So you’ve taken the initial steps towards helping your spouse heal from your betrayal. You admitted your guilt. You demonstrated your remorse. You showed your willingness to make it right. And your spouse sees and understands this.
But you still find yourselves caught in a cycle where you go back to the same thing over and over again.
First, make sure you’ve already issued a sincere, thoughtful apology and have truly made an empathic acknowledgment of all the ways in which your betrayal impacted your spouse. If you haven’t done this yet, please refer to Part 1 because doing so is integral to showing them that you identify with their pain, which is essential for the foundation of your spouse’s healing.
It’s helpful to remember that recovering from betrayal takes time. To help you, here are some things to keep in mind as you continue to face the consequences of your actions:
1. Be Patient
The offending spouse will almost always find themselves assuming or pushing for a quick recovery. But traumatic experiences like betrayal are often life-changing. They don’t just affect your spouse’s present emotions; they can change his or her entire worldview.
While your spouse may have moved on from the initial feelings of shock and numbness, they may continue to harbor insecurity, suspicion, and distrust of you. They may even have continuous rage against you, which you will find can be much harder to deal with than continuous sadness.
Your physical intimacy during this period might be unpredictable as well. Sometimes couples experience a period of hypersexuality as both are desperate to heal the breach in their marriage. Or sometimes the betrayed spouse will refuse to share in any sexual intimacy or intercourse until they are ready.
There are no quick fixes here. You need to take the long view, to understand that this is a lengthy process, one that will have ups and downs. You and your spouse might enjoy a few good days that feel normal again, but be careful that you do not assume that things are completely healed.
Often those smooth periods are followed by turbulent ones. You might be frustrated, feeling like the two of you have reverted, that you haven’t made any progress. You might get upset when you hit some bumps again because you think you’ve already dealt with this.
But a healthier and more realistic way to look at this process is from a broader perspective. Patience will help you understand that you are on a long, slow (but continuous) trajectory towards healing, one that has both good times and tough ones. The good times should not be taken as a sign of arrival just like the tough times should not be taken as a sign that you’ve made zero progress.
Rather, just understand there are good times and tough times on the journey to healing. With time, you’ll see that the good times become longer and more frequent than the tough times. The journey will require patience.
2. Be Helpful
It’s very easy to withdraw from your spouse during this time. Causing betrayal trauma can lead to feelings of hopelessness in your marriage. You need to resist this tendency to withdraw when discouraged. Instead of shying away, take time to have those difficult discussions with your spouse. Show that you are willing to do the difficult work of making things right.
As you have these discussions together, there are certain things to be mindful of. While you will have to discuss the betrayal in order to help your spouse make sense of things and to help the two of you take tangible steps towards change, there are a couple of ways that these discussions can become unhelpful.
The first is in giving too many details of the betrayal. For example, the sexually betrayed spouse will sometimes want to hear all the gritty particulars of your encounter or encounters, but sharing them might actually retraumatize him or her. While you do need to be open in order to reestablish trust, you will also want to be careful about how much detail you share so as not to create imagery that is traumatizing. You can ask, “Are you really sure you want to have those details?”
This way your spouse knows that you aren’t hiding anything, yet you also protect them from unnecessary pain and further trauma. In instances of sexual betrayal, we believe the betrayed spouse should know who your sexual partners were, how often you met, where you met and when you met. These are details that the betrayed partner needs to know so that they can serve as safety measures in the event of future concerns.
The second way these discussions can become unhelpful is when you are too exhausted to have a productive conversation. Particularly in the early stages of dealing with the betrayal, your spouse might want to talk for hours late into the night and into the wee hours of the morning. At some point, the discussion will no longer be helpful and may do more damage than good simply because you’re both beyond exhaustion.
You and your spouse might feel like you are alert and able to have a productive discussion at 2 AM, but that’s likely more because your stress system is in overdrive. In reality, your brains are exhausted and not in their best shape to address the betrayal.
Once again, you need to set some gentle and considerate boundaries with your spouse about the timing of your discussions. First of all, your spouse needs to know that you are not avoiding these discussions altogether. Don’t say, “I’m tired,” and just walk away. Talk with them about what a healthy time would be to pause the conversation for some much-needed rest. And reassure them that you will continue the conversation as promised.
If months go by and the two of you realize that you are just talking in circles, that’s a good signal that it’s time to seek out a therapist who has the specialized training needed to deal with betrayal trauma. Most people and even many counselors don’t necessarily have the tools to deal with betrayal trauma, so finding a qualified therapist to help with this issue is a great idea.
If you’re like many people, you’ll find that it is really quite difficult to be patient during this process even though you know you need to be patient. That’s why we’ve prepared this bonus guide for really unpacking the issue so you can do a better job of being patient during your spouse’s healing journey. If you think this will help, we’ve made it available to all our patrons of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
3. Be Hopeful
The journey you are on is a long and difficult one. It’s easy to get frustrated. While the betrayal and its effects on your spouse are your responsibility, it’s impossible for you to fix it all by yourself.
Not only are you unable to fix everything, but it’s also difficult to recognize that healing has no shortcuts. There are no silver bullets, no sure-fire ways that will ensure that your marriage will recover in the way you want it.
Despite all this, there is still cause to be hopeful. When you undergo this journey together and you persist and find healing, you and your spouse will create a marriage that is stronger and more intimate than what you had before betrayal tore it apart. And through commitment and effort from you and your spouse, you will be able to rebuild.
You can cling to the fact that regardless of the damage dealt to your marriage, healing is still possible. No matter how bad your situation is, know that couples have recovered from incredible betrayals. While couples we work with would never choose the hard journey of betrayal and healing, they do find that through the hard work of forgiveness and willingness to be vulnerable once more, they can build a stronger and more resilient relationship than they had ever experienced before.
No, this doesn’t mean that marriages need betrayal to become stronger. There is no justifying what you did. However, the hope is that together, you will discover new ways to strengthen your marriage for the future.
Hope comes from the fact that the two of you are now assuring one another of your commitment to your marriage. And not just from promises, but from doing the actual work required to rebuild and renew your marriage bond. When you show consistent effort and commitment towards becoming a safe, dependable, and reliable spouse, you help rebuild the trust that you lost.
Just remember that promises don’t build trust. Trust is built by reliable behavior over time. This means that promises need to be kept: every time. No matter how small. It’s not uncommon for betrayed spouses to be more sensitive to small details that they didn’t seem to care about before. It might seem like you are being judged more harshly for things that you consider to be of little consequence. But it’s your follow-through on these micro-commitments that will help rebuild trust so that they can eventually trust you for major commitments (like fidelity). This is a normal part of rebuilding trust.
This process will require you to change. It will be long and difficult. But if you want to help your spouse to heal, you must persevere. So be patient, be helpful, and be hopeful.
 Worthington, Everett. “If You Want to Forgive… A Psychologist Outlines Five Steps to Forgiveness.” Spiritual. Beliefnet, 2001. https://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/Meditation/2001/10/If-You-Want-To-Forgive.aspx.
 Heitler, Susan. “Recovery from an Affair.” Professional. PsychologyToday, November 1, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201111/recovery-affair.
 Vaughan, Peggy. “A Brief Guide to Recovering from an Affair.” Professional. PsychologyToday, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201111/recovery-affair.
 Whitbourne, Susan. “Overcoming Betrayal: It’s a 2-Way Street.” Professional. PsychologyToday, August 21, 2012. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/overcoming-betrayal-it-s-2-way-street.