Healing From Affairs and Other Relationship Betrayals

by | Jul 26, 2023

When couples find out that a betrayal has happened in their relationship, couples therapy can help to address this very distressing situation.  Couples often recognize that they may not be able to ‘get over’ this situation themselves.  Research shows that couples who are successful in recovering from relationship betrayals are the ones who have learned how to talk about what has happened (Vaughan, 2002).

I use the “Atone, Attune, Attach” model of Gottman Method therapy to help couples recover from a betrayal.  The Atonement Phase of the therapy is unique to this approach, and perhaps the most important aspect of the therapy.  If Atonement is handled well, it may increase the chance of the therapy being successful in re-establishing the relationship.

Most of the time, this therapeutic approach is used when there has been an affair – a sexual or romantic involvement with people outside the relationship agreement.  The Atone, Attune, Attach model can be used when there are longer-term affairs or even a one-night stand.  Atone, Attune, Attach can also be used when there has been a financial betrayal such as identity theft and/or undisclosed accrual of debt.

In therapy, couples are helped to understand the reaction of the betrayed partner to the discovery of the betrayal.  People who have experienced relationship betrayal may have dreams or mental images of the affair.  They often struggle with low moods, as they are grieving a loss of trust in their partner.  This is quite normal in the early phase of the discovery.  There may be a sense of always needing to be on guard (Glass, 20023).  It is common for the betraying partner to become frustrated with the betrayed partner’s reactions.

I support couples to deal with the psychological effects of the betrayal.  Couples are helped to have a fulsome conversation about all aspects of it.  Betrayed partners often have many unanswered questions.  It can be beneficial to ask and answer these questions with the support of a therapist.  There are some ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’ in terms of addressing unanswered questions.  Certain lines of questioning can lead to a worsening of the problem.  Other types of questions can be more helpful.  I support betrayed and betraying partners through this discussion to increase the probability of it going well.

We examine the betrayed partner’s emotional expression which can be quite intense.  I assist the betrayed partner to express their feelings in a way that will allow the betraying partner to hear them.  I help to shape couples’ conversations by nudging them in a way that will better enable healing.  I help couples re-establish equilibrium when conversations get overwhelming.

Couples are supported to clarify and re-establish boundaries.  Establishing new boundaries can mean finding ways to handle potential future contact with the affair partner.  I can help couples have the conversation about how to handle that contact.  Establishing boundaries can also include setting limits around talking about the betrayal outside of therapy as sometimes that can be harmful.

Following the Atonement Phase of therapy, couples are helped to address additional relationship issues such as avoiding conflict and to re-connect with one another (Glass, 2003).


Vaughan, P. (2003). The monogamy myth: A personal handbook for recovering from affairs. Newmarket Press.

Glass, S. P., & Staeheli, J. C. (2004). NOT “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. Atria Books.