This is my third article in this immensely popular special series I’m doing about the various aspects of extra-marital affairs. the first two being “6 reasons why people cheat” and “5 emotions the other man/woman goes through in an extramarital affair.

If your partner had an affair, the first reaction obviously, is to want to leave. Your world has turned topsy-turvy, your trust is shattered and you don’t want to see their face. If you’re the one that had the affair, then your instinct is to try everything under the sun to not lose your partner. You beg, bargain, grovel, but it doesn’t seem to work.

If it is somehow decided that it has to end, then there’s nothing more to say. But I would suggest you hold off making that decision until about three months after the discovery of the affair. That’s about how much time it takes for the initial emotional rage and upheaval to settle down, for you to be able to think logically.

You might ask, “What’s to think? There’s no scope for the relationship after something like this!” Yes, fidelity is usually a deal-breaker in a relationship, but sometimes you have to consider the stakes and the price you’ll end up paying, especially if you’re married and there are kids involved.

So the next natural question becomes, “Is it really possible to bounce back from something like this?” YES! There are three main stages involved in allowing yourself to heal and recover from the shock and pain of an affair. But the important thing to remember is that this is a journey for BOTH OF YOU. And the injured party will definitely have the upper hand. You cannot expect the injured partner to stop pointing things out to you, just because you have apologised as much as you can. They are in trauma and they are entitled to their time to heal.

That said, both of you, if you want to come out on the other side of this tragedy, will need to go through the following stages:

  1. Phase 1 – Dealing with the impact.

    This stage involves the experience of the pain, anger, hurt, shock and depression. During this phase you both will allow yourself to completely feel and express all the emotions raging through you. You will not try to push them aside or distract yourselves. You will help each other express all these emotions to each other in a supportive environment, over and over again, if need be. And most importantly, without judgement. You will also need to pay attention to your own and your partner’s self-care during this phase. Eating and sleeping on time, taking a shower daily, getting out for at least an hour, are all things that must be kept in mind, to keep your mind functioning at its optimum.

    There will also be constant flashbacks and visuals experienced by the injured partner, of their partner engaging in various romantic activities with the person they had an affair with. These flashbacks can be realistic or magnified – however, they are a natural coping response – an effort of the brain to make sense of what happened. You will not deny the validity of these to your injured partner. You will need to be supportive and accepting.

    Related Reading : Six Reasons Why People Cheat

  2. Phase 2 – Search for meaning, or understanding of why the affair occurred.

    This phase will begin after about three months of the discovery of the affair. Although the “why” questions will come up all the time during the first phase too, but I would suggest you try and focus only on the emotions during that time, because neither of you will be in the right frame of mind to logically answer or accept the reasons given. Once you’ve processed your emotions through the first phase and the emotional storm has subsided, the thinking part of your brain can get re-activated, to sit down and talk about what happened and why it happened.

    During this phase, the partner who had the affair must keep in mind that the injured partner will most likely find all reasons superficial and not good enough. You must keep your cool and allow that to happen. Getting irritated would only aggravate your partner more and make him/her feel invalidated. On the other hand, if you’re the injured partner, you must keep in mind, that no matter how incredible it seems, the reasons your partner is giving you were very real to him/her that time. Acceptance or not, but take everything in your stride with this basic premise in mind.

  3. Phase 3 -Recovery, or moving forward.

    This is the final phase where there will be active steps towards recovery. Up until now you were just analysing. This is the phase you will enter after deciding in phase two whether you want to give your relationship a second chance or end it here. Either way, it is in this phase that you must seek professional help from a couple therapist who has had exclusive experience in dealing with affairs, because an infidelity situation is very different from the usual couple issues.

You might think, “Why do I need a therapist if I’ve decided to break up?” But you do. Because breaking up after the pain of betrayal is not easy either. You need the therapist to help you process the grief of your dying relationship so that you’re baggage-free before entering your next relationship.

If you’ve decided to give a second chance, then the therapist will help you reveal the communication gaps in your relationship and bridge them so that something like this is not repeated. They will help to fill in the cracks in the trust by informing both of you about trust-building behaviours. The therapist will also help you both become a team again and help you re-bond with each other. Trust me – and I say this with a lot of experience – couples who get through this, find themselves in the strongest relationship ever!

So you see, if approached with a cool head, it is indeed possible to bounce back from the disaster that is cheating. I can understand that if you have just discovered your partner having an affair, these words might seem empty and pointless, and the choice of what to do with your relationship is completely your prerogative. But through this article I’d just like you to know that you do have options and end is not the only answer. Hang in there!