Written by: Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Discovering your partner's affair can feel like a bomb just went off in your living room. It's not just about the betrayal; it's about the entire narrative you've created together throughout your relationship now exploding into chaos. Everything you both worked so hard to build now hangs in the air, hovering on the edge of oblivion.
This affair triggers an existential crisis, pushing you to question your partner's very identity. You're left wondering if the person you thought you knew is an illusion, a mirage of honesty and authenticity you desperately wanted to believe in. The line between reality and the story you've told yourself blurs, leaving you in a mental tug-of-war.
8 things you should do after discovering an affair
Coping with the intense emotions that arise immediately after discovering an affair can be incredibly challenging. Here are 8 steps to help you navigate these strong feelings:
1. Allow yourself to feel
It's crucial to acknowledge and validate your feelings. You're likely to experience a range of intense feelings, including anger, sadness, fear, betrayal, shock, and confusion. This is normal. Don’t try to suppress, deny, or avoid what comes up. Find healthy ways to process your feelings and focus on getting through this one day at a time.
2. Find your support system
Reach out to a small number of trusted friends and family members who can provide emotional support. Being alone in your pain will make it harder. Choose 1-2 trusted people you trust and feel safe to talk with.
3. Know that obsessive thinking is normal
Your thoughts about the affair will may become obsessive, and likely intrusive and overwhelming. It’s normal, I’m afraid. Be kind to yourself during this challenging time. Avoid self-criticism and practice self-compassion. Consider setting specific times to allow yourself to think about the affair and limit rumination. While it's important to understand the context of the affair, be cautious not to over-engage in detail that may intensify obsessive thinking. There's a balance between seeking information and becoming consumed by it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your thoughts and feelings, seeing an individual therapist can be very helpful.
Take extra care of yourself physically and emotionally. Try to rest, eat well, and engage in activities that soothe and comfort you. Exercise, walking or being in nature, meditation, and deep breathing techniques can help manage stress and intense emotions.
5. Give space when needed
If you and your partner are living together, you may both need some time and space to process the situation. Consider staying with a friend or family member if necessary to create distance.
6. Limit impulsive decisions
It's natural to want immediate answers and resolution, but making impulsive decisions in the heat of the moment is not in your best interest. Avoid rash actions like confrontations or ultimatums while emotions are running high.
7. Set boundaries
If the unfaithful spouse has not yet ended the affair and hasn’t decided whether to stay or go, the faithful partner can feel very vulnerable and re-traumatised. It’s vital to agree on a time frame for the unfaithful partner to decide on whether to end the affair or not. I also advise couples to agree on boundaries around continuing contact with the outside affair person until this decision is made.
8. Get professional help
Affairs are never solely about sex or random impulses. They're a symptom of underlying issues in the relationship. Therapy helps you both uncover the 'whys':
why it happened
why you let it happen
why your relationship got to this point.
Consult a therapist or counsellor experienced in relationships and infidelity. They will provide guidance and a safe space to explore your emotions, help you make informed decisions, and work this through.
There are three phases in the aftermath of an affair
Crisis stage – The Affair Is Exposed
Understanding and Exploration stage – What underlying issues led to the affair?
Create a New Relationship Vision – Your Old Relationship Is Over
There is no fixed timeline for moving through the 3 stages of affair recovery. Healing from infidelity is a highly individualised process, and the timeline can vary greatly from one couple to another.
The crisis stage of an affair will vary in duration, intensity, and ferocity depending on the individuals involved and the circumstances and complexity of the affair. For example: the length of time of the affair (a one-off event vs. years or decades), the level of emotional involvement, the amount of lying, denying, or hiding of the affair.
The degree of individual resilience also plays a part in how well each partner copes with the emotional turmoil and will influence how long this stage lasts. Some individuals may be able to work through their emotions more quickly, while others may take longer. Effective communication between partners at this stage is crucial. How openly and honestly you can talk and feel listened to about your feelings and concerns has a big impact on the length and depth of the crisis stage.
