My Spouse Had An Affair, and I’m Crushed. What Now?

When a spouse cheats, what should the innocent party do next?

If you’ve ever discovered a spouse’s affair, you know that facing infidelity in your marriage is a heart-wrenching experience. You suffer emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes even physically as the grief sets in. But even though you’re carrying a lot of pain right now, there’s hope.

We have seen many couples face infidelity over our years as therapists. While it’s possible to face this experience together and come out stronger on the other side, infidelity jolts a marriage like nothing else. The heartbreak is very real, and if you’re facing this situation, you might be wondering what happens next.

How will you and your spouse get through this? Will you get through it together? Are reconciliation and forgiveness possible after an affair?

It might not feel like it right now, but it’s possible to bring your marriage back into a happy place–perhaps even happier and stronger than before. Whatever happens, healing is possible, but there are some important steps to take first.

Take Ownership of Your Marital Health

First, how did you learn about your spouse’s affair? Did they admit to it, or did you find out about it another way? Have they taken ownership of what happened yet, or are they denying it?

Your spouse’s attitude toward the affair–and whether or not they are willing to take ownership of it–will impact your next steps moving forward. What’s most important is for both of you to take ownership of your marriage’s health.

Were there unhealthy dynamics that led to this moment? Did this affair blindside you, or had there been obvious issues in your marriage leading up to it? Spend some time taking stock of the situation. Each of you should own what you can, because taking ownership will be the foundation of what happens next.

Assess Where You Each Stand

Next, you’ll need to consider where you each stand in the situation. Is your spouse repentant and willing to be honest? Do you feel it’s possible for them to regain your trust as time goes on?

When trust has been broken, it’s natural to hold the person who hurt you at arm’s length. You might feel it’s appropriate to distance yourself emotionally from your spouse at this time. When you’ve been hurt so deeply–especially if you don’t sense their willingness to change–it’s expected that you would want to protect yourself.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re not already seeing a marriage counselor or licensed therapist, it’s time to consider getting professional help. We recommend marriage counseling in addition to finding experienced marriage mentors who can help you navigate this painful season.

A counselor can help you move through the overwhelming stages of grief in the wake of your spouse’s affair. It’s going to take time to move toward acceptance of the situation. An affair creates a deep wound that will need time and patience to heal. Work toward forgiveness, whether you ultimately choose to reconcile or to separate.

Healing and reconciliation could bring you both to a place where you’re stronger and more in love than ever before. Our book, I Love You More, might help the two of you on this journey. Take a look here.

Has your spouse had an affair in the past? What did you do to move forward? Share your experiences in the comments.


  • Paul Cirillo says:

    This is a very important topic. Do you have any advice for those trying to minister to a couple in this situation? My wife and I are Symbis facilitators and also involved in a marriage enrichment ministry at our church, so we see this scenario and would appreciate your thoughts.

  • Jim says:

    I’m speaking to the cheating spouse here:

    Encouraging the cheating spouse to be honest and authentically OWN their part with ZERO excuses. This is absolutely key. There must be a total acknowledgement that they know, understand and deeply regret the horrific pain you have caused. Do not blame the other spouse – own your part.

    Ask the cheating spouse what are the radical, permanent changes they are willing to take right now to demonstrate their behavior will never happen again and that they are recommitted to this marriage. For example, cutting off ALL ties with the other person, removing yourself from unhealthy friend groups and habits, change your Job if it happened there, complete and total accessibility to you phone, allow oneself to be tracked, no more secrets etc.

    However, that alone is not enough, they need to explicitly commit to not backsliding. Your spouse will reject you and break down – A lot! No matter how hard it is to take, don’t ever give up. Remember you caused this. Suck it up, NEVER blame, and just lean in and express your regret, sorrow, and love for this broken, hurting person. The acuteness of the pain will eventually subside where you can both dissect, learn, and prevent what happened.

    Yes – having understanding marriage mentors is essential. In a world that will repeatedly tell them to just give it all up, the Marriage Mentor‘s can be the people who are explicitly loving them and rooting for the healing and repair of their marriage.

    A great book for both is “Unfaithful: Hope & Healing After Infidelity”

  • Kelly says:

    In my experience, I chose to forgive my spouse initially, because the Lord urgently reminded me that I had been forgiven so very much by Him. That really wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was totally fair. So, in my will, I forgave him on Day 1, and I allowed God to take care of my emotions in time. I had to remind myself daily of the decision I had made, because the emotional state was not always in tune with my will. After a while of crying, “Why me, Lord, I finally asked, “What did I do to contribute to this situation”. The Lord was kind, but firm, as he showed me one by one all of the things I had done to belittle and neglect my husband, all in the name of being a good Momma to our kids. Owning up to my own shortcomings was vital to our healing. After 18 months of going to every marriage retreat within 200 miles, I was finally able to tell him he didn’t have to apologize anymore. My emotions had finally caught up to my will, praise God! Today, our marriage is stronger than ever, and we use our experience to help other couples get through the difficult seasons of marriage.

    • MH says:

      I share your same experience almost word for word but from a male’s perspective. The Lord reminded me too of the forgiveness I received and how I had no choice but to forgive. I truly believe that forgiving my wife even when my emotions were out of control was key to us receiving healing. Our marriage too is stronger than we ever dreamed possible.

  • Nate says:

    My wife had an emotional affair at work for two years before I found out. Our marriage had certainly been troubled, but nothing that couldn’t be handled and overcome. Eventually the affair turned physical. She moved out and eventually it turned sexual. I’ve not had the chance for any reconciliation. I’m now three years out from the discovery, and working hard towards forgiveness. Our divorce is nearly final – and we have almost no relationship whatsoever. She seems to view me as an enemy, and only communicates with me on her terms, not even doing the bare minimum as required by law to raise our three sons together.

