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Affair Recovery Stages: Timeline, Critical Stages, and Healing

Michael Tierney
January 19, 2023

Infidelity is one of the most heartbreaking things our spouses can subject us to. It takes the trust and love expected of the relationship and shatters them both.

This type of betrayal is one of the most devastating to a relationship and usually leads to divorce.

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful creates a severe emotional and mental strain as you are forced to process the implications of your spouse's infidelity. This can be a painful process since you are not dealing with something mundane but the potential end of your marriage. The reality of your spouse cheating on you is not something you shake off and requires a significant recovery period.

The problem is that recovering from the ramifications of infidelity is not as easy as we might hope and can be a serious struggle.

Solution Recovering from an affair requires time and recognition of the important milestones but, most importantly, the development of healthy coping mechanisms. Without these mechanisms and milestones, you are likely to let your spouse's betrayal damage your ability to form interpersonal relationships unpolluted by the trauma infidelity inflicts.

Unfortunately, understanding the proper timeframe and coping skills is required to recover from the affair and move forward. This has led several people to let the affairs destroy their ability to connect with others or work on repairing their marriage.

Hopefully, this article will help you overcome that potential handicap.

How Long Does it Take to Recover?

The first question most people have about recovering from an affair is how long before the betrayal no longer affects them. Unfortunately, while important, this question is not one with an easy answer that applies to every scenario. The problem is that every relationship is different and has varying dynamics that could affect the recovery period. Therefore, the only answer is that it depends on your specific situation.

Some relationships are more intense than others, and your relationship with your spouse might not have been in the best condition when the affair came to light. Some people drift apart or have issues that precede the affair that affects their emotional connection to each other. This distance can accelerate the recovery period somewhat since you might have already moved on emotionally.

Spouse Affected by an Affair

Some people can bounce back from the revelation their spouse has been cheating on them within a couple of weeks. Conversely, people with a deeper emotional bond with their spouse can be so damaged by the revelation that it takes months or years to recover. No set timeframe magically heals the pain you experienced from learning your spouse cheated on you. The only advice that applies to everyone is to take things slow and wait for things to feel right before putting yourself back out there.

This means you cannot allow yourself to feel ashamed for the time it takes to recover, regardless of what others tell you. You might hear the phrase "it was so long ago" or "get over it" more than once. Especially from new boyfriends or girlfriends who are trying to accelerate your new relationship regardless of the trauma you endured. These comments are generally born of ignorance and should not be heeded since your emotional and psychological state determines your recovery period. Therefore, you should pace your recovery as you see fit and per any psychological counseling you receive.

With all this information in mind, there is a general timeline that people can reference as a guideline. However, this timeline cannot be taken as fact and must be altered to suit your situation. This timeline is cited as an 18-month cycle where various stages of the affair recovery process are reached, starting from the discovery of the affair to the potential recommitment stage.

What Are the Critical Stages of Recovery?

Recovering from an affair is like any other condition or situation that produces intense emotional or psychological stimuli. There are several stages those involved are forced to endure to recover and process the situation. Without these stages, recovery is impossible since there is a lot of healing that occurs during the specific stages. Some stages are more important than others and can be categorized as "critical stages" that are more important to your general recovery than others.

The first of these stages is the "discovery stage," where the affair is initially discovered. Because the discovery stage is when the infidelity is uncovered, it is one of the most important stages of recovery and worthy of the "critical" qualifier. Without the discovery stage, you will never know there is something to heal from, though the odds of your spouse's infidelity going undiscovered is virtually impossible. Nevertheless, the discovery stage allows you to identify the affair, but it produces the greatest emotional response. The discovery stage generates raw emotion, namely anger, after a period of shock induced by learning your spouse has broken their marital vows.

After the "discovery stage," you will enter the "grief stage," where most of the emotional processing occurs. After the shock wears off and the rage that follows has subsided somewhat, several other emotions will bombard you as the gravity of the situation hits you. The most common emotions that arise after the rage fades are depression, despair, and grief. This is understandable since the marriage you tended to all these years is crashing around you. The key is not repressing these emotions and allowing yourself to feel them so they do not poison you. Emotional repression can devastate and destroy your ability to process major events healthily.

The "grief stage" precedes the path to the "acceptance stage," wherein you process the emotions you endured before and come to terms with the situation. Unfortunately, the acceptance stage is where the timeframe for your recovery becomes dicey since it can take weeks, months, or years to accept what happened and overcome the emotional impact it caused. This stage requires emotional processing and dealing with the hurt and grief the affair caused healthily. This means not letting your emotions drive you to make impulsive decisions and instead let you work through them to ensure they do not dictate your actions.

