Q&A: The "AAA" of Affair Recovery

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Q: "I had an affair that was emotional and involved kissing.  We didn't have sex. My wife found out and has been very upset. I have ended it. My wife just sent me a text saying she ran into my ex-girlfriend. What should I do?"

A: This question was sent to me from a former client. I replied as follows: Prepare yourself to engage well and actively listen to whatever she has to say. I would suggest responding in the spirit of what we've discussed in the past: AAA: Accept, Attend, Apologize.

As important as what I'll share is, there is a LOT more that goes into recovering from an affair than those three things. It is often a very long, painful and complicated process. Rebuilding trust is at best arduous. It's not something that is just "forgiven and forgotten." So think of the "AAA of Affair Recovery" that I outline below as essential tools, but not the entire toolbox. 

Accept vs minimize, justify, rationalize or deny. Often, people will tell me that the cheated on partner is "overreacting", "making a bigger deal out of it than it was", or "won't let go of it." Remember, this isn't just a "Susie" reaction to your former relationship with Jill (Note: names changed to protect confidentiality). This is a normal/common reaction ANY woman would have. So "accept" here = accept what it is/was and how your wife is reacting to it as normal to how any woman would react. She's not "making a big deal out of nothing." Your betrayal was a big deal that hurt your wife terribly. There's no other way around that. Own it.

Whether or not you think it should bother her or not, she is still hurting (again as any woman would). Don't tell her how she should feel, or that she's overreacting, etc. Just attend to her pain with sincerely spoken words like, "I know... I know... That really hurt you. Of course, you're upset. I know. Tell me more... It's going to be okay..." over and over and over and over... AND do so sincerely AND compassionately. Attend like an attending physician or nurse attends carefully, skillfully and kindly to a wounded person. Your wife has been deeply wounded. You hurt her, but you can also heal the wound if you attend well.

This is both the simplest and the hardest. Just a sincere, "I'm sorry." Period. Not, "I'm sorry, but..." or "I've already said I'm sorry a hundred times already!" Instead, "I'm sorry" or "I'm sorry I hurt you. It is over. I'm so, so sorry." This must be said sincerely, without defensiveness, tone or attitude.

Get your head and heart wrapped around this. It won't work unless you're really just plain sincere. Good luck bro. Let me know how it goes.