For real healing from relationship betrayal to begin, a couple needs these 3 A’s…

Healing from Relationship Betrayal

By Sarah P.

For real healing to begin after an affair, both the unfaithful person and the betrayed need to understand how the trauma of the affair has affected the betrayed, and how they may be triggered in often unpredictable ways until trust is firmly re-established. This requires time, patience and a delicate balance of openness and safety. 

The key to healing from an affair and experiencing Post-Traumatic Growth is to use a method that Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed called Atone, Attune, Attach.

This method would be ideal for couples where both appear equally committed to repairing their marriage.

Healing from Relationship Betrayal: Atone, Attune & Attach


The first step, atonement, requires a wayward spouse to show genuine remorse and to atone for the breaches of trust. It begins with a commitment that the unfaithful person has cut off all contact with the affair partner, and includes a negotiated agreement as to how the couple wants to handle any attempts at contact by the affair partner.

Additionally, the couple shares what they perceive is needed to heal the betrayal wound. This includes things such as transparency, honesty and otherwise full, yet safe, disclosure. 

How much or how little disclosure/details is up to each couple, but it’s certainly best for the unfaithful person to come 100% clean. Unfortunately, that rarely happens as the details/truth tend to be trickled out over time.  According to research by Dr. John Gottman, when the unfaithful person agreed to answer questions and opened up to disclosure, the couple stayed together 86% of the time.

See also  The Perfect Storm


The second step in the healing process is Attunement. In this phase, the couple addresses whether and how they can “be there” for each other. They begin to rebuild trust, piece by piece.  The attunement includes the following the actions:

Attending to partner’s feelings

Turning toward a partner

Tolerating both good and bad feelings

Understanding a partner’s perception

Non-defensive listening


These actions may not come naturally to everyone, so a couple must be very intentional in their efforts to adopt these behaviors. It will be especially important for a wayward spouse to engage in attunement, as they are encouraged to maintain a steady stream of honest disclosure while maintaining no-contact with their affair partner.

To foster attunement, a couple can refer to Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Model, where “renovations” are in order to rebuild friendship, fondness and admiration, connection (turning towards each other), positivity, conflict management, dream-making and shared meaning in life.

When wayward spouses actively display these behaviors as presented in the acronym above – and do so for an extended period of time, a betrayed spouse can trust and forgive more quickly.

The Sound Relationship House and How it Relates to Infidelity


The third step in healing — Attach– shows a couple how to rebuild their connection with one another. It should come as no surprise that many betrayed spouses have a very difficult time becoming vulnerable enough to rebuild genuine sexual intimacy. However, reestablishing physical intimacy is key. Thus, the main goal of the attachment phase is to rekindle a profound sexual connection.

Sometimes couples will have a sexual connection due to hysterical bonding, but the attachment step is less about hysterical bonding and more about creating a profound connection.

See also  Nine of Our Favorite Infidelity Websites and Blogs

Prior to affairs, many couples fall into patterns where they have disconnected sex. They know what the other needs to get ready—they go through the motions—and there is nothing new or inspiring.

This last step works best if couples build a sexual connection based on true vulnerability, unconditional acceptance of the body of the betrayed spouse, and the wayward spouse taking the lead in creating an environment of emotional safety.

Here’s a brief video by the Gottmans describing Atone, Attune & Attach

Happily Ever After (Again)

With the help of a therapist or marriage mentor and the process of Atone, Attune, Attach, healing from relationship betrayal and recovering one’s marriage is probable. However, it requires that both people be very intentional about rebuilding a Sound Relationship House and co-creating a marriage that is more fulfilling than the marriage they had before.

It is possible to take the proverbial lemons that life hands you and make lemonade. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Most of all, the trauma that is so utterly destructive to a marriage can be transformed into a powerful tool for Post-traumatic Growth.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


    7 replies to "3 Ingredients for Healing from Betrayal: Atone, Attune & Attach"

    • Shelly

      I was wondering if anyone could please help me. My husband had an EA with a neighbor and although he won’t fully admit to it, that’s exactly what it was. I got the whole “just friends” line for months until I finally put my foot down. This neighbor was my friend, or so I thought. While I blame my husband more than her, I am mad that she was not discouraging but encouraging the behavior. Now, although we are communicating more and working on things, I keep having these nagging thoughts about “would he be happier with her?” “Am I in the way?” Thoughts along those lines. Of course she very pretty and outgoing and fun and my self esteem is pretty low right now. Any help on how to deal with this line of thinking would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

      • Angie

        You are not alone at feeling like this. It has been two years since my husband cut all ties with his AP however I still struggle with feeling less than. He fell in love with her, and they had a two year romantic affair until I found out. Even though he claims it was a fantasy and he loves me, deep down I wonder whether he would be happier with her. I am sorry that I don’t have an answer for you. This sucks!

