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What Are the “First Five” After an Affair?

Many things have to happen in order for a marriage to overcome an affair or episode of broken trust. It can be a long, confusing and painful experience.  There will be days that you feel hopeful, and nights that are full of doubt. It is rarely a straight path, and there is no guarantee it will lead to forgiveness. Not every couple can or should get past it.

Yet there are several specific behaviors on the part of an unfaithful spouse that, if present, bode well for the future of the marriage. I call these the First Five. The more of them you see in your spouse after you have discovered his or her affair, the more likely it is that you have a real shot at overcoming this marriage crisis.

The First Five are:

Number One:  Your partner is being truthful

Number Two:  Your partner has clearly broken it off with the other person

Number Three:  Your partner is being transparent with his/her phone and personal devices

Number Four:  Your partner is taking full responsibility for their actions

Number Five:  Your partner is demonstrating the “golden duo” of post-affair emotions – that is, they are feeling remorse for their actions and empathy for your feelings

Of course, some of these behaviors are weighted more heavily than others. For example, number two—your partner has clearly broken it off with the other person—is the most significant. The sooner it happens, and the more decisively, the better off you and the marriage will be.

At the same time, an unfaithful partner may not show all of these behaviors in the immediate aftermath of an affair’s discovery. Some people need longer to be honest, or to feel that they can be honest in a way that won’t make things worse. Some people want to be transparent with their devices, but fear the affair partner may contact them, despite the fact that they have ended the extra-marital affair.

So as with all things affair-related, there are no absolutes. Nonetheless, the First Five can provide a useful snapshot of what an unfaithful spouse needs to do in the aftermath of an affair. The sooner they show these behaviors, the sooner a betrayed spouse can feel hopeful that the marriage has a future.

Yet don’t be surprised if your unfaithful spouse simply doesn’t show any of these behaviors at any point. While you may be baffled by this, it is common for spouses who have cheated to remain untrustworthy, to stay in contact with the affair partner, and to show little if any remorse. And if that’s what you’re facing, it might be best to get some quality marriage help before that behavior becomes even more entrenched.

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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage author-expert whose plainspoken style and proven resources have empowered millions worldwide to save their marriage.