Rebuilding Your Marriage After the Affair: For the Unfaithful Partner

By Seth Brownstein and MaryAnn Bock

You had an affair. Your partner knows. So what happens now?

You’ve ended the affair and you’ve promised it’ll never happen again.

You want to stay married, move forward in your relationship, and put the affair behind you, but your partner will not be so quick to forgive and forget as you are.

This is a common situation that we often see in our marriage counseling practice.

While the offending partner usually wants to forget the affair and move on, the injured partner is still processing the pain and sorting through their feelings about the relationship.

But rebuilding a marriage after an affair doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen just because you are ready to move on.

Restoring trust requires commitment, dedication, and a willingness to do whatever work is necessary to make the marriage whole again.

If you’re trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered relationship, here are a few areas that you’ll need to focus on to start the rebuilding process.

Start by rebuilding trust. After an affair, your partner will justifiably doubt anything you say. You’re going to have to work to earn back your partner’s respect and trust, one fragile piece at a time. And it’s your partner, not you, who will determine the trust timetable and whether they can ever trust you again. You also must accept the fact that your partner’s trust may never be 100 percent complete. However, just because you’ve betrayed your partner doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage is over or can’t be saved. If there’s love and commitment between you, there’s reason to believe that the relationship can be rebuilt. We see it happen in our practice every day.

Accept responsibility for your past behavior. You’re the one who decided to have the affair. Don’t blame it on drunkenness, on problems in your marriage, on your affair partner, or on any other external circumstances. Don’t try to dismiss your behavior, and don’t try to minimize the impact on your relationship. Accept the fact that you made hurtful decisions, and hope that your partner can forgive you and move on. If you don’t accept personal responsibility, and try to blame the affair on external circumstances, you won’t discover what you need to learn or change. Otherwise, you’re signaling to your partner that an affair could happen again.

Commit to open, honest and patient communication. Accept the fact that your partner is going to have difficulty understanding why you put your relationship in jeopardy. Partners want answers to questions that are often uncomfortable. But you must answer their questions patiently and honestly, regardless of how uncomfortable they make you feel. Just accept this as part of the process your partner needs to go through to move toward rebuilding. Don’t become defensive, dismissive or evasive with answers to your partners’ questions. Your partner needs to know that you’re willing to answer questions openly and honestly. Your openness builds trust while defensiveness corrodes trust.

Use this experience to grow emotionally. This is a good time to critically evaluate the emotions and thinking that led to your infidelity. Try to identify any problems or unhappiness prior to starting the affair. It’s a time for self-assessment, not just marriage assessment. Was the affair an attempt to “cure” these feelings or avoid them? Did you put too much blame on your marriage for your unhappiness? How are you going to address these problems in a healthy way? These areas will need to be examined before your marriage can move forward. If you skip this step in the healing process, your marriage will be in peril.

Healing takes time. You’d like this to be over as quickly as possible, but your partner is going to need time to work through the healing process. When emotional trust is broken in a relationship, it’s not much different from a physical injury. If you were to break your leg, you wouldn’t be out jogging the next day. The leg needs time to heal. Well, the same holds true for an emotional fracture. It may take considerably longer to heal than a physical injury, but given enough time and the correct treatment, chances of a healthy recovery are significantly improved.

Seek professional help. You may want to seek advice from a therapist who specializes in marriage and couples counseling to help you work through some of these issues. When couples are in crisis after an affair, it is very difficult to navigate through the emotional turmoil, confusion and loss of hope. It helps to have an experienced counselor help you to work through the complicated issues on the way to recovery.

Seth Brownstein, MA, is a Licensed Psychologist-Master

MaryAnn Bock, MS, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Together, they operate Associates in Couples Counseling, a Burlington, Vermont Marriage and Couples Counseling practice that specializes in relationship and couples counseling, intensive personalized marriage retreats, and practical marriage advice. You can find more information about their services on their website at:

©2007, Associates in Couples Counseling, 431 Pine St, Burlington, VT, 05401, 802-865-9886