Dr. Sheck,

I’ve just found out my husband has been in a three and a half year affair!  Do you feel that it is possible to salvage our marriage?


Dear Betrayed,

This is an extremely challenging issue, yet in my experience it can be worked through.  I’d say on any given week in my couples counseling practice, I have at least one couple trying to work through an affair and reconnect.

The process is a slow one, usually taking months or even years. It’s tough, no question, yet it’s not impossible.  Couples that truly love each other, are deeply connected and genuinely want to work it through, can work it through, in my experience.

Now in the case of a long-term marriage such as yours, there might be more commitment and more history to motivate doing the work to heal the marriage.  You need to find your own reasons for choosing to work things through.

That being said, it definitely takes time, compassion and patience, and I would recommend the following steps.  First, I would recommend seeking professional help.  This issue is way too charged to deal with on your own.  The work is not easy. In fact, it is quite painful.  And, the outcome is not guaranteed.  The end result will be worth it though.

Even if you can’t salvage your marriage you will both achieve some degree of healing which you will carry into your next relationships.  And if you have children, it will help you to be better co-parents.

So, the basic steps of healing an affair are:

1. What does the partner who was cheated on need from the other partner? Do they need details?  Do they need explanations?  Do they need to understand why this happened?   The details may be uncomfortable to hear, but knowing that your spouse is willing to “come clean” often helps people to recover.

2. The partner who had the affair needs to take responsibility for their actions. They need to apologize, express their regret and make their amends to their spouse.

3. What does the partner who was cheated on need from the other partner now in terms of setting boundaries to start to rebuild the trust? Do they need to know everything the partner is doing for a period of time?  Do they need access to voicemail or email passwords for a period to feel safe?  Is this reasonable and acceptable to the other partner.  It’s a tricky aspect, yet vital.

4. Finally, what are the deficits in the marriage? What needs improving specifically, for both partners to be happy? While the cheating spouse is certainly responsible for their actions and their betrayal, it is also true that perhaps not all of their needs were being met within the marriage.  This is most likely true for both partners.

And there you have the beginning steps towards healing a relationship broken by an affair. It takes time, both partners must be patient and accept that it is a process.  Again, I would recommend professional help in working this through, should you choose to do so.

Thank you so much,

Dr. Adam Sheck

Passion Doctor Readers: Have you had an experience with infidelity?  Did you see a therapist? Were you able to work it out with your partner?  What was helpful about the treatment?   As always, I welcome and invite your feedback. And, if you have any other relationship issues you’d like me to address, please feel free to “Ask Adam” by clicking here!

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