This stage takes the longest because it is extremely difficult to accomplish without help, but we will discuss that later. Nevertheless, once you have worked through the emotions and processed what has happened, you are one step closer to accepting the reality of the situation. The acceptance stage does not mean you necessarily have to forgive your spouse for cheating on you. Acceptance means you are willing to accept the affair as a reality of life so you can move past it. Making complete peace with the affair might not be possible, but acceptance can help prevent the sting of the betrayal from harming your relationships in the future.

The Reconnection Affair Recovery Stage

The last critical stage is the "reconnection stage," which might seem like an impossible goal but is what is necessary to overcome. This stage usually applies to couples willing and able to try and overcome the affair and work on their relationship. The reconnection stage does not necessarily work for reconciliation but being willing to connect with your spouse and redefine your relationship can help you build a stronger marriage than what preceded it. This usually means complete transparency and less privacy than you used to have, but it can help restore trust in the marriage.

While reconciliation is not always possible, that does not invalidate the value of the reconnection stage. Reconnection does not inherently mean reconnecting with your spouse and can instead mean reconnecting with friends, family, and yourself. Reconnecting with yourself means reconnecting with your ambitions, goals, interests, and other parts of your life that you might have suspended in the interest of your marriage. Reconnecting with yourself is the most important part of recovery since it allows you to restore your confidence in yourself after the affair might have damaged it.

These stages are the most critical to surviving an affair, but how they unfold will vary from person to person. Allowing yourself to go through these stages will promote improved healing mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, too many people are under the impression that letting something like this affect them makes them weak in some way. The truth is that these stages are critical because they are essential to the healing process, but healing is more than going through the stages. The healing process will be complicated but well worth the result.

What Does the Healing Process Entail?

Healing from an affair will not be simple and require you to be open to practices you might have been against before. Healing from an affair means you must be willing to put your faith in others again, which is not an easy prospect given the betrayal you experienced from your spouse. Healing requires you to take things slowly and allow yourself to reach the stages mentioned in the previous section so you can process the situation fully. Aside from that, it becomes a matter of using the initial stages of the healing process to determine the answer to the biggest question: do you want to try and fix the marriage?

Most people would scoff at working through a marriage where one spouse cheated on the other. However, you can salvage a marriage in the wake of an affair that would otherwise end the relationship. It requires patience and effort, mostly so the cheating spouse can regain the trust of the one they spurned. Regardless, the decision to end the marriage should not be made in haste if there is any possibility of regaining a semblance of the relationship you shared before the affair. If your spouse is willing to take responsibility for their actions and put forth the effort needed to correct them, there might be hope. Whether you want to save the relationship, you will likely need assistance recovering from and processing the affair.

Speaking With a Marriage Counselor

Professional counseling is the most common tool people use to recover from emotionally turbulent situations. Therapy can provide a healthy and safe space to process emotions with professional guidance. These professionals will not tell you how or what to feel but will provide techniques and tools to let you process your feelings. Counseling is the most effective way to heal, regardless of whether you are trying to save your marriage. If you are trying to save the relationship, your counselor can help you work through the issues and provide a guideline for concessions your spouse will make to regain your trust.

If you are not trying to save the relationship, the counselor will provide coping tools and mental exercises that will allow you to isolate and process the feelings the affair created. They will guide you through the stages mentioned in the last section so you can begin the healing process appropriately. Counseling is only a tool and will require you to be open to the suggestions and recommendations your counselor provides. It is possible to heal without counseling by taking the time and space to process your emotional response and prevent knee-jerk responses. That said, you will likely need a support system consisting of friends and family.

Unfortunately, you will also need to prepare emotionally and psychologically for a potential divorce. Most relationships where infidelity is involved lead to divorce proceedings, usually initiated by the loyal spouse. Preparing for a divorce can be equally taxing to your emotional and psychological state.

Learn the Law

Infidelity can destroy relationships and annihilate the trust between a previously happy couple. Working through the emotional and psychological consequences of uncovering your spouse's infidelity requires time and patience since you will essentially be going through the 5 stages of grief. Once you have passed those stages, you can begin the healing process and determine whether you can save your marriage. If you determine your marriage is unsalvageable in the face of your spouse's betrayal, divorce is likely in your future.

Filing For Divorce

Unfortunately, divorce is extremely taxing emotionally and difficult to endure, given the complexity of the cases. Some people have begun using underhanded techniques or harsh tactics to maximize their chances of a favorable divorce settlement. This can make divorce more difficult for you, emotionally and legally. It is important to learn more about divorce so you are prepared and these techniques cannot harm you. We realize this is a painful time for you, but we hope this information was helpful.

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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