distraught womanOther people can sense it when they’re with you and your partner. You can see it, hear it and feel it when you are together. There is a subtle (or not so subtle) layer of something between you that wasn’t always there.

It’s a distance, a tension, a strained or forced energy…and it’s why you’re feeling dissatisfied and maybe even second-guessing your decision to stay with your partner after he or she had an emotional affair.

It’s a lot like the dust that settles over everything when home or business renovations have been going on. Stores post signs that say, “Pardon Our Dust” as workers drill, hammer and sand. You may have to walk around tarps to avoid the construction going on.

It’s loud and inconvenient, even if you’re well aware that improvements are being made.

Your relationship in repair is much the same. As you and your partner navigate the days, weeks, months and maybe even years after the emotional affair, you are going through renovations of a different kind.

You’re learning to trust one another again as you also learn from past mistakes that were made by both of you.

Even if you feel relatively certain that one day this work will pay off and you and your partner will rebuild your relationship into something even better, for now, it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable.

This relationship repair phase often feels strained and uncertain. You can’t know for sure whether or not the damage can be overcome completely or at all.

It’s important for you both to be patient with yourselves and with each other. When you feel irritable or are filled with doubt, remember that re-construction is in process and that it won’t happen all at once.

See also  Erasing the Fantasy After the Affair

Recognize the improvements you two have made so far. These might seem insignificant or minor, but notice them anyway because they’re important.

Is your partner sharing more with you than before?

Are you responding differently than you used to?

Are you two making time to connect in new ways?

Not only does this level of awareness help ease impatience when it comes up, it also fosters appreciation and that’s an essential element of a healthy and happy relationship.

One reason why relationships don’t ever recover from an emotional affair is because the couple can’t shake the residue of the affair. The layers of stored up anger, resentment and mistrust make it impossible for either of them to see and appreciate the good stuff that may be trying to take hold.

The “dust” of the hurt feelings covers everything…and suffocates love completely.

Consciously clear the air.

What you might not have fully done yet is to clear the air. We’re not suggesting that you rush into the room screaming and shouting at your partner. We are encouraging you to continue the process of allowing your emotions in healthy ways.

Too many people limit themselves emotionally. They believe that they get a finite amount of time to have strong feelings about the emotional affair (and other relationship challenges) and then, that’s it.

The reality is that your emotions about a betrayal will fluctuate. Something will trigger you and a wave of rage or grief may come over you. At other times, you’ll touch in to warm and loving feelings.

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That’s all natural and part of the process.

To consciously clear the air means to give yourself permission to feel what you feel. You don’t necessarily have to dump what you’re feeling on your partner, but do be honest. Give yourself personal space when you need it to let out those raw and intense feelings in ways that don’t harm you, your partner or anyone else.

Move forward from right NOW.

When you regularly clear the air and allow your emotions to come up and release in healthy ways, you can more easily move beyond the residue of the affair.

It’s easier to really be present and to respond from what’s happening right now– instead of from old emotional wounds.

Things can get confusing when you’re repairing your relationship. Your partner will say or do something that reminds you of the time when he or she was cheating. You immediately get suspicious and you may either impulsively go on the attack or withdraw into yourself.

With both of these reactions, you’re not helping your relationship. The residue builds up even more.

As quickly as you can, ask yourself the question: “What’s true now?” 

You might not have a definitive answer, but this can help you shift your thinking and move out of the past and back into the now. Review what you know about the present situation.

Do you have reliable information that– right now– your partner is not being honest or is somehow betraying you? If so, then follow up and get facts to help you make a decision.

See also  Open Discussion: Are We Really Meant to be Monogamous?

But, if you are basing your suspicions on what happened in the past, then you’re letting the dust cloud your view. Clear it and re-focus on what’s best for you (and your relationship) now.


Things can get confusing and frustrating when you’re trying to rebuild trust after an emotional affair. Susie and Otto Collins are Breakthrough Relationship Coaches who help couples and individuals transform their relationships and lives. Click here to find out more about their telephone, in-person or Skype coaching program.

    18 replies to "“Pardon Our Dust:” How to Move Beyond Emotional Affair Residue"

    • gizfield

      God love em, susie and otto seem like nice enough people.I’m just skeptical of their affair advice. I can spot one of their articles almost as soon as I start reading it. It’s twirly, cosmic, “all is well,” I’m kind of wondering What the heck is this all about? Then, I will read a sentence that will just piss me off, royally. And then I KNOW it’s them. It’s always kind of subversive, makes me wonder just exactly is wrong with me that caused this. They seem to want to distribute responsibility for the cheating to both partners, and it creeps me out. it’s kind of like stuff you hear the cheaters say, in a more positive format. I’m not even sure they are aware of this. Likely not.

      Just wondering if anyone else gets this impression. And it’s not an occasional thing. It’s in all their articles, or at least most of them. Sorry if I’m being negative.

      • exercisegrace

        Giz, I totally get it. My stomach churns whenever I see one of their articles posted. It is truly something that could drive me away from this site. Either these two have NEVER experienced infidelity or they are BOTH cheaters.

