How to survive infidelity. Common reactions, the why’s and how to heal


Category: Better Relationships | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 21-09-10 | Modified: 11-03-2019

What to do when your partner or spouse is- or has been unfaithful

This article is about surviving infidelity when you’re the betrayed spouse or partner because your he or she has been cheating on you.

I’ve written it especially for you if you very recently discovered an affair and you’re wondering how to deal with a cheating spouse or partner. And I’m assuming it was a total shock to you. No doubt you’ll want to know all about how to survive infidelity.

People have affairs – and 50% of people at that, according to Esther Perel. Women cheat and men cheat, even when they themselves have experienced how much it hurts.

How you’ll survive the infidelity as the betrayed person depends, without a doubt, on whether the affair has finished or not. Suspecting that your partner is (still) seeing that other woman or man is an awful place to be and one of the most challenging relationship problems you could have.

If that’s happening to you, my best advice is to sit back and wait! Calmly (I know, that’s a really tough one!) keep an eye out for any signs of cheating.

Amass enough evidence before you challenge your partner. He or she may otherwise try to convince you that you are the one with the problem. How dare you not trust them!

Only when you’re sure your partner isn’t still cheating on you can you really start your recovery. Surviving the affair means getting back in the driving seat of your life again – making decisions (in good time) and healing.

I was steeped in denial, but my body knew. - Susanna Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce
How to survive infidelitySurviving infidelity? You may think you’re getting over it all, but be aware of unexplained physical symptoms. Those too can point to a body/mind being stretched to deal with the stress.

How to survive infidelity after your partner has owned up or been found out

Just before you read on, watch this video (4+ minutes) to understand infidelity in the context of the history of marriage…

Now, let’s talk about how to survive infidelity – particularly the initial crisis – after your partner has owned up or been found out.

The utter shock of discovering that your partner, wife or husband cheated on you

How to recognise a normal reaction after being emotionally traumatised

Are you smarting from the fall-out of your partner’s affair? Wondering how to survive infidelity? Then it may help you to know which perfectly normal reactions and feelings you can expect.

Your emotions will depend somewhat on whether or not the discovery of your partner’s disloyalty came as a shock. You could, after all, have been suspicious for some time.

See how much of the following applies to you. And be reassured that you’re not alone – thousands of people a week land on this page for the same reason as you!

Surviving infidelity
10 Normal reactions after discovering your partner is/has been having an affair

You may…

  1. feel shocked – as if the rug has been pulled from under your feet. That can happen even if you’ve only just noticed some red flags and suspect there’s something going on.
  2. have trouble thinking, concentrating and retaining information.
  3. feel a deep sense of loss – the loss of security, trust, your relationship as it used to be and the partner you thought you knew.
  4. cry at the drop of a hat – you might think that you’re never going to get over it.
  5. spot reminders of the history of your relationship everywhere whilst you get on with your daily tasks on autopilot.
  6. feel like everything is too much of an effort – you haven’t got a clue where to even start.
  7. feel consumed by a sense of hurt and anger, and a deep sense of betrayal.
  8. avoid people who you don’t want to have to tell about the affair.
  9. feel irritated and angry with trivia – everything feels like too much of an effort.
  10. feel tired all the time and have sleep problems as you can’t get thoughts of your partner with the ‘other woman’ or ‘other man’ out of your head.

Ìt’s no wonder you’re feeling out of sorts. During the initial crisis, I’d want you to be very gentle with and accepting of yourself. Observe how you respond – and let it happen. That’s literally what surviving infidelity means.

Don’t expect too much of yourself for anything between a few days and a couple of weeks. Start by trying to manage only essential and familiar activities and responsibilities – such as doing your job or seeing to the children.

Also, just be aware of any unexplained physical symptoms you might experience. Those too can point to a body/mind being stretched to survive and deal with the stress.

The healing process will start all by itself as your brain adjusts to the new reality. Coping with not coping is the only realistic expectation during this time.

The good news: the pain of infidelity won’t last. That terrible raw feeling will fade gradually – I promise. You will survive!

You won’t be out of the woods for a while, but that sense of having been traumatised will pass.

For immediate help, I highly recommend self-hypnosis with the aid of a professional hypnosis download. For more information, see my page Hypnosis Downloads and FAQ.

