If your marriage or relationship has fallen victim to an emotional affair, the first step in recovery from an emotional affair is honesty, according to psychologist Barry McCarthy. “It is secrecy that enables affairs to thrive. The cover-up, for most people, is worse than the actual infidelity,” he says. “So it’s only by putting everything on the table that you’ll be able to move on.”
We can tell you from experience that this is the case. The lies and half-truths that I continually told to hide or downplay my emotional affair drove Linda to the brink. Eventually, it made no sense for me to continue to do so. More than a year later, I still answer questions that Linda has on a regular basis. Though these question and answer sessions can be rather unpleasant, they always result in us feeling better about our relationship and each other.
Author Peggy Vaughan states that “When a person discovers their mate is having an affair, their world suddenly turns upside down. In order to recover any sense of balance, they need to get more information and understanding of the situation. Without answers to their questions, they convince themselves that the answers must all be bad; otherwise why wouldn’t they be told what they want to know. They feel they’re being treated like a child, and they resent it.”
In other words, the involved partner must be honest about all aspects of the affair. Moving on too fast usually backfires, leaving the injured party reeling and the problem unresolved. “Many people believe that too much discussion just reopens the wound; but, in fact, the wound needs to be exposed to the light of day so that it can heal,” says Vaughan. “The involved partner must answer questions and soothe the injured partner for as long as that person needs.”
Psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring says the ultimate goal to being an open book is restoring trust to the relationship. She suggests couples make a list of the trust-enhancing behaviors that will help them heal. Both partners typically need compassion for their feelings, she says, but “the hurt partner shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden of recovery and may require some sacrificial gifts to redress the injury caused.”
Such sacrificial gifts could range from a request that the unfaithful partner change jobs to avoid contact with the “special friend” to access to that partner’s e-mail account and/or cell phone.
An emotional affair can really rattle a marriage, but statistically they rarely result in divorce. In fact, in many cases, through hard work the couple can create an even stronger marriage than they had previously.