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The Affair Series: Atonement

Affairs don’t always have to mean the end of a relationship. In fact, there is research that indicates that sometimes couples come back stronger after recovering through the affair. According to lead researchers John and Julie Gottman, there are three phases to affair recovery. The three phases are: Atonement, Attunement, and ReAttachment. The atonement phase is typically the phase in affair recovery that makes or breaks whether the primary marriage relationship can continue after the affair. 

Atonement Phase

This phase necessary to the rest of recovery, it is the time when the affair partner must come clean with their actions, and emphasize their remorse for their behavior. Both the betraying partner and the betrayed partner have jobs to do. First, the betraying partner needs to end any relationship outside of the marriage. Full disclosure is part of this process as well as starting to rebuild trust. In this process, the affair partner is helping to take the “relationship bank account” out of overdraft and back into the positive. Trust building behaviors like granting passwords to email and bank accounts, arriving on time, checking in during the day, and transparency when something comes up. When the betrayed partner is guided to open up and express feelings, the betraying partner needs to learn to hold space without defensiveness, acknowledging the pain they have caused their partner.

Step 1:  Express Your Needs

The betrayed partner will need to express their needs in a respectful way so the other partner can receive it. Furthermore, the betrayed partner may often experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress like obsessive thoughts, impulsive behavior, and intrusive flashbacks. The pressure to leave the relationship, to not be ashamed or blamed, is a piece of recovery. Reach out and find support from other people who have gone through the same thing. It is important the person knows that leaving and staying are responses that are viable and neither choice is easy.

Step 2:  Grieve the Loss of the Affair Partner

A less comfortable topic of work that the betraying partner goes through is grieving the loss of the affair partner. While it could seem unnecessary, the affair partner did provide something to the person who was cheating.  Taking time to explore that and grieve the needs that were being met outside of the marriage is necessary before moving forward. 

Next up:  Attunement

Come back again for the next step in “The Affair Series” to learn more about the next phase, attunement. This phase can only be entered once the partners have both followed through with the steps of atonement phase. 

If you would like the help of a counselor, please reach out to Amy Wine Counseling at 832.421.8714.


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