    I share this story for others who are hurting and fighting. Just know that there is very little actually in your control. You can have a bright future ahead of you, even if the outcome you desire doesn’t seem to be happening. Stay engaged in your life, and place your trust in God that He can redeem and restore your life, whether that includes your unfaithful spouse in their former position in your life or not.

  • Cassidy says:

    In its attempt to be helpful, this article is really more problematic than anything else. When you are speaking to a group of people so traumatically affected by an event such as infidelity you need to put much more thought and compassion into the way you address “solutions.” Most people are suffering from extreme PTSD and should be treated with the same level of care and respect. You should not be recommending marriage counseling, when what’s helpful is individual counseling. Sitting two people in a room together when one has been traumatized by the actions of another is unhelpful at best, and can honestly be cruel and unsafe. Additionally, telling a spouse that they need to be working towards forgiveness is a manipulative use of faith. A traumatized spouse will not be looked down on by God if they find it impossible to work towards forgiveness. Forgiveness is something they may one day arrive at but will not be the product of any strained efforts as they attempt to forgive too soon due to pressures of a faith community. The work of healing from infidelity is difficult and isolating and my hope would be that an article like this would be more trauma focused in an attempt to provide hope for those affected. Please do better than this when you are addressing a topic that has affected many people in the faith community, including pastors and their spouses.

  • Denisa says:

    I am just wiped out emotionally. All this with my husband has been so hard to deal with on my own. I’ve been going round and round in my head about it. My therapist said I need to work on forgiveness, but that’s easier said than done. How do you forgive someone who really hurt you, someone you cared so much about? Maybe because it just happened, I’m just not there yet. I don’t feel ready to forgive. That’s why I’m looking for a new therapist to help me through this. One person can’t do it alone, and I’m at my wit’s end, so I need someone else to help me make sense of all these feelings.

    • Michelle Kim says:

      Hello Denise, first of all I’m so sorry you’re in this difficult place…betrayal trauma is one of the deepest attachment injury in a relationship and healing process can’t be rushed. Forgiveness is also a process and you will know when you’re ready. Listening to yourself in needing a new therapist to help you make sense of all the feelings is very wise. In a safe space you can experience healing, grieve well, eventually forgive and rebuild your relationship. I recommend Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples and individuals along with Eye Movements Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), parts work, somatic work for trauma healing. ICEEFT website and EMDRIA website is a good place to search for a therapist. Praying for you as you navigate this tough journey towards healing and growth.

  • Dave says:

    Speaking from the “other side” as the transgressor, there is hurt & pain as well. I’m in NO WAY diminishing the hurt & pain I’ve caused my spouse due to my selfish actions. I own what I did. It was completely wrong. Even when I cut it off shortly after it started, and attempted to make it go away. They came back and extorted me. None of this is to court sympathy whatsoever. Just relating facts.

    Seeing the hurt & pain I caused my spouse is gut wrenching. I want to take it all away, but I simply don’t know how. I keep wishing this is just a nightmare that we can wake up from, but it isn’t. What’s worse is we are in an area where neither of us has any support system. Yes, we’re both in counseling(both individual & couples), but it’s simply not enough.

    I have no idea what the future holds, I can’t even picture it at this point, I’m scared too. Our marriage was far from perfect, but she didn’t deserve this. I have serious issues I’m trying to address.

    Sorry if this is rambling. My only point is that sometimes the perpetrator is hurting too.

    • Michelle Kim says:

      Hello Dave, I’m soo sorry you and your partner are hurting and afraid…I agree with you that there’s hurt and pain on both sides of betrayal trauma and attachment injuries. It’ll take time to heal the wounds and mend/rebuild the relationship and maybe even make the bond tighter, but the process can’t be rushed. Not sure what type of therapy modality and how long, but if you feel all the individual and couples therapy is “simply not enough” maybe try Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which is the gold standard for couples therapy. You can search for a therapist on the ICEEFT website. Also incorporating EMDR, parts work, somatic work for the trauma may speed up the process of healing and growth. I respect you for owning your part and sharing your struggles as you both are working on yourselves and the relationship. Praying for your marriage relationship and your healing journey.

  • There is more than enough pain to go around when an emotion affair is discovered, or penial penetration affair is discovered. However, the injured spouse’s sense of security has been ripped away–it’s the ripe that makes it so deeply painful. This marriage is not a 50/50 deal. Each spouse is 100% responsible for their side of the marital ledger. This is why it is so important to make a fearless and comprehensive evaluation of MY side of the marriage. He or she that steps out of the marriage is TOTALLY responsible for their decision to step out of the marriage and break the marital vows. Also, keep in mind that this emotional/sexual affair did not just happen. There is a dynamic on each side of the marital ledger that is at play. It may be ever so subtle that it is not even on either’s radar yet, however, the ‘yest’ is at work.
    There are many things and areas that need to be addressed. This will take time. One such area that needs to be addressed is forgiveness. However, it can be hammered on too hard in the beginning. Forgiveness is a command in the Scripture. Reconciliation is optional. This kind of pain is a very deep wound in the heart and soul of the wounded spouse. This kind of deep bone marrow pain is a journey to forgiveness. The wounded spouse may come to therapy with a statement of “I have forgiven him/her, however, that is just a statement. Forgiveness is also a choice. A decision is made “I want to forgive” and several months later the wounded spouse can say “I have forgiven him/her. You will know forgiveness has happened because the emotional up-heaval will not be there when it is talked about.

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