Infidelity can rock even the most stable marriage. Fortunately, there are 5 essential boundaries that can help a marriage survive infidelity.
To understand relationship boundaries, look at the four walls of your house. Those walls are the structure that holds the pieces of your life together. They hold your food and your bed and your possessions and it’s where you live your life.
Healthy marriage boundaries are the same as those four walls of your house. They are the things that support your marriage as it matures. To have a healthy marriage, one that can grow and be fruitful, it is important that it has structures, boundaries, that support it.
Establishing boundaries in your marriage when you are working through infidelity is an excellent way to help you get on with the healing and create a healthy, infidelity-proof, marriage.
So, what are the 5 essential boundaries that can help a marriage survive infidelity?
#1 – There can be no contact. None.
The number one essential boundary, the one without which any efforts to survive the infidelity will be ineffective, is that the cheater have no contact with the person with whom they were having an affair. This means no phone calls, no texting, no in-person contact and no following on social media. None.
Unless the cheater can break the tie that binds the two lovers together, there is no chance that the marriage can survive. The things that initially brought the two together are things that still exist and those things are strong and compelling. If the cheater is allowed to continue that attachment, it will leave no room for the married couple to get closer again.
So, set a boundary that the cheater will no longer be in contact with their lover and, if necessary, set up systems whereby the betrayed partner can be assured that, in fact, the contact is not happening.
If your partner won’t agree to going no contact, I would encourage you to walk away and start living life on your own.
#2 – A promise of openness.
One of the most interesting things that I have discovered in my work with spouses who have been betrayed in their marriage is the fact that they are eager to know all of the details around the affair. How it started, where the lovers met, what was the sex like, why didn’t it end. All of these things, partners are eager to know. And they are details that cheaters are loathe to share.
While I personally believe that having all of this information isn’t necessarily going to help a couple in the healing process, many people can not move forward without the details. Unfortunately, many of the betrayers do not want to share the gory details with their spouses.
Many cheaters are filled with shame and remorse about what they did and the prospect of sharing the details with their spouses only reinforces that shame. Because of this, many cheaters refuse to get into details and, instead, shut down and/or get angry with their spouses. As you can imagine, this behavior does not aid in the healing process.
It is important that, if your spouse wants the details, that you be willing to share them. Doing so will allow your partner to stop running negative tapes in their head, ones that are perhaps false, and allow them to start moving forward. Furthermore, it will go a long way towards restoring trust because the partner will know that the cheater is willing to give them the information that they need.
#3 – No passive aggression.
Many people who have been cheated on are very angry. Deeply angry, betrayed and hurt. And, for many people, conveying that anger and hurt in a productive way is impossible. Instead, their anger comes out as passive aggression and that doesn’t help anybody.
The definition of passive aggressive behavior ‘is a way to express feelings of anger or annoyance, but in a non-forthcoming way. Instead of communicating openly, people who engage in this type of behavior share their negative feelings through actions.’
What might passive aggression look like? Snide comments about the affair, unkind asides about the integrity of their partner, slamming doors, damaging property, being unkind and unsupportive etc.
Passive aggressive behaviors only serve to prolong the anger and slow the healing. Instead of practicing passive aggressive behaviors, I encourage spouses to speak their anger out loud. Of course, they can yell (which can be good as it releases pent up energy) but the best way to do so is to express your anger in a tempered way so that your partner truly understands how you feel.
#4 – Keep what happened private.
For a client of mine, after she confronted her husband about his cheating, he right away deleted the emails that she had discovered. Why did he do that? Because he was worried that his wife was going to share the emails with all of her friends so that they could analyze them together. He didn’t want the embarrassment and wanted to keep it between them so he deleting the emails.
He was right – his wife would definitely have shared those email with her friends. And it wouldn’t have helped anything.
For many women, the need to discuss what happened with a close friend or confident is compelling. I am not saying that they shouldn’t do that but I do think that it’s important that they do so with only one person and that the affair not be shared with the wider social group. Having people discuss a couple’s private life, to get themselves involved where they shouldn’t and perhaps breed a taking of sides, will only serve to magnify what happened and stop the healing from happening.
Instead of sharing the affair with people outside of the partnership, I would encourage people to consult professionals to process what has happened, either individually or as a couple. A professional can help you work through the infidelity without an agenda, using learned skills to help you heal.
#5 – Agree to seek help.
The last of the 5 essential boundaries that can help a marriage survive infidelity is the agreement to seek help.
When there is infidelity, a couple trying to save their marriage is in uncharted waters. Because they have never been through this before they have no idea what to do and none of the necessary skills. It is important that they are willing to seek help to process what has happened and gain skills to work through it.
Often times, after infidelity, one partner is willing to get therapy but the other partner wants to work through it alone, or ignore it all together. “Why can’t we just move on?” they say. But, if your partner isn’t willing to agree to seek help then the chances of surviving infidelity, and truly find yourself back to each other as a couple, could be less than none.
So, as soon as you can, before bad habits set in, I would encourage couples to seek help. I believe that couples therapy is essential but that individual therapy is an excellent idea as well. The cheater will need to process what happened and their guilt around it. The partner will need to work through their feelings of worthlessness and betrayal. If they do their individual work, the more successful their work together will be.
Now that you know the 5 essential boundaries that can help a marriage survive infidelity you can start working together towards saving your marriage.
Couples must commit to working through the aftermath of an affair together. The knowledge and acceptance of certain skills and behaviors is the key to making it happen.
Agree that there will be no contact, that the betrayed partner can ask questions without being met with anger and silence, that there will be no passive aggression but meaningful expression of emotions, that what happened will remain private and that professional help will be sought.
Many, many couples can, and do, survive infidelity but to do so they must work together with the goal in mind of getting through this and establishing a healthier relationship.
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I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.