    • gizfield

      It never says the Collins wrote this, but I’m assuming they did based on the bio and photo at the bottom of the article.

      • exercisegrace

        True Giz, but it definitely doesn’t have the “voice” or “feel” that Doug and Linda’s writing has. It also has the same tone to me that every article with this couple’s name at the bottom has.

        In the interest of fairness, I will say they are a couple of valid points in the above article. The most important one being….what is true now? I do ask myself that sometimes when I get caught up in the “what was”. However, I know I will spend the rest of my life proof-testing the NOW against the THEN. Running a sanity check if you will. I was so horribly fooled. So totally trusting. I have a filter now that I run words and actions through.

    • gizfield

      Thanks, E.G. I get that same feeling. Like I’ve done something wrong. Stomach churning is a good description. I, too, wonder if they have experienced this.

    • Ocean girl

      Ditto for me… The Collins articles sound as if all is happening in a perfect world in which the cheater comes clean immediately, shows remorse and begins to immediately do whatever it takes to repair the marriage and begin rebuilding trust. Doesn’t work for me. 18 months from DDay, I still don’t know all the truth, I moved out of my home to escape the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse he inflicted on me for asking questions about the affair. He works with her and this is his second EA with her in our marriage. He says it’s over and that he no longer talks or texts her or goes to lunch with her, but I have no proof of it as I cannot monitor his actions at work. he told her to stop texting and calling on our landline and cell phone lines because I can monitor those. Short of a polygraph, I don’t know that I can ever believe him. He refuses to take the polygraph on the grounds that they are not 100% reliable. He is doing all he can to get me back home and trying to reconnect, but I am afraid to do so. I can’t help holding myself back. A therapist told me that his attachment to her won’t go away…sort of like the attachment one would have for a first love…that literally scares the hell out of me. I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t live in the present because I still don’t have a clear understanding of the past. The residue is still there and at this point, I am afraid that nothing will ever scrub it clean. The AP is still the “elephant” in the room, on the date, right beside him in my mind every time I see him. I’m afraid the Spector of her will never go away. 36 years of marriage….I was cast aside like a piece of old furniture for an outdoorsy huntress with a propensity for drinking, motorcycles, and camo, and who has more guy “friends” than woman friends. Now he wants me back. Not sure why, other than we live in a no fault state and I will get 50% minimum of our assets in a divorce–which could amount to quite a bit. – more than he wants to lose. And I am at a loss of what to do–do I stay and just get over it since I will never have the truth and worry and wait for him to go back to her again–Or do I cut the cord now and give up on a 36 year marriage that will hurt not only me, but our kids and extended families as well? Trying to rely on Gods guidance, but I sure wish He would hurry up and lead me to know what to do.18 months is a long time to live in this hell.

      • exercisegrace

        Ocean Girl, it sounds like you have been through the wringer. There are just no easy answers in the post-affair landscape. I think you are doing the right thing, taking some time to decide what you want to do. Individual counseling can help you reach a decision. For me, it was based on how remorseful I thought he was and exactly how willing he was to comply with my list of requirements. Is your husband willing to change jobs? Move from the area? Do whatever it takes to show you he is serious about ending this affair?

        I’m not sure I believe the therapist who told you his attachment won’t go away. That depends entirely on your husband and his ability to see his affair for what it was. Most truly remorseful cheating spouses come out of the fog, and see the affair for what it was. Usually a means of escape and self-medicating some form of brokenness within themselves. They are able to see the affair partner as someone who was not their friend, and not a true love. They can see another broken person, who enabled them to crap all over people to meet their own selfish needs.

        Just as we should have listened to our instincts DURING the affair, I believe we have to listen to them AFTER. That little voice inside tells us what is TRUE and we should listen to it. Sometimes that truth is quite painful, but it is always right.

      • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

        So much of what you say, Oceangirl, is what I too lived. I am now divorced and in a new relationship with someone who was also cheated on by his former spouse, and probably in week 2 of our dating, he said to me, “We will never do to each other what was done to us.” I loved my previous husband of 37 years, but he would never come clean and I could never really relax. I was always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And eventually, it did…many times. Now I have zero tolerance for cheating. Do what is best for you and don’t let anyone including your H dictate what that looks like. This isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation. God will definitely help you. I wish you only the best.

    • Gizfield

      Ocean girl, I agree with you about the article. Your story sounds pretty extreme. I dont personally think God wants you to be treated this way. Adultery is grounds for divorce.

      Not sure why therapists want to throw the First Love Eternal Bond theory around like it’s gospelbecause it just isn’t so. If it were we would all be with our first love, which praise God , I am not. I had an affair with him 20 years ago, and I have no feelings for him whatsoever, “guy on the bus.” My loss of feeling was total, immediate, and eternal. So I know.

      If you are not living with this guy, you can’t be monitoring his activity, he probably has secret accounts, they all do. To me, your biggest concern is your safety. Hope the therapist addressed that. Take care of yourself. It sounds like your husband is about control, not love. Just my opinion.