Now, let me offer you a piece of golden advice: a therapist can be your guiding star through this storm. They're the North Star leading you out of the tempest and into the second stage – the exploration stage. It's a stage you'll want to dwell in, for it's here that the true transformation begins.
What to do (and not do) if you were the cheating partner
1. Take responsibility for what you did
After taking the first crucial step of admitting to an affair, it's time to truly take responsibility for actions that led to the betrayal. Assuming responsibility isn't merely saying, "Yes, I cheated.” It requires a deep understanding and acceptance of the pain your actions have caused your partner. For the partner who was unfaithful - many partners do not regret the affair because of how it made them feel but they do regret hurting their partner, so it’s important to say this: “I’m sorry for hurting you in this way”.
2. Don't blame your partner
Before having an affair, most people will justify in their head why it is OK to cheat. They gather evidence about all the things their partner is doing that is causing hurt and negativity. They often justify to themselves why they deserve to cheat because of their partner's bad behaviour.
Instead of defending yourself, blaming others, or minimising the impact of your affair, stop and give your partner the empathy, patience, and attention they deserve. Remember, healing is a process that demands sincere regret, remorse and, most importantly, actionable changes to regain lost trust. This step ensures that you are truly invested in repairing the damaged relationship and leading it towards recovery.
3. Don't romanticise what you did
Recognise that affairs are not romantic adventures; they are betrayals of trust. Avoid glorifying or idealising the affair in your mind. Understand that it was an action that was a breach of your commitment to your partner. Take full ownership for what you did and don't romanticise the affair.
4. Answer any and all questions
Many marriage experts agree that there's more chance of a couple's relationship surviving an affair if the cheating spouse surrenders the information they're asked by their betrayed partner.
Even though you may think that going over the details will only further upset your partner, any attempt to withhold information or keep details secret could erode any last vestiges of trust they may have. What's more, if you leave out details that come out later, your partner may feel like you've betrayed them all over again. A willingness to talk about anything, on the other hand, does have the potential to rebuild trust.
What to do (and not do) if you discover you have been cheated on
1. Give yourself time to process the initial shock
The pain you feel right now can be difficult to endure – for some, it feels like grief, and you may go through similar stages of grief. This is because you are suffering a real loss of the person you thought you knew and trusted, or the vision of the relationship you thought you had.
If you need time away from your partner, take it. If you need to seek support from family and friends, go and be with them. If you don’t want to talk to your partner about the affair right now, don't give in to their bids to talk when you're not ready. Look after yourself.
2. Only ask about the details if you can handle the answers
I totally understand your impulse to want to know all the details:
What position did you have sex in?
How many times did you have sex?
Were they better than me?
Have you said, 'I love you'?”
However, think very carefully about how you'll handle the answers. Why? Because there is no possible right or wrong answer to questions like these. Discovering the sordid details might feel like now there are no more secrets, and you can work on your relationship from here. You might feel like you won't be able to trust your partner ever again unless you know everything. What I do know is once you know details like this you can never forget them.
If you really want to successfully work through your affair and come out the other side with a stronger, often even better relationship than you had, focus on uncovering what was happening in your relationship before the affair took place. This is something you both have responsibility for.
3. Once you are ready, ask constructive questions
Some helpful questions to ask are about what your partner was feeling or experiencing in the lead-up to the affair. Here are some constructive questions that could help:
What was missing for you in our relationship?
How did you want to feel by having an affair? (e.g., wanted, desired, loved, cherished, important to someone)
When did you start feeling like this?
Your partner’s answers may be hard for you to hear, but at least you will now have information that can help you decide what to do. You are now entering the second stage in the aftermath of an affair: Exploration. From here you can decide whether to stay and try and work it out, or to leave the relationship.
What should I do if I've been unfaithful and want us to stay together?
In the Exploration stage of the aftermath of cheating, here's what I say to the cheating spouse: You need to take responsibility for your actions and do whatever you can to rebuild trust with your partner. This includes taking steps such as:
Be 100% honest about the affair.
Express remorse. Take responsibility for the pain you have caused. This involves being willing to listen to your partner’s hurt feelings and showing empathy. Whilst you may not be sorry for having the affair (because of the way it made you feel, e.g. “I longed to feel wanted, loved, prioritised, special to someone”) - it is important to tell your partner you are sorry for the hurt you have caused them.
Answer any questions your partner has.
Go to couples therapy to rebuild your relationship and learn new skills.
Provide reassurance and evidence that you are committed to working on the relationship. Trust is earned by a series of small, repeated actions over time. Start showing this.
What should I do if I've been cheated on but I want us to stay together?
If you're the faithful spouse, the advice I'd give you is that you will need to be willing at some point to forgive, and this will take time. It is important to remember that forgiveness does not mean condoning the behaviour or forgetting about it, but rather accepting that the affair happened, exploring the reasons it happened, and finding a way to move forward. You should also make every effort to learn how to communicate effectively with your partner to rebuild trust and work through any issues that arise. More than anything else you could do, couples therapy will help.
How can we rebuild trust if one of us had an affair?
Both partners need to be patient and understanding as you work through the difficult process of rebuilding trust. It is important to be honest and open with each other, even when it is uncomfortable or painful as this willingness to be vulnerable is the first foundation for building trust. Trust is not a decision that is made, or a one-off event, it is a series of small steps, a gradient that increases and is earned slowly over time by a series of actions. Rebuilding trust involves creating a sense of emotional and physical security within the relationship. Both partners need to feel safe and valued.
Forgiveness is a decision that comes as a point when one of you decides at a point in the work, they are willing to move on and the affair becomes not something that one of you did, but something that happened to both of us in the past. Something that we would never have wished for but that was the catalyst for a much stronger, deeper, more authentic, and loving relationship.
What should the affair partner do after an affair?
Just to be clear, we're talking here about the person the unfaithful partner cheated with. The affair partner should stay away from the couple during the healing process. The presence of a third party can make it more difficult for the couple to work through their issues and can create feelings of distrust and jealousy. If possible, the affair partner should take steps to preserve the privacy of all involved parties and refrain from speaking about the situation publicly.
What about emotional infidelity?
When it comes to infidelity, an emotional affair can feel just as serious — if not more so — than a physical one. An emotional affair happens when a person who is already in a romantic relationship or married, starts getting super close emotionally with someone else outside that relationship. At first, it might seem innocent, just two friends having a chat. But here's the catch: this isn't your typical chat. It's the kind of intimate conversation you'd typically reserve for your partner. We're talking about sharing deep thoughts and feelings that you'd normally only share with your romantic partner.
Sometimes, emotional affairs can even lead to physical cheating if the emotional connection becomes strong. So, it's important to communicate openly with your partner and make sure you both feel emotionally connected to each other. If one person starts feeling left out or hurt because of this emotional connection with someone else, it can harm the relationship. That's why understanding emotional affairs and how they can affect relationships is essential for maintaining a healthy, loving connection with your partner.
Ultimately, working through an affair is a testament to the resilience and commitment of both individuals involved. Healing from an affair is not a linear process, and setbacks can occur. Both partners must be committed to the long-term effort required to rebuild the relationship. It is possible to emerge from the wreckage of infidelity with a renewed sense of trust, intimacy, and love, demonstrating that with dedication and effort, a relationship can indeed weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side.
If infidelity has rocked your relationship or marriage, I can help. Book a free 15-minute clarity call with me now here.
Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Shan is a relationship coach and couples therapist who takes professional couples from the brink of divorce to peaceful, reconnected, and unafraid of conflict in 90 days or less. Shan teaches couples a simple communication skill that takes them from the ‘Power Struggle’ to the ‘Peaceful’ stage of their relationship. Testimonials from her clients across the globe range from, “We put our wedding rings back on,” to “Things are a million times better between us.”