Why did they do that?

“Why did he/she do that?” is the question you’d probably want me to answer most when trying to survive infidelity.

This is invariably asked of a partner who has either disclosed an affair, or whose cheating has been discovered

While I can’t tell you exactly why your partner has been unfaithful (because I don’t know your specific situation), you might find this helpful…

Get help now. Click here. Sign up to get Better Help counselling.

The brain in love

Prof Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist and she says that there are three circuits in the brain: one for lust (testosterone), one for attachment (oxytocin) and one for romantic love (dopamine).

Theoretically, anyone can feel romantically and addictively in love with someone. At the very same time they could think about sex with someone else and feel really close and attached to another person.

In reality the three are likely to overlap to some extent. (You can watch the video on my page on dealing with an affair.)

However, often the answer you’ll get from your partner, wife or husband is: “I don’t know; it just happened – we were just friends – it made me feel good about myself – I could talk to him/her” or – “it didn’t really mean anything”. It may have started with an emotional affair, which you may find equally upsetting.

In any case, a ‘reason’ or explanation for infidelity is not the same as an excuse. Betrayal and deceit are often the most painful aspects of the whole sorry mess.

It’s possible too that your partner may totally deny that they’ve ever had an affair.

Surviving infidelity and getting over an affair
In any given moment we have two options: step forward into growth or back into safety. - Abraham MaslowA crisis, however awful, offers at least the opportunity to change things – potentially for the better.

Surviving infidelity when your partner won’t talk

7 Reasons your partner might not want to talk about what happened

If the affair is over, your partner may shut down every time you try to talk about what happened, for several reasons…

1. Missing the other person
However much you’re unlikely to be sympathetic, your partner may too feel bereft.

Whilst you need them to be fully present in the moment, they may well be grieving for the loss of someone they felt they truly loved. I’m not asking you to be sympathetic. Far from it.

I’m merely mentioning it so that you’re better able to put their behaviour in context.

2. Feeling guilty
They may feel guilty for what they’ve done to you. Even more so when they’re confronted with the devastation they’ve caused, and your distress.

3. Focussing on the positive
They may think it’s better to focus on the future and doing something “positive”. 

4. Not understanding you
They don’t realise or understand how much you need to talk it all over and have all your questions answered.

5. Not wanting to upset you further
They’re afraid of upsetting you even more by answering your questions (you, of course, will need and want to know the answers – but they can indeed be upsetting!)

6. Needing to divert your attention
They’re trying to avoid your finding out who the other man or woman is. You might know them. He or she could be a family member or friend, or even your best friend. This means dealing with a double betrayal, a double dose of distress and double trouble getting past it all.

7. Still cheating
It’s also possible that the affair hasn’t really ended. In this case getting over the affair is near enough impossible – at least for the time being. You’ll have to work extra hard for your relationship to survive the affair.

How to survive infidelity – should you stay together or not?

If your partner has had extramarital affairs before, all the hurt from the previous occasion(s) will immediately have been triggered again.

You now need to consider if it’s worth staying together when your needs are so clearly being trampled on. This also counts if your partner or spouse cheated on any previous partners!

However, it’s never a good idea to make life-changing decisions in the middle of a crisis. Your brain is simply incapable of doing all the work necessary to make a well-thought out decision.

So hang fire, and wait until the dust has settled a little before you make any big decisions or plans.

Surviving infidelity means that you need to just wait until you’ve recovered from the initial shock. Allow yourself time to process what’s happened.

Only then can you start thinking through your options. From a calmer place, you can also spend time figuring out what you really want, and where you feel your happiness really lies and whether you want to stay together.

Healing and trusting after an affair

It’s very natural and normal to feel down right now. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suffering from depression.

However, if you were already suffering from depression it could complicate your recovery. Therefore I’d want you to do something about it now. Have a look at my page Hypnosis Online FAQs and Downloads for further details.

In any case – take good care of yourself.

Nurture your body with good food. Take some exercise. Make sure you sleep enough. Read my article on treating depression without medication for plenty of useful ideas to help you really take care of yourself right now. And get as much support as you can muster.

Decide who you can trust and ask for their support.

Some of your peeps will be able to offer much needed emotional support. Others are better at practical support and advice. Choose your friends wisely though! See my article on how to get the best relationship advice.

