The end of a secret love affair is the beginning of a new stage of life! Whether you’re rebuilding trust in a relationship or starting fresh, these tips will help you recover after the end of the affair.
“I found the strength I needed to end a secret affair,” says Mary on How to Break Up With a Married Man and Heal Your Heart. “That was seven months ago, and I am over him. My problem is I told my husband about the affair and even though I promised him it was over and I’m not cheating, he doesn’t trust me. He says he looks at me and sees ‘lies and secrets’ and that rebuilding trust in a relationship isn’t easy. I love my husband and want to fix our marriage. How do I convince him that he can trust me, and that I’d never have another affair?”
These tips for rebuilding trust in a relationship will help you on the road to healing from a secret love affair, whether you are the betrayer or the betrayed – but it’s important to remember that each couple’s situation is unique. This makes it difficult to offer tips for trusting that are applicable to your specific relationship or marriage. These tips and resources are meant to be a starting point to help you move past the damage of an affair.
Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship After a Secret Love Affair
First, remember that we all fail. We make mistakes, bad choices, and impulsive decisions that we regret. We are human, and our lot is to be thrown into inconceivable and sometimes painful new worlds. We throw ourselves into those painful new worlds by choosing secret love affairs, and we feel like we make things worse by not knowing how to rebuild trust in a relationship.
We all have things in our past that we deeply regret and are ashamed of. We’re embarrassed about things we did or said – or things we didn’t do or say. A secret love affair outside of our wedding vows is one of those deeply painful decisions…but it doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage is over.
Take heart if you’re wondering if you’ll ever recover! Yes, rebuilding trust after a secret love affair is a long process that takes time, but many married couples are happier and healthier after this type of disruption.
Take responsibility for cheating on your partner
Do not shift blame, make excuses, or try to justify the affair. A huge part of rebuilding trust in a relationship is accepting responsibility. Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “The devil made me do it,” or “I was just having a bad day/month/year/decade.”
Face the music. You had a secret love affair outside your marriage; you betrayed the trust of your husband or wife. Don’t blame your choices on your mother, your heritage, your kids, your wife, or your sex drive. Own up to the fact that you broke your wedding vows, and you regret the choice you made.
Here’s what a guy called David said about his secret love affair with Bathsheba: “I have twisted and perverted something good into something evil; I have taken aim at a false target; I have trespassed where I am not allowed.” He adds that he – like every human being – was born with a bent towards sinning. Having a secret love affair isn’t just an external issue of immoral behavior or a bad choice; it’s an internal issue of human nature that pushes for autonomy from God and craves sin. David believed he was bad to the bone.
Did your husband or boyfriend cheat on you, and has he accepted responsibility? If not, read How to Know if You Can Trust Him After an Affair.
Be painfully honest about the secret love affair
If you’re serious about rebuilding trust in a relationship after the affair, you need to get real. It won’t be pretty and it will be painful. Being honest about a love affair that you hid for days, weeks, months or years will not be easy for you or your partner.
The very foundation of trust is honesty. To rebuild trust in your relationship, you must stop living in denial and start walking in the light of truth. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your partner, and with the person you had the affair with. It will be painfully refreshing to stop lying to yourself and others.
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If you keep the affair secret, you will be eaten up from the inside out. If you stuff it down, lock it away, and pretend it never happened, you will never learn how to rebuild trust in a relationship. “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long,” says David. “For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat.” He adds that he was a desert, torn up, depressed, aching as though dying inside. The weight of his secret love affair was killing him.
These first two tips for rebuilding trust in a relationship after a secret love affair are adapted from When You Have Sinned – 2 Samuel 12, Psalm 51 by Lloyd Stilley.
Find little (low-cost) ways to build trust in your relationship
If you want to rebuild trust in a relationship, you may have to act as if you already feel more loving, trusting, secure, or forgiving than you really do. Don’t wait until you actually feel more trusting – or until you believe that trust is rebuilt. Instead, change your behavior. Then, you will find yourself trusting your partner.
The key to rebuilding trust in a relationship after a secret love affair is to act in a more conscious and positive way, because this may lead to more loving and trusting feelings in your relationship.
“There are many things you both can do to restore trust in a relationship.” writes Janis Abrahms Spring in After the Affair: Healing the Pain And Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. “I find it helpful to divide them into two categories – what I call low-cost behaviors and high-cost behaviors. As you might expect, the low cost behaviors are generally easier to produce because they demand less of you emotionally. High-cost behaviors require a much greater sacrifice.”
10 Low-cost behaviors that help rebuild trust in relationships:
- Provide me with an accurate itinerary when you travel.
- Limit your overnight travel.
- Tell me when you run into or hear from the affair person.
- Call for text me during the day.
- Tell me how you feel – share your intimate thoughts with me. Tell me what upset or pleased you during the day.
