Life throws many experiences at you. Infidelity just might deliver the most diverse and intense emotions of all. The combination includes betrayal, fear, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, and so much more. When sucked into this vortex of feelings, it can feel impossible to imagine any sort of reconciliation. How could trust possibly exist again?
This is true of any type of infidelity—even when there has not been a sexual consummation. Now more than ever, it is possible to cheat on your partner without ever leaving the couch. The technology that brings us together can also be the source of strife and turmoil.
Yes, you can have an affair without having sex. We’re not talking about flirting or online “micro-cheating.” An emotional affair is reciprocated. Two people come to rely on each other for attention and support. Such closeness, at some point, grows closer than what you feel with your partner. This leads to, among other things:
- Sharing intimate thoughts.
- Confiding more in the emotional partner than your partner.
- Hiding or lying about your closeness.
- Getting defensive when asked about your “friend.”
- Complaining about your partner to the emotional partner.
- The emotional affair decreases intimacy with your partner.
- Thinking about the new person all the time.
- Fantasizing about the emotional partner.
Discovering an emotional affair can initially feel like a relief. “At least they’re not having sex,” you may believe. But, in short order, a realization hits you. This connection is built on far more than lust. The betrayal can thus feel more profound.
What to Do After the Emotional Infidelity is Exposed
The Role of the Betrayer
- Cut off all contact with the other person.
- Own up to your actions and hold yourself accountable.
- Apologize, show remorse, and clearly demonstrate a desire to atone.
- Agree to be fully transparent about all interactions with anyone.
- Give your partner agency in deciding the pace of what happens next.
- DO NOT blame your partner for your behavior.
The Role of the Betrayed Partner
- DO NOT blame yourself.
- Don’t let anyone rush you through the process of dealing with your emotions.
- Set the agenda for recovery (if you both agree recovery is the best option).
- Demand full disclosure of the details of the affair (if you want them).
- Move past accusations as you progress toward forgiveness.
- Get support from your social circle.
How to Regain Trust After Emotional Infidelity
Beyond the above lists, there will be some intense work that needs to be done. Since no affair happens in a vacuum, it is essential that you both view this betrayal within the context of your relationship. Regaining trust involves:
Create a Safe Space to Open Up About Emotions
This is not about making excuses or assigning blame. Rather, you will both need to understand how this can happen. For example, one partner may have felt disconnected for a variety of reasons. They didn’t feel safe talking about it and then chose a very dysfunctional way to feel connection elsewhere. Again, this is not excuse-making. The goal is to do productive work on your relationship.
Set Guidelines and Conditions For Moving Forward
As stated above, the betrayed partner should have more agency here. That said, the betrayer can request something like couples counseling so they have a healthy way to air out feelings and concerns. This requires them to speak openly about their needs, fears, and preferences. The idea is that both partners contribute to the rebuilding of trust.
All paths lead to therapy. It can be your avenue for healing and recovery on the path toward rebuilt trust.