Updated: Sep 12
Part 1 of 4 of Blueprint to Reconciliation after Infidelity
Blueprint to Reconciliation After Infidelity is a series to help couples reconcile after infidelity. I lay out the three paths to walk for couples after an affair is discovered: Path 3 is successful reconciliation. I'll use the affair of Partner A and Partner B to help the reader understand the process, and as a bonus, I'll include common mistakes in affair recovery.
In this section:
Blueprint To Reconciling After Infidelity
It's a question that has been asked for centuries - is reconciliation after infidelity possible? Can a couple move on from an affair and build a stronger relationship than ever? Or is the damage too significant, and does the relationship inevitably come to an end? There are no easy answers, but here we will explore the blueprint to reconciling after cheating.
If you're here and reading this, you're likely the cheater or the cheated upon. This is a no-blame zone, so I hope you'll stay and learn. I don't condone affairs, and I know from my work that infidelity is a coping mechanism; it's easier and more fun than whatever happens at home. Affairs aren't always indications that the cheater is unhappy at home. One thing is for sure - affairs are devastating to a relationship and can end in divorce or breakup.
Some couples do manage to reconcile after infidelity and come out stronger than ever before. This is often thanks to a lot of hard work to drastically improve communication to get to forgiveness. If both partners are willing to put in the effort, it is possible to rebuild trust and create a stronger foundation for Relationship 2.0. This post will consider common marriage reconciliation mistakes and how to avoid them.
However, the reconciliation process is not always possible or advisable. In some cases, the damage is too significant to overcome. If your union wasn't strong before the affair started, the foundation might be too unstable to withstand the weight of the repair process. It can be challenging to forgive. If there is no longer any trust or respect left in the relationship, it may be best to end things rather than try to patch things up.
Another space couples find themselves in is uncertainty about whether one or both partners want to repair. Or, perhaps Partner A wants to repair, and Partner B is "leaning out," meaning they aren't sure what they want to do or are thinking about leaving. One or both partner is not ready to move in either direction, and the relationship is in limbo; a relationship in this state can cause high conflict between the partners.
Join me for this four-part series if you are wondering what to do. I'll walk you through the actual reconciliation process and point out common mistakes couples make that derail successful reconciliation.
The Three Paths Forward
It's important to take action and move in a direction for both partners post-affair discovery. Time is not a friend to partners who go on not addressing the question - what do we do now? The sooner partners start communicating about what comes next, the greater the chances of keeping the conflict as calm as possible, whatever path is taken.
Mistake! Couples who enter into couples counseling before deciding which path are at greater risk of repair failure than couples who explore the three paths of the blueprint to reconciliation after infidelity.
Let's explore each path.
Path 1: Keep things status quo
Some couples decide not to do anything about the state of the relationship for various reasons: minor children, financial ties, health issues, health insurance, etc. Couples who take Path 1 don't address the big question - why did this happen? Sure, they may talk about it and even fight. However, every affair is rooted in a relational issue between the committed partners, which is not fully explored.
While affairs are never ok, couples on this path don't have a high success rate of taking the painful rupture of an affair and evolving it into an opportunity to learn and grow together. Instead, this relationship sweeps it under the carpet, puts it away, or uses it as a weapon for other issues. Couples who take this path tend to value familiarity over fulfillment.
Path 2: Divorce or Breakup
Some couples know that an affair, whether short or long, is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and its discovery propels them down the path of divorce or breakup. Couples in this state risk high conflict and volatility and often communicate in an inauthentic way; words and behaviors reflect retaliation and anger versus deeper feelings and needs.
Not every divorce is volatile, and many couples regret taking action toward separation before processing their thoughts and feelings about the affair, the partner, and what they wanted and needed for their life. But, unfortunately, regret can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Some couples realize that the relationship isn't healthy and decide to end it. However, divorce could be the best outcome if the couple's foundation isn't healthy or even toxic.
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Path 3: Reconciliation after infidelity
The third path is often seen as a weakness or a flaw; nothing could be farther from the truth. An affair reflects a relational issue between the partners, and the cheater chooses this destructive coping mechanism. Partners who cheat report it's easier to live in a fantasy land with an affair partner than to deal with whatever happens in the home.
Affairs come in all different shapes and sizes:
Inappropriate electronic interactions with a person outside of the relationship
An emotional connection with another person outside the scope of a typical friendship
A physical connection with or without emotions.
A combination of all of the above
The couple starts by discussing the affair - what was it? What was the cheater's path from commitment to their partner to the affair? What was the relational experience between the committed partners at the time of the affair?
Mistake! The blame game will KILL COMMUNICATION! Both partners must commit to speaking their truth and not focus on the other partner! If you can't do it on your own, get help!
Couples who create a structure around their communication and the repair can forgive, a process that significantly benefits the person who has been hurt. It is often misunderstood to mean the forgiver is condoning the behavior of the cheater and the ripple effect it causes—quite the contrary. Forgiveness allows the hurt partner to accept what has happened and let go of the feeling of betrayal. Someone who forgives is at peace within their own space.
If you struggle to decide what to do, I encourage you to seek counseling. A professional can help you and your partner explore your options and make the best decision for your relationship. If you're considering Path 3, there is important information for you to know so you set your repair up for successful reconciliation.
Mistake! If you have trouble communicating, it will not get better by waiting for it to improve. A good rule of thumb is this - if both of you agree that there is dysfunction, then make the change stat. If you can't, GET HELP.
Exploring Path 3: Reconciliation after infidelity
As it's hard to forgive, it's also a difficult decision to leave. If you're not working on your relationship after the affair discovery, you're on Path 1, which we'll cover in a different article. Reconciliation is a process that occurs in stages between two people who commit to staying together.
Initially, feelings are raw, and there is no intuitive way to start to put some structure around talking it out. Communication can feel volatile, and the space between you unstable. A couple that commits to putting in the work must avoid common marriage reconciliation mistakes and use the tools available to help couples heal from the rupture.
This series of posts explores the path of reconciliation after infidelity. Successful reconciliation requires both partners commit to working with a couples counselor to put structure around the repair.