- Read and discuss a self-help book with me about rebuilding trust in a relationship after a secret love affair (Spring’s After the Affair is excellent!)
- Focus on what I’m saying, and don’t be distracted when we talk.
- Work on letting go of your anger and suspicion, and focus on helping me trust you again.
- Tell me when you feel happy or more optimistic about our future together.
- Come home from work in time to have dinner with me and the family.
These are examples of behaviors that can help rebuild trust in a relationship after an affair. I invite you to put together your own list of low-cost behaviors that will help with rebuilding trust in your relationship. Be as specific and possible, and concentrate on what you want your partner to do that will bring you closer together. Put this list in a visible place so you see it often, and trying to do a few of the things on the list every day.
Identify big (high-cost) ways to build trust after a secret love affair
“High-cost behaviors are the responsibility of the unfaithful partner,” writes Spring in After the Affair. “They are sacrificial gifts, penances, that you must consider making to redress the injury you’ve caused and rebalance the scale in your relationship. It’s not enough for you to say, ‘Trust me, Honey – I’m here to stay.’ You have to back your claim with dramatic gestures that are expensive. In other words, they must require real sacrifice and will probably make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.”
10 High-cost behaviors that rebuild trust in a relationship:
- Don’t contact or associate with the affair person’s circle of friends or relatives.
- Transfer some of your financial assets into my name and/or put some of your money into a joint bank account.
- Get into therapy and discuss how we will rebuild trust in our relationship together.
- Moved to another town or city with me.
- Attend couples therapy with me and work to figure out exactly what the affair says about you, about me, and us as a couple.
- Pay for me to complete my college education.
- Show me your monthly bank statements, credit card statements, and phone bills.
- Do whatever it takes to give up drugs or alcohol; consider an inpatient detox facility or regularly attend AA meetings.
- Go on a romantic vacation with me.
- Explore in counseling the effects of your father’s or mother’s infidelity on you.
These are examples of behaviors that can help with rebuilding trust in a relationship after a secret love affair. Take time to brainstorm your own list of high-cost behaviors that will with trust-building in your own life. This list will be different for each couple, because every relationship is unique.
“As much as you may like the idea of using trust-building exercises to restore your relationship, I guarantee that you’ll resist doing some of them,” writes Janis in After the Affair. “It’s not that you’re a bad person or that you don’t want the relationship to improve, but that your deeply wired assumptions are likely to get in the way. Some of them may stop you from communicating your needs, others may stop you from satisfying your partner’s needs. Still others may force you to discount whatever it is your partner tries to do for you.”
If you suspect your partner is having a secret love affair, read 9 Ways to Know if Your Husband is Lying About Cheating.
How do you feel after reading these tips for on how to rebuild trust after a secret love affair? While I can’t offer advice on your relationship, I do read every comment. I encourage you to take time to write about how you feel. Writing – especially in a private journal – will help you figure out your true thoughts and feelings, and find the answers you’re looking for.
Help Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship
In How to Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful, Linda J. MacDonald – an infidelity specialist for 23 years – says that when a secret love affair comes to light, many unfaithful partners “wake up” and want to save their marriages. Yet, they make terrible mistakes when they try to rebuild trust in a relationship.
In this book, you’ll learn:
- How to avoid the potholes that doom marriages after secret love affairs
- Critical guidelines for the first hours after the discovery of cheating
- 15 essential steps for relationship repair and rebuilding of trust after betrayal
- Skills to cope with your partner’s obsessions and “triggers”
- Ways to undo the damage from your lies
- The keys to avoid prolonging your partner’s agony (and yours)
- The difference between helpful and harmful apologies
- How to rebuild your broken life, relationships, and integrity
In How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair, MacDonald offers practical advice for those who’ve strayed and want a second chance at rebuilding trust in a relationship. She also shares behaviors and attitudes that determine whether a marriage can be rebuilt after a secret love affair.
In Not “Just Friends”- Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, Shirley P. Glass – one of the world’s leading experts on infidelity – offers a step-by-step guide through the process of marital infidelity. She starts from the suspicion of a secret love affair and to healing and rebuilding trust in a relationship. This book provides profound, practical guidance to prevent cheating and, if it happens, recover and heal from it.
You’re right to be cautious when you hear these words: “I’m telling you, we’re just friends.”
Good people in good marriages are having affairs. The workplace and the Internet have become fertile breeding grounds for “friendships” that can slowly and insidiously turn into secret love affairs. Yet you can protect your relationship from emotional or sexual betrayal by recognizing the red flags that mark the stages of a love affair that can threaten your marriage.
May you find hope and faith, wisdom and healing, strength and courage. May your heart heal, your spirit be revived and your trust rebuilt in your relationship. May you experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. May you grow healthy and strong through this experience, and may your life be blessed with joy, connection, and love.
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If you need relationship help, get Mort Fertel's 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage - and FREE advice, no strings attached.