Let’s now take a look at what needs to happen for your recovery, assuming this affair is a first transgression…

How to survive infidelity and save your marriage or relationship

How do you start healing after infidelity as a couple, and rebuilding the trust that’s been wrecked?

Surviving infidelity does mean that you both need to work hard at making the relationship work again. (If, that is, you both decide that you do want to rebuild your partnership.) However, the ‘work’ that needs to be done is different for each of you in the early stages.

As mentioned before, you’ll need a little time to just get over the shock. You also need to know that your partner’s relationship with the other woman or man most definitely has ended. Right from the start, therefore, you’ll find yourself wanting to ask questions and needing lots of reassurance.

It will help the recovery if you can give each other lots of attention…

10 Tips to help the healing process

  1. Talk about the affair (maybe with the help of an online, professional counsellor), and start getting to know each other again.
  2. Go on outings together – picnics in the park, concerts, gigs, walks along the beach, walk to previously unexplored parts of the town (for more ideas, see my page on how to relieve boredom in your relationship).
  3. Change your everyday routines. There’s nothing so refreshing as throwing out some outdated ‘stuff’ and designing a new way of doing things.
  4. Have fun. Start doing something completely new – a way-out hobby, for example. This has been proven to increase the release of the bonding hormone.
  5. Remind yourselves of all the good times you’ve had.
  6. Tell each other what you’re particularly grateful for.
  7. Explain to each other what makes you feel loved. What you think your partner needs to feel loved can be very different from what he or she actually needs. Read my article: Healthy relationship tips and advice.
  8. Tackle long-standing problems head-on, such as porn addiction for example. It’s time to deal with any underlying issues – those you’ve been aware of but avoided until now.
  9. Discuss your finances! Very likely, your partner or spouse is lying to you about money.
  10. Discuss each others sexual needs and indeed your sexual health (should you be tested for sexually transmitted diseases?).

Clearly, some of the above tips are easier to accomplish than others. I recommend, therefore, that you get my Loving Communication Kit for Couples to make it a little easier on you. 

It’s also really important to take time to reflect on whether there are any specific factors underlying this crisis in your relationship that need to be addressed…

17 Reasons why someone might ‘choose’ to cheat on a partner

  1. Major life transitions – e.g. pregnancy, birth, children leaving home, mid-life crisis etc.;
  2. Specific relationship issues – see my page on common relationship problems;
  3. Issues around identity (see also: is your partner bisexual?);
  4. More rarely –  ‘hunting’;
  5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and/or sex addiction (link to external site);
  6. A history of infidelity in the family, e.g. parents’ extramarital affairs;
  7. Specific escape from distressing situations, e.g. infertility, illness, disability, unemployment, etc;
  8. A less than satisfying sexual, or even sexless relationship;
  9. Status – an essential need which is perhaps not met in any other way;
  10. Opportunity and curiosity;
  11. Total and utter obsession with the other person – dopamine!
  12. A generally poor relationship in which essential emotional needs aren’t met in balance – it’s never been right, they feel they’ve outgrown the relationship, or have a sense of general dissatisfaction and disillusionment;
  13. Narcissistic behaviour;
  14. Love of power;
  15. Having made a mistake of some kind and now feeling he or she has nothing more to lose as they already feel ‘condemned’ anyway;
  16. Sex, porn or erotica addiction;
  17. Longing for an emotional connection, to feel alive again, for intensity, longing to reconnect with lost part of the self.*

For more information on these points, see: Why does someone cheat?

Of course, none of these are excuses for infidelity. But, understanding where it’s come from can potentially help you to make more sense of your partner’s behaviour. And that in turn can help with the healing process when you want to get over the affair and stay together.

What about your personal recovery?

Human relationships can be unpredictable at the best of times!

Perhaps this is an opportunity to look at – and accept – your own fallibility as a human being. That definitely doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for your partner’s affair, but simply that you have played a role in what happened.

You may have…

  • cottoned on too late,
  • been too trusting when deep down you were suspicious,
  • accepted without question the flaws in your partner’s behaviour,
  • committed to him or her despite knowing he or she had been unfaithful before, etc.

There’s no point in telling your husband, wife or partner that they should sort themselves out. Even if, ideally, they’d benefit from increasing their self-awareness and addressing some problems, you can never make them change. 