    • Gizfield

      There is a really good song on “lost love” called Unanswered Prayers by Garth Brooks. I know on the rare occasions that something reminds me of my ex, I make the sign of the cross and thank God for allowing me to dodge that bullet. If karma exists, it would be for cheaters to spend eternity together. eew, I feel ill just thinking about it. He’s Just Somebody That I USED to Know. Again, thank god. Nothing to see there. I saw it all before..

    • DJ

      It seems that counselors like these two fail to remember that there are two processes involved in moving past an affair. Recovery and healing from an affair is related to, but different from building a new and better relationship. Looking for mistakes in the way faithfuls handled things in a marriage, while at the same time working on recovery can so easily take on the attitude of placing blame on them. And of course, this is WRONG and a sensitive topic for us faithfuls.

      Recovery and healing must come first. It can overlap along the way with working on the marriage but that mistake in attitude must be avoided, in my opinion.

      When we are moving along in recovery and start on working on the relationship, it is natural to look back at how we did it before and see if we still want to do it that way. This would be REbuilding the relationship. There are always improvements that both parties can make. That in no way condones an affair. The faithful spouse was in the same marriage and didn’t go that route. But looking at past situations is often part of the process of rebuilding, and that seems the be the method that Mr. and Mrs. Collins use.

      In my marriage, I have found that it is helpful to look at it as building a new relationship, not rebuilding. The old one was destroyed, devastated by the storm of his infidelity. What we do now is build a new relationship without resorting to studying mistakes of the past. Talking about his need for acts of service does not mean we have to dwell on the possibility that I didn’t do enough of that before. We avoid that. We try to stay on the here and now, and the future. What would work for us now? It has been meaningful for us.

      Of course, there have been and still are triggers and setbacks and shouting sessions about the past, and I struggle with depression – which are part of affair recovery and not our building a new relationship – but we work at it. Hopefully we will heal enough from the affair to enjoy the new relationship we are striving for.

      All this does not even touch the need for individual healing for each spouse, recovery and healing for the faithful, and detox and self-examination for the cheater… that’s four processes going on at the same time! No wonder it takes years.

      • exercisegrace

        DJ, you have such a wise and sweet spirit. I think you have put into words something I have been grappling with. Rebuilding has never made total sense to me. Our therapist acknowledges that the old relationship is gone. I think I am going to strike the word rebuilding from my vocabulary. I like the idea of looking at it as a brand new relationship. You can take the benefit of knowing so much about each other (obviously) and focus on how that can help build something new. Perhaps it is time to stop looking back so much, even at the good stuff (for now) and just focus on the here and now.

        • Mike

          Thats terrible! Why would you want a “new” relationship with someone you KNOW has so little respect and romantic desire for you? Now suddenly they decide they like you again after realizing what a complicated nightmare it would be to go through a divorce after all those years… Clearly the cheater is settling for you “again” out of pity and comfortability. After cheating what really happens is two people agree to accept whats monetarily and physically easiest versus finding genuine, reciprocal love.

    • Gizfield

      Yes, that makes sense, DJ, about making these processes separate.

      I just don’t think you can disregard the past like saying “that was then, this is now”. Which is what the article seemed to be saying. Your past becomes part of you, and you carry it with you. So does everyone else’s. I don’t know, this is all very confusing for me.

    • Strengthrequired

      Dj, yes wise words I agree with too. Live for now, for a better tomorrow, not for yesterday.

    • DJ

      Thank you all for your kind words. I think we all understand this idea of separate processes instinctively after spending time in the world of affair recovery, but it’s just hard to get into words sometimes. I spent time thinking about it because I also could not get my head around the idea of rebuilding. Rebuilding what? In my mind, I saw my heart shattered in a million pieces on the living room floor, where I was when I found all the emails. In my mind, I saw my marriage as our house, burned to the ground and smashed so badly that even the foundation was ruined. There was nothing to do but start all over from scratch.

      The pain – oh, the pain – is part of the affair recovery and where many of us get stuck. That’s where I am stuck, for sure. I have realized that I am simply not finished grieving. There is not much more Daniel and I can say or do concerning the affair. After 3.5 years it’s all been hashed out. I just have to finish grieving over what I thought was our wonderful life and our beautiful love story. It is not always possible to keep this separate from the new relationship we are building, and still sometimes I just have to be away from him for a few hours. But I am so much better than I was before, and I do still love him.

      Love & prayers for you all ~~ DJ

    • donna

      DJ, my husband of 28 yrs had an emotional affair with a co-worker for several months. when i confronted him he said he ended it. then 2 months later his coworker sent me a text that i was holding him in the marriage by holding a gun to his head. I asked him to call her and let her know he wanted to be with me and in our marriage. he never did. he claims God has told him to leave it behind and just move on. I am struggling with just moving on. I am not sure how deep his feelings went with her. He is seeing a Christian counselor and says he has always loved me. But when his mother was dying he texted her as soon as I left the hospital and they engaged in 90 min text session. am i just being too jealous or is he in denial about the emotional affair?

    • Jill T

      I believe my husband is having an affair. I’ve suspected in the past and do again now. How can I find solid proof?

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