“My relationship is completely broken and shattered into millions of tiny pieces,” Ellen thinks to herself.
She recently found out that her husband Gary has been having an affair. As betrayed as Ellen feels, at this moment she cannot contemplate what life would be like without Gary. It frightens and grieves her to even contemplate losing him.
At the same time, Ellen does not want to be in a loveless marriage where there is no trust. She is confused, upset and doesn’t know what to do. She continues to ask herself,”Can my marriage be saved?”
After an affair, it might seem to you that your relationship is broken– maybe even beyond repair.
It is true that some couples are able to rebuild trust and restore connection with one another, even after infidelity. It is also true that other couples reach a point where they are unwilling or unable to make amends and move closer together.
This uncertain outcome might feel uncomfortable and discouraging to you.
We recommend that you worry less about what could happen in the future and, instead, focus on what you want in the short-term. Take care of yourself by listening to you inner needs and treating yourself gently.
Ellen has stopped worrying about whether she and Gary will be able to stay together to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary one day. She is consciously directing her attention to her feelings in each moment. She is honoring the sadness, anger and grief as it comes up. And she is giving herself the space to allow these emotions to flow.
But Ellen is still feeling conflicted about her next step. She really wants to work this out and rebuild a strong and healthy marriage with Gary. At the same time, it is difficult for Ellen to be in the same room with him lately. She can only seem to cry, yell and feel repulsed by this man who cheated.
Make incremental agreements and plans.
If, like Ellen, you are unsure about whether you want to (or can) stay in or leave this relationship, we suggest that you keep yourself focused in the moment and on relatively short spans of time beyond it.
Give yourself permission to take time and space if it’s too painful for you to be near your partner right now. Be clear with him or her that you need to be away for a specific period of time.
It can be confusing to both of you if you merely pack up and leave– unless you are willing to make an abrupt break like this.
If you are still open to the possibility of rebuilding your relationship with your partner, let him or her know that you will be gone for a week or two (or whatever time period feels right to you) and that after that, you’d like to talk again and begin to decide about the future.
Even if you want to continue to live in the same house, make agreements and plans incrementally.
It could be that you are willing to stay for a week and see how you feel after that. You may be comfortable agreeing to stay together for another month and then assess if positive changes are happening.
Don’t try to plan too far into the future right now. Instead, continue to communicate with one another about what you each need and create agreements according to those needs.
During these periods of time, you might agree to meet with a counselor a minimum of a certain number of sessions. You could also talk about what being transparent means to each of you and then consent to transparency in your relationship.
Continue to check in with you.
As you keep this negotiating and short-term planning process going with your partner, be sure that you are staying tuned in to yourself.
Every day, take the time to ask yourself how you are feeling. What do you need right now? What are you willing to do that you might not have been willing to do yesterday (or last week)? What new agreements would you like to make with your partner?
It’s ok if you feel different from day to day. Honor how you are feeling. Be willing to extend flexibility to your partner, just as you would like him or her to be flexible with you.
If you feel compelled to leave your relationship, try to sit with this for two or three days. This will give you a chance to think through this big decision and help make sure you really want to follow through with ending your relationship.
During that time, think about the resources and people upon whom you might rely during such a transitional period. You might also want to consult with an attorney or meet with a coach or counselor.
Of course, if you are in danger of physical, mental, emotional or sexual violence, please get to a safe place among people who can help you as soon as you possibly can.
Above all, we encourage you to become well practiced at listening to yourself.
Offer love and forgiveness to you first. Then, especially if you decide to stay in this relationship, you can eventually more easily extend both love and forgiveness to your partner as well.