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How to move forward after an affair

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“That was how dishonesty and betrayal started, not in big lies but in small secrets.” 
- Amy Tan

When couples contact me after a betrayal they usually ask:-

  • Can we get over this?

  • Is our relationship worth saving?

  • How do I know it won’t happen again?

Can we get over this?

The short answer is that I don’t know if you can when you first ask me that question, however there are a couple of essential early signs that are so significant that I will only begin working with you when :-

  • The betraying partner has ended the affair and stopped all contact with the affair partner. 

  • Both of you genuinely want to engage in couples counselling sessions.


I use Dr. John Gottman’s Affair Recovery Method to support and guide you come to terms with the betrayal and explore how to move forward. At the beginning we can’t know if recovery is possible or even if it’s a desirable outcome.

There are three phases to his method: Atone, Attune and Attach. 

Phase 1 - Atone :


The betrayer must accept responsibility and be transparent about why, what, how, when and where things happened with their affair partner. These are often extremely uncomfortable conversations and there is a fine line about the level of detail to be disclosed.

In order for the wounded partner to accept and move past what happened, they must get all the answers to why it happened in the first place. They will be triggered often. Their need to find answers gradually diminishes as they have a clearer picture of the betrayal.

The betraying partner can make a big difference to rebuilding trust by providing the wounded partner with 24 hour transparent access to where they are or what they’re doing. This is because the wounded partner needs constant reassurance of their partner being faithful. They need proof that the affair is over and that it won’t happen again. As trust is rebuilt this need for surveillance reduces.

You both have important roles. The betraying partner must put in a lot of patient effort and the wounded partner needs to be open to forgiving their partner at some point in the future.

Phase 2 - Attune :


This phase begins when the wounded partner feels that they have a good understanding of what happened, they feel reassured that their partner is being trustworthy on a daily basis and both are ready to explore building a new relationship by focusing on what Dr. Gottman calls attunement.

Happy, successful couples tune into each other, they have the desire and the ability to understand and respect each other’s inner world. I use Gottman’s tools to help you both communicate and listen more effectively. To be able to express your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires and really understand your partner. It takes courage to be vulnerable like this but it is a key step in deepening your connection with your partner and in rebuilding trust.

Also important in this phase is learning how to handle conflict effectively so that it doesn’t overwhelm each of you. There are some proven tools in the Gottman Method to help you with this.

Attunement builds intimacy, nurtures trust and deepens the bond between two people. When couples learn to attune effectively they often describe their relationship as fundamentally better than it was before, more secure, more committed. This is why we often describe this phase as ‘building version two of the relationship’.

The last part of this phase is being able to tell the people closest to you that you’re both committed to making this new version of your relationship work and asking for their support and encouragement as appropriate. This makes it real.

Phase 3 - Attach :


The final phase of this model is taking attunement into the realm of sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy in long term relationships is founded on emotional connection and trust.

This gradual process is usually a mixture of non sexual touch, spending quality time together, talking about needs and desires, being playful, having some space to miss each other and being hopeful about the future. As you both become comfortable in this reconnection, it leads to physical intimacy.

Dr. Gottman has  found that, “Without the presence of sexual intimacy that is pleasurable to both, the relationship can’t begin again.”

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Is our relationship worth saving?

Not all relationships can be saved following an affair. Here are some useful questions to consider:

For the partner who has betrayed the other:

  • Have you ended the affair and stopped all contact with your affair partner?

  • Are you willing to invest time, money and energy in exploring if the relationship can be repaired? 

  • Are you secretly thinking about leaving your partner?

  • Are you still having fantasies about being with your affair partner?

  • Have you deleted your affair partners contact details and discarded all keepsakes and gifts?

  • Are you ready to be open about what happened?

  • Can you make repairing the relationship your main focus over the next 12 months?

For the partner who has been hurt :

  • Will you be able to let go of your anger and resentment towards your partner and move forward?

  • Can you imagine being happy with your partner despite what they did? 

  • Do you want to engage in couples counselling sessions?

  • Do have appropriate emotional support outside of your relationship?

  • Are you secretly thinking about leaving your partner?

  • Did you have any suspicion that your partner might betray you like this?

  • Has your partner lied to you before?

How do I know it won’t happen again?

You can never be 100% sure that it won’t happen again. Here are some warning signs that a betrayal may happen again if a partner:

  • Has a long history of lying and being deceptive.

  • Refuses to take responsibility for what happened.

  • Tries to blame you for what happened.

  • Find reasons for still being in contact with their affair partner.

  • Won’t answer your questions about the affair.

  • Does not view cheating as wrong, immoral, or unethical.

  • Surrounds themselves with friends who don’t have a problem with cheating and lying.

  • Has a casual, dismissive perspective about the betrayal.

  • Cannot communicate openly and is very secretive.

  • Never leaves their phone unattended.

  • Refuses or can’t empathise with the pain and distrust they have caused. 

  • Is unwilling to share the cost of repairing the relationship.

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