When news broke about the Ashley Madison hack, revealing hundreds of thousands of cheating men's personal information, my mind immediately went to their wives. As a marriage therapist, I see so many couples who are struggling with the aftermath of an affair, and it's almost always the spouse who has been cheated on who is struggling to come to terms with what has happened and what that means for the future of their marriage.
No matter how good or bad someone's marriage is, they never deserve to be cheated on. It's never ok, and it often takes YEARS for a person to heal. While it's usually the wife who has been cheated on, I have also seen men who's lives have been devastated by a wife's affair. When someone comes to me wondering what they should do next, these are the things I share with them.
5 Things to do After Your Spouse Has Had an Affair
1. Don't make any rash decisions.
When first hearing that your spouse has been unfaithful to you, you may want to immediately leave your partner, ask them to move out, or file for divorce. While these are all things that may be appropriate to do at some point, it's important to not make any quick decisions based on your emotions that you may regret later. Especially if you have kids, this could be very traumatic for them if you are all of a sudden changing their living arrangements seemingly out of the blue. Obviously, if you are in any sort of danger after this information has been revealed to you, then you should leave. But typically this is not the case. Ask your spouse to sleep in the spare bedroom or even go sleep somewhere else for a night or two. But don't make any big decisions at first. Talk with someone you trust about your next steps. Whether it's divorce or reconciliation, it's important to think things through first.
2. Ask Questions
When you first find out this information, whether it's because you were told or you caught your spouse, try to get your partner to sit down and have a discussion about what happened. You have the right to ask any questions you want about what your spouse was involved in. As a therapist, I remind my clients that it's important to ask questions, but I believe it needs to be the RIGHT questions. Here are some examples:
1. How long has this been going on?
2. Is this the only affair you've ever had?
3. Do I know this person?
4.. How did you meet this person?
5. Have you stopped talking to/seeing this person?
6.. Did you have sex (oral or intercourse) with this person?
These are really the only questions you need to ask. I know it's going to be tempting to ask "Where did you have sex?" "How often did you have sex?" "What was he/she wearing?" "Did you enjoy it?" "What kind of sex did you have?", etc. But the answers to these questions will inevitably put images into your head that you won't be able to get out. EVER. While it's important for your spouse to be open and honest, there are some specific details of the affair that won't benefit you and won't help you heal.
3. Ask your spouse for access to their phone/computer
This step is tricky because while I think it's important for your spouse to be open and honest, getting full access to your spouse's phone/computer can cause you to be paranoid, constantly be looking for every little sign that he/she is still cheating and you'll want to check the phone constantly. DON'T DO THIS. However, just by your spouse giving you full access to their electronics (logins, passwords, etc) it shows that they are probably not hiding anything and are willing to let you look anytime you want. This is one small step to gaining back your trust.
4. Confide in a Friend
I understand that it can be embarrassing and humiliating when your spouse has cheated on you. You might think that this is somehow a reflection of you because why would your spouse have had an affair if you were enough for them? It hurts. It's painful. It feels isolating and alone. Many people have gone through this, more than you probably realize. So confide in a close friend about what happened. Find someone you can trust, who you know won't go blabbing the news around to your entire social circle. Tell them what happened and ask for their support. Your friend will be honored that you chose to trust them.
5. Seek Professional Counseling
I know this step is hard. You will have questions. You will want to know how to move forward. A good therapist can help you find hope that things will get better, with or without your spouse. Healing from an affair can take on average 2 years. Many people who have been cheated on feel like their lives are ruined forever and there's no way they can move forward. Your therapist will help you figure out the safest next step and process your options with you. You will want a safe place to do this from an unbiased person.