to successfully rebuild after an infidelity, and those who don't. She notes that successful rebuilders are truly repentant and humbly seek to repair the damage they have caused to their partners. They willingly accept their roles as healers for their wounded partners. They do not see reconciliation as a right, but a privilege that depends upon their own efforts and the good graces of their betrayed partner.

MacDonald also notes that you need to understand the wrongness of your behaviours and the depth of the pain you have caused. You also need to effectively renounce your old behaviours and develop a keen sense of what it must be like to be in your partner’s shoes. You might be more conscious of your own guilt, shame and pain than the damage you have inflicted – others might perceive that you are only sorry that you were caught, not sorry for what you have done. It is natural that you might feel that you want to run away and hide or minimise your actions. You must muster the courage to identify the hurtful behaviours as severe violations of your partnership and your partner’s trust, without excusing it. It is unhelpful to refer to these misbehaviours as ‘harmless dalliances’, ‘friendships’ or ‘getting a little on the side’. You must name these for what they are – unfaithfulness, adultery, infidelity, sex addiction, breaking your vows, lying, deceitfulness, and whatever else is appropriate.

'Getting' the depth of the pain:

MacDonald notes that betrayers often struggle to find empathy for their partners for three main reasons. These are the things which get in your way to seeing the hurt caused.

  • The ego boost from feeling wanted by the lover (who might have seen you as perfect; this might have been a baggage-free relationship without the ordinary burdens of real relationships; your ‘lover’ might have made you feel appealing, desirable and highly esteemed)

  • The unfair contrast between the affair partner and your wounded partner (hurt partners are frequently traumatised to the point that they can hardly think straight and can behave in uncharacteristic and unattractive ways making them by comparison seem much less attractive than the affair partner who adored you)

  • The tendency to be emotionally self-consumed (you might be confused about what to do after being found out; you might feel bad about being caught and guilty for what you’ve done; you might fear the fallout of your behaviours, especially others’ disapproval; you might be absorbed with damage control and feel sorry for yourself)

Important reading:

  • Here is a post from the Gottman Institute about the grief your wounded partner is experiencing when infidelity occurs, as well as the trauma symptoms, which often look like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • And here is another post about how to rebuild trust after infidelity with tasks for both partners

Be realistic about what repair involves. Repair after infidelity is an ongoing and long process - it can take many months to years to heal. It is not a 'once and done' thing, and it takes ongoing work and commitment to heal the breach of trust when a relationship has been rocked to the core. Do not rush through this, or expect your partner to put it in the rear view mirror quickly. Triggers in life will come up that brings this to the fore again, and then you will need to keep doing the repair work. It takes continual courage to turn towards your partner when they are triggered and this comes up again. Each time you turn towards your partner, you are communicating that you are seeing your partner's pain, take responsibility for your behaviour, and re-vowing not to act in ways that are hurtful. Take hope from the fact that if you continue to put in the work it will settle in time and feel less acute.

Reflection: What have you not done yet and where do you need to continue ongoing work? What is one thing you can start doing differently today?

Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.



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