1. End the affair. This really is non-negotiable. There may be a marriage somewhere where the partners claim they are happy despite having a third person in the relationship, but that’s like trying to come up with a waltz for three. Toes are going to be stepped on and the graceful glide of a balanced relationship will become an awkward stagger. Any and all contact with the other person has to have ended.
2. Make amends and come clean. The cheater, of course, has the most work to do here. She has betrayed the trust of someone who loves her. She has endangered the most important relationship in both their lives and, to at least some degree, the life of a third person. Apology doesn’t begin to cover it. The cheater owes her partner complete honesty – what happened when, what prompted it, what she told her lover about her partner, where they went to be alone, where she’s going now, and with whom – whatever the cheated on partner wants to know.
3. Take responsibility. Something was going wrong in your relationship that made the affair possible. While absolutely nothing excuses an affair – you both played a part in that disconnect. It’s time for some self-reflection and courageous honesty. No one gets a free ride here; you both have something to discover and take responsibility for.
4. Be honest with one another. When dishonesty becomes a habit in small things, it makes bigger deceit much easier. Of course the cheater has practiced hiding and lying, but chances are the cheated-on partner has also been lying, if only to herself, to avoid knowing something unwelcome. Pledge that neither of you will fudge on anything going forward.
5. Agree to change. Think of it as an opportunity to create a better partnership. Likely you each have some wisdom about what was missing from your relationship. The conversation about that and about what you each can do to improve your partnership will help bring you closer. As each of you follows through on the changes you’ve agreed on, you are proving to your partner how committed you are to improving your life together.
6. Talk to a therapist. In the emotional churn created by infidelity it can be hard to think clearly; you may find yourselves in an unhappy cycle of accusation, excuse, and anger. An experienced couples therapist can provide you with the perspective you both need. She will also help you understand the dynamics that drive your relationship. A skilled therapist will help you understand how your relationship was vulnerable and give you the tools to protect your relationship from anything coming in between you again. You’ll likely be given homework to tackle between sessions to gain insight and practice the skills you need for a successful partnership. Here you’re lucky; most couples don’t get any training on how to be a strong couple.
8. Get connected. Couples who’ve experienced infidelity have a ton of emotional distance between them. It’s time to reconnect or maybe even create a connection that you’ve never had. What do you each see as a happy life together? Remember when you were first contemplating becoming a couple, the excitement and joy of anticipating a we-can-do-anything future. Make it a priority to find ways to connect and be there for each other.