Instead, you can take control of how you deal with your hurt, anguish, anger – and your recovery.

You can get over this – even if you never forget completely what’s happened.

At the moment, I think you’ll really benefit from learning what you can do for yourself. Right now, you need to focus on things that make you feel better. Bringing some stability and things that make you smile back into your life can really help your recovery.

It’s a step-by-step process, but here are some ideas to get you started:

Connect with nature
Get outside and go for a walk or a run! Exercise has so many proven benefits for our emotional and physical well being. And being in the great outdoors can be so refreshing. 

Get creative
Do anything with your hands that occupies your mind and gives you a sense of satisfaction. Whether it’s colouring, playing music, building some flat-pack furniture or knitting a scarf. Just pick something, and give it a go. Diverting your mind from the painful thoughts helps you to get some distance from what’s happened. In turn, that makes you more able to process how you’re feeling right now.

Explore alternative therapies
– like natural sleep remedies, or meditation, or aromatherapy. There are tonnes of ways to make a little time in your day to lower your stress levels and inject a sense of empowerment and control back into your life.

Make a list of chores and jobs
you’ve been putting off for ages (just the little ones though – nothing major!). Choose three things to complete every day. You’ll feel satisfied when you can cross them off your list – plus you’ll be being productive and getting your ‘stuff’ back in order again. That goes a long way to enabling your mind to get its ‘stuff’ back in order again too!

Move your furniture around
, or treat yourself to a bunch of fresh flowers, or paint the walls a different colour. Changing up your environment can make it easier to move forward again, whenever you’re ready.

Be kind to yourself
This might sound mad but do learn to accept yourself for who you are! Practise a little bit of self-compassion, and don’t beat yourself up for what’s happened. That won’t get you anywhere!

If you and your partner have decided to try and fix your relationship, communication is key.

Talk to each other – about how you’re feeling and what you both need. It’ll be bumpy for a while – but unless you both communicate, neither of you will really know what’s going on for the other one right now.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your progress and how you feel. It really helps to get things off your chest by writing about it – just for you, with no one looking over your shoulder and judging you.

Writing a journal can help you get started. Are you surviving the affair? Are the two of you really on the right track?

Nevertheless, you may find after a while you just can’t get over it and want a bit of help. In that case…

Download your free printable worksheet

I’d also like you to read How to ‘make’ your partner love you again (more for your sake than theirs!), Coping with jealousy and Signs your relationship is over.

You’re trying to find out how to survive infidelity, so know that the more you understand yourself and your relationship, the more you’ll get a grip on what’s happening right  now.

When should you seek professional help?

When is the support you *may* get from family and friends or on an infidelity forum not enough?

I totally understand, for example, if you’re having trouble getting those disturbing images of your partner with that other woman or man out of your mind.

After an affair, healing takes a huge amount of energy. It’s perfectly normal therefore to want professional advice and support to help you survive infidelity.

It’s easy now to set up a counselling session with a professional counsellor – online. For further information, see my page: Online relationship advice.

Do talk to a professional counsellor or another trustworthy person…

 … if after about 4 – 6 weeks:

  • You continue to feel extremely angry;
  • You have little support from anyone – not just your partner;
  • You drink, smoke or take drugs more than you would have otherwise;
  • You continue to need more of your normal prescribed medication;
  • You’re feeling that you yourself are to blame;
  • You’re suffering from panic attacks;
  • You can’t seem to get back to normal everyday life.

If you’re looking for free counselling or only want to talk to someone close to you, do visit my relationship advice article. There you’ll find tips and advice on how to find the right person.


Know that whether or not the two of you stay together, you’ll get over this period in your life too. By surviving infidelity, you’ll amass strength and coping strategies – maybe even beyond what you’d ever expected you were capable of. 

Your relationship may be stronger for it too – if it survives the infidelity. If not, have faith that you will find happiness again. You didn’t deserve to be betrayed. You do deserve to find a committed, stable and loving relationship that fulfils you and your new partner too. I’m rooting for you!

Other helpful links

CNN Money – financial infidelity


*Lewishowes. “Esther Perel: The Truth About Infidelity, Intimacy, and Love with Lewis Howes.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Oct. 2017. Web. 30 Oct. 2017.

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