Reconciliation: Healing From an Affair


One of the big questions a faithful spouse often asks after an affair is how to move their relationship forward after their partner has cheated. There is a myriad of information available to help answer this common question that might contain some (or all) of the following advice:

  • Forgive the cheater
  • Go to couples therapy
  • Identify and meet your cheater’s needs
  • Give your cheater more attention
  • Spice up your sex life and increase the frequency of sex
  • Focus on your marriage, not the affair
  • Improve your communication skills
  • Stop bringing up the affair
  • Understand your own failings and how they contributed to the cheater’s affair

Cheater-Centric Advice

What is surprising about this oft-repeated and pervasively popular recipe for a perfectly recovered marriage is how much it panders to the cheater. Understand that affairs are the product of a cheater pandering to their own whims; advising further indulgence and appeasement of them seems entirely unhealthy for both parties.

Of course no relationship or person is perfect, and of course each partner contributes to the tone of the relationship. However, the tone of the relationship doesn’t CAUSE infidelity. Tone doesn’t drive, force, impel, or propel someone into cheating - if it did, then both parties in the relationship would cheat. No, the cheater’s own issues, thinking, and view of life is what leads them to decide to cheat.

The familiar formula for ‘affair recovery’ burdens the faithful spouse with the idea that if only they had been ‘better’ the affair wouldn’t have happened … ergo, if they aren’t ‘better’ in future they will cause another affair. This is dangerously cheater-centric thinking, handing the cheater a carrot and stick to control and manipulate their spouse:

My fidelity is in your control not mine: If you do not behave as I expect, you force me to go elsewhere to have my desires met. If you behave as I stipulate then I shall not cheat, until such time that you again fail to please me.

To be blunt, there is an option for a someone who is so wholly dissatisfied with their relationship: They can leave. Infidelity isn’t a necessary part of an unfulfilled relationship. Advising a faithful spouse to behave in ways that either ignore or reward bad behavior for fear that a cheater will leave, is unhealthy and dysfunctional.

The Cheater’s Role in Reconciliation

Unfortunately there are many faithful partners who are hell bent on trying to hold a marriage together with glue and a prayer, martyring themselves to their marriage, despite their cheater’s clear lack of intent to do any work themselves. Something that is sorely lacking in so much of the ‘how to heal from an affair’ information is that the cheater has the greater amount of work to do in repairing the damage.

The cheater has a far greater ability to influence and direct the relationship to health than the faithful spouse. Many cheaters simply find themselves at a loss when faced with trying to repair the damage they wrought upon their spouse and their relationship. The usual checklist looks a little like this:

Check mark1 Sincere apology

Check mark1 End affair and no further contact with affair partner

Check mark1 STD tests

Check mark1 Transparency and honesty

Check mark1 Take responsibility and blame

Check mark1 Go to therapy

Check mark1 Prayer, repentance, remorse … check, check, check …

It’s hardly surprising that a cheater can feel lost and bewildered about how to improve the state of the post-affair relationship when they’ve already gone through the checklist and done everything on it. It can feel as if their partner will never get over it and seems intent to hold the affair over their head for eternity. This can lead to the cheater feeling that they are faced with two courses of action:

  1. Watch their spouse in pain, accusing, angry and holding onto the affair for the duration of the marriage
  2. Leave

When all seemingly concrete actions have been exhausted, what other actions could help?


The past cannot be changed and the affair will be a real and painful part of the relationship’s history. The faithful partner will have so much anger, pain and resentment about the devastating choices of their spouse that it can be debilitating. It is common to hear faithful spouses saying that the pain they feel (even years after the affair is discovered) is as real and as acute as it was on the day they discovered it. This can further lead the cheater into thinking that no matter what they do, it won’t be good enough to make up for what they did.

The cheater has a very clear choice ahead of them: Either continue to do what they’re doing and have their hurt spouse still mired in pain, or to understand that what they’re doing hasn’t alleviated the upset felt by their spouse, and ask why.

Hurt spouses need to know that their cheater empathizes with what the affair did to them. They need to know that the cheater truly understands, and feels some shared pain for the emotional distress they caused someone they profess to love. The hurt spouse wants their cheater to fully comprehend how this affected their self-esteem, their security, their belief that they are loved, protected, nurtured. They need their cheater to feel how the affair has rocked their understanding of the history of their relationship, what they mean to the cheater, and the broken beliefs about how special they were and how special they believed the relationship was. They need their cheater to understand that any idea of soul mates, unique connection, being ‘The One’, has been shattered.

The hurt spouse wants the cheater to know some of their pain and fears, and to absorb some of the shaky insecurity that will be part of any reconciliation. They want their cheater to genuinely feel and understand the effects of a shared injury in the relationship, and to want to shoulder the burden of being the cause of that pain, with a commitment to repairing what they smashed into pieces. They want the cheater to show strength, resilience and fortitude enough to get the relationship past the initial (and worst) pain and stumbles.

A hurt spouse wants their cheater to WANT to deal with the pain they’ve caused, however frustrating, upsetting, and difficult it is. A hurt spouse wants to know that they are worth sticking with, even when times are really challenging … because even after the cheater brought the affair to the relationship, the hurt spouse didn’t bail.

The Faithful Partner’s Role in Reconciliation

None of this gives a faithful spouse license to be an ‘affair bitch’ in perpetuity. Yes, it’s normal, healthy and natural to express rage, pain, and distrust after an affair has been discovered in a monogamous relationship. However, staying rooted in this mindset, while valid, leaves little room for growth or change with the cheater.

The cheater is at fault, yes. They did this on their own, of their own accord, because they chose to, because they wanted to. Yes, all of this is true. And there is no universal edict that says you must get over it, or that you must forgive it, or that you must attempt to reconcile with the cheater. It’s perfectly valid and rational to hate the cheater for what they did, and it’s natural to want to exact some form of personal vengeance for it. You won’t ever hear me saying that you should turn the other cheek. I might say that revenge is a futile exercise that invests your energy into someone undeserving of it … but it’s your choice.

However (and it’s a big however), if this is what you want to do, why be with the cheater? If you want to punish the cheater for their affair and the hurt it brought you, you have a far better and personally healthier option: Leave.

Reconciliation with a cheater does not excuse you from the hard work that you too will be required to undertake. The cheater has responsibilities to you during the process of reconciliation and, in agreeing to reconcile, you have an obligation to at least want and try to work towards repair.

Simply touching a difficult memory with some slight willingness to heal begins to soften the holding and tension around it.
~ Stephen Levine

Wanting your cheater to have some empathy towards the emotional challenges that they have caused you (and the relationship) makes sense if you’re going to work together to heal it. It’s okay to want your cheater to know some of your pain and upset so that you both understand what you’re facing … but if that is coming from a place of punishment, it’s time for a rethink.

Reconciliation is not a one-person task, on either side.

~ Wayfarer


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw