Recovering from emotional infidelity starts with open communication and honesty


The breach of trust that comes with emotional affairs can sometimes be as daunting, if not more so, than a physical affair. Photo: TNS/Dreamstime

Dear Anna,

I recently discovered that my partner has been having an emotional affair with someone he met online. They’ve been exchanging intimate and flirtatious messages, discussing personal details about our relationship, and he’s even expressed a deep emotional connection to this woman.

They haven’t met in person, as far as I know, so nothing physical happened, but it seems pretty clear that that’s the direction it was headed.I feel like I’ve died.

I feel betrayed and hurt. I’m at a loss as to how to handle this situation, navigate my emotions and decide if there’s a way to restore trust and mend our relationship.

Is it possible to heal from something like this, and how can I determine if our relationship is worth saving? – Heartbroken and Confused

Dear HC,

I’m so sorry for the pain you’re experiencing. Unravelling the intense strands of emotional infidelity is hugely challenging, and is often tinged with feelings of betrayal, disappointment and confusion. The breach of trust that comes with emotional affairs can sometimes be as daunting, if not more so, than a physical affair.

To answer your first question, it is possible to heal and recover from such a breach. Some relationships survive, and even thrive, after emotional affairs, but this requires sincere effort from both parties. This includes transparency, rebuilding trust, seeking therapeutic support and renewing commitment. (More on these below.)

Before we get to that, I want you to give yourself permission to feel your feelings in all their raw and ragged intensity. Allow yourself the room to grieve the version of the relationship you thought you had. This might involve journalling, talking with a friend or loved one, screaming or crying like a banshee, or taking some space. However you choose to grieve, it’s essential to embody self-compassion during these moments of vulnerability.

While I’m going to help you as much as I can, I strongly urge you to seek professional help from a trained therapist (preferably one who has experience with infidelity). This kind of situation is beastly and complicated and even when both partners are 100% committed to working through it, it’s immensely helpful to have an impartial third party to hold your hand through this – even if that means ultimately ending the relationship.

On that note, deciding whether to stay in or leave a relationship after enduring emotional infidelity can be a hugely charged decision. It’s often helpful to pause and ask yourself a few questions to gain deeper insight. Here are some to consider:

> Does your partner acknowledge the pain caused?

A significant step towards recovery is when your partner acknowledges their actions’ hurtful impact and expresses genuine remorse.

> Is your partner willing to cut off the relationship causing the issue?

If your partner is willing to end the relationship that caused the emotional infidelity, it shows their commitment to restoring your relationship.

> Is your partner open to seeking professional help?

A willingness to attend therapy, both individually or as a couple, shows they are committed to understanding and resolving underlying issues.

> Can you envision a future with them?

Picture your life down the line. Are they in it? If it’s difficult to imagine a future without them, it might suggest the relationship is worth working on.

> Is this event an exception or a pattern?

Has your partner exhibited repeated patterns of dishonesty and infidelity, or was this a single, isolated event? It’s more challenging to rebuild a relationship with repeated breaches of trust.

> Do both of you still love and respect each other?

Love and respect are at the heart of a relationship. Infidelity can leave these feelings bruised but not necessarily depleted.

> Do you see consistent changes in their behaviour?

This is a question to ask down the line, but restoring trust calls for consistent actions over time. Do you see your partner making sustained efforts to rebuild the relationship?

Remember, only you can answer these questions. And, it’s perfectly OK to not have an immediate answer. Give yourself permission to take the time you need. Whether you decide to rebuild your relationship or start anew, make sure your choice serves your well-being and happiness.

One of the best books I’ve read on the subject of affairs is Esther Perel’s The State Of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, which includes many case studies from real couples and how they navigated these murky waters. Reading it will give you insights, tips, stories from the front lines, and help you understand you’re far from alone. (You might even read it together with your partner – though probably not right this second when emotions are running so high.)

Once you’ve reflected and grieved and raged and (hopefully) started the therapy process, the best way to move forward from an emotional infidelity starts with open communication and honesty. This may mean delving into the specifics of the affair and showing a clear dedication to breaking off the inappropriate liaison.

To rebuild trust, it may be necessary to have a period of complete transparency – meaning you might grant each other open access to online activities, phones, accounts, etc, at least until trust is restored. Discuss what boundaries are necessary to prevent future incidents. These could relate to interactions with others, social media use, and so on.

Other actions include demonstrating consistency. The actions of the person involved in the emotional affair should match their words. They need to demonstrate, through their actions, that they’re committed to rebuilding the relationship.

Rebuilding intimacy is another big step. Once the dust has settled, take time to reconnect emotionally and physically. This could be done through spending quality time together, expressing affection, or through acts of kindness.

Remember not to expect immediate resolutions. Hurt, anger and confusion take time to process, for you and for your partner. Avoid making impulsive decisions in the heat of anger, disappointment or sadness.

Whether you decide to stay and rebuild the bond or move on in search of a new beginning, remember you are deserving of love, honesty and respect. Trust in yourself and the wisdom of your emotions, for they will guide you on this journey of healing and self-discovery. – Tribune News Service/Anna Pulley

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