After the Betrayal.  Take these Steps Immediately After Discovering an Affair

Nicholas A. Natale, PhD

The discovery of an affair produces a torrent of emotions – betrayal, hurt, anguish, depression, anger, confusion.  There are few moments in your life that compare. Your mind is swirling with questions. Your body is tense. The agony is almost too much to bear. Your heart, your very soul, feels like it’s been ripped out. The breach of trust and love renders you an emotional and physical wreck.

The 2015 revelation of 37 million account users connected with the Ashley Madison hack continues to bring this issue to the forefront of many couples.  Unearthing a loved one’s name on this list potentially threatens your relationship at its core.  (As an aside, on the local level, an analysis of the hacked data reveals that Lexington, SC has the second most paid account users per capita on Ashley Madison in the state.  Columbia stands at number seven.[i])

The next steps you take are critically important for your own emotional health and that of your relationship; regardless if an affair took place or the relationship survives or not.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in a committed, marital, or dating relationship, what happens next can be make all the difference in the world. 

The following action ideas are for you to embrace to when everything else feels out of control. 

1.       Ask Questions.  There are tons of questions racing through your mind.  Did you have an affair? Who is it?  Did you meet?  What happened?  Do you love her?  Is she beautiful?  Are you still seeing him?  Ask the difficult questions.  By doing so, you are also expressing the emotions that are stored-up in each of them.  Asking questions enables you to gauge his or her willingness to fully disclose what happened.  Suppressing these questions will only delay your ability to address the betrayal in a healthy way.  One caveat here, there comes a point when asking questions again and again proves harmful to your mental health.  If you become overwhelmed by the information you are hearing from your partner, seek help. 

2.       Don’t Forgive Too Quickly.  It’s not uncommon for either the offending partner or yourself to want the relationship to rush back to the way it was before the infidelity.  By doing so, however, you may give the impression that the betrayal was not all that serious.  You may also be denying your own level of hurt.  You need time to process everything.  Give yourself the time that’s needed. 

3.       Address the Issue Openly.  Related to the last point, it’s tempting to simply ‘move-on’ without focusing on what’s really occurring in the relationship.  Your relationship is important to you.  Whatever in the relationship precipitated this betrayal necessitates examination or it will more than likely happen again. 

4.       Share with a Trusted Friend.  You cannot carry this alone.  Share what you’re experiencing with a trusted friend.  Talk with someone who demonstrates understanding, support, who will take the time to listen, empathize, and help you plan the next steps.  Talk with someone with whom you don’t have to worry about being deceived again.  It is preferable that this person be of the same gender to avoid potential emotional or physical attraction that can develop in your vulnerability.  

5.       Take the Time.  Take time to understand the depth of your own hurt and make plans for the immediate future.  Does the offending spouse need to leave for a short time?  Was the affair sexual in nature?  Do you need to be tested by a medical physician?  In this moment, all kinds of questions, concerns, and complications are racing through your head.  Take time to catch your breath before you make any hasty decisions. 

6.       Trust and Verify.  As you attempt to reconcile and restore the relationship, don’t be afraid to rely on your instinctive need to verify what your offending partner is doing, where she is going, or with whom he is talking.  As you begin the long road of rebuilding trust, verify any activity that may make you uncomfortable in order to rebuild the lost trust.  If your offending partner resists or becomes angry over your attempts to verify, ask yourself what that may mean. 

7.       Seek Help.  There may come a time when you need more help than a friend can provide.  The emotional turmoil you experience may produce persistent anxious and/or depressive symptoms.  Seek the help of a professional marital therapist if it becomes too much.  You do not have to experience this alone. 

I once heard a saying, “Never lie to someone who trusts you.  And, never trust someone who lies to you.”  Everyone who has survived an affair understands this statement.  There is hope.  Trust can be restored.  The relationship can thrive once again.  It begins with taking care of your own emotional and spiritual health.  In the midst of the emotional torrent, hang on to what matters most. 

If you would like to talk to someone to help you through this crisis, please contact our office at Palmetto Counseling Associates at 803.254.9767 or myself at