        • Shelly

          Hi Angie! Thank you for replying! I’m so sorry that you are going through this, too. It does suck. I hate all of these thoughts and feelings. And I have such resentment over it. I know this is not a good way to live and we are not meant to be angry and resentful but it’s hard not to be. It helps to know someone understands though. Thank you! I pray we both find peace from this at some point.

          • Sarah

            @ Shelly, I feel the same way my husband had a year long EA with a co worker.. he told me she was a man.. he would sing in the shower and come home and tell me all these wonderful things about his new “work apprentice” like how they were a team and how it did not matter that I did not get him because “Mel” got him.. at first I was happy for him because I thought he had a work buddy and I was so excited he was happy at work but then he started to treat me awful and one day (after a year long relationship with her) he let it slip in font of my 11 year old and I that Mel was really Melissa.. it took 3 months for him to start to get out of his affair fog and next week will be a year since D-Day.. I can’t stop thinking he only wants me because of the kids.. he has done a 180 this last year And is literally a better husband then he ever was before.. but my heart is broken and I feel like the consolation prize 😔 they had so much more in common then him and I do at this point. He had 3 young boys ( he was a single dad) when we got married and we have 2 together.. I spent the last 15 years of my life raising his children he made me the mom role in his life and she got to get the fun, flirting, joking and laughing care free charming man I thought I married. 😔 I just hurt and my self esteem is broken…

    • Shelly

      Hey there, Sarah!

      Believe me, I totally get how you feel and I am so sorry. The emotional rollercoaster feels endless. I keep reminding myself that even if he had chosen her, it wouldn’t always be rainbows and butterflies because there are no perfect relationships. The newness would wear off and issues would surface. That’s why affairs are such a fantasy. He isn’t waking up on a Tuesday morning, rushing around getting kids ready for school with her. She isn’t asking him to help with the laundry or take out the trash. It’s only a highlight reel, not real life. And honestly, what kind of woman is she to be involved in something like this? Even if she didn’t initiate it. That’s what gets me. In my situation, it was a neighbor and friend. I feel like at any point she could have said, “hey…your wife is my friend” or at least not returned his texts. Not encouraged it. I would hope I would never do this to a friend of mine. If one of my friend’s husbands started texting me, that would be a giant red flag and I would not be reciprocating it. So, I keep reminding myself of this when my self esteem is low. She’s not some awesome person if she’s doing things like that. Praying for you and hoping you guys can thrive after this and look back years later and see how far you’ve come and he can shake his head at himself and say, “man, I almost lost my wife and best friend because I was a dumba**!”

      • Sarah

        Shelly. Hugs to you! I am so sorry you have to deal with a double betrayal! I agree what kind of woman would ever entertain a married man.. only a awful person or a really broken one! I am just so sad that I lost the ability to take my husband for his word. I am sad that I now have a sinking feeling in my stomach every time he leaves for work.. I can’t imagine living next door.. ( I hate that you have to go through this! How strong of you!) Thank you for the prayers. Lord knows I need them! I will be praying for you as well. I keep telling myself that the “healing is found in the feeling “ I have to feel my feelings and not let myself go numb.. I have been working on myself, going to the gym every day, I lost 60 lbs and got a haircut 😁💪🏼🧘🏻‍♀️ Make sure you are giving yourself as much grace as you give your husband (he is so blessed to still have you!). From your tone of kindness and caring in your message I can tell you are A giver and a doer .. make time to give and do for yourself too! Peace and healing to you Shelly!

        • Shelly

          Sweet Sarah, I can tell the same about you! A kind and caring woman. I’m so very sorry you have to endure this! I’m glad you are being kind to yourself. You deserve and are worthy of love, happiness and good things! Take care of yourself! Congrats on the weight loss! Getting healthy is always a good thing! I lost 40lbs from the stress of the EA. Not a great way to lose it, but I did need to. Couldn’t eat or sleep hardly. Ugh. I’m sure you’ve dealt with the same. The living next door is difficult. We cut ties but the hardest part was that our kids are very good friends. My girls are young, 6 and 8, so I’ve tried to shield them from everything as much as I can. They don’t understand why we all aren’t hanging out together anymore as we used to do bbqs and 4th of July, Halloween etc. We recently moved…four days ago actually. I feel so much relief not having to see her every day and have a constant reminder of my failings and someone my husband preferred over me. I’m sad that my girls have lost friends as a consequence of this. 🙁 Thank you so much for prayers! I pray for happiness and much brighter days ahead. God is good and He is for us and for our marriages! Blessings to you!! And if you ever wanna talk, I’m here! 💜

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