Before you can reconcile, you need to first recover the M. Here's a post from healingroad that he created that has helped others here. Hopefully this can be of some help to the newbies as well.
From user healingroad:
My marriage is ending. I've thought long and hard about whether it could have been saved. It's hard to know, but I do have some ideas about what might have worked, both to maximize the chance of saving the M, and preventing any more pain than necessary for either of us.
I've put some of these ideas into a recovery plan that I was working on with my WW. Several earlier versions were in my previous posts. Many of you found it useful, and some said it could be very helpful for others.
I've updated it to try to make it a little more broadly applicable, and would be gratified if we could work on it together and maybe have it as a resource for couples that are trying to save their marriages. It would be nice to think that something (anything!) good could come out of this.
Please take a look, provide comments and suggestions. I'll keep this first post updated to reflect good ideas and feedback.
TO THE BETRAYED SPOUSE
You have just found out that the person you love has hurt you, probably more than you thought it was possible to feel pain. You are in a state of shock, numbness, confusion, anger, sadness, and a thousand other emotions that swirl around you. Before worrying about the rest of this plan, understand that your spouse has rendered your marriage vows moot. You do not owe them another moment's commitment, so just for now, focus on you.
Take time to calm yourself. Try to sleep. Eat and drink as well as you can. Talk to anyone you think will be helpful. Start therapy or counseling. If you have kids, make sure they're cared for.
Breathe. Let your feelings flow. Cry.
You do not owe your wayward spouse any of the steps outlined in this plan. It will likely take YEARS to fully work through the pain you are facing. It won't be as bad as it is right now, not nearly as bad, but it won't be easy either. And the marriage will never be the same. Ever. If, on reflection, you don't choose this long path it is NOT a failing of yours. It is completely reasonable that, since your life has been torn apart, you might choose a different way forward.
Your wayward spouse may not be willing or able to reconcile. It's unfair, but many people who are capable of having an affair are unable to do the work of reconciliation for the same underlying reasons that they had the affair in the first place. If this is the case for your wayward then you haven't lost anything. Your marriage was already doomed. You are now that much closer to closing this chapter and moving on to a new and better life.
If, after you regain your bearings, you then decide that you are open to the possibility of reconciliation with your spouse, consider the rest of this plan. Offer reconciliation to your spouse ONLY if it is the right thing for YOU (and your children, if you have children). If you do make this choice, know that is a gift from you to your wayward spouse, and not something they should ever take for granted.
TO THE WAYWARD SPOUSE
You have committed an act of violence on the marriage you pledged to keep dear, and you have abused your spouse -- the one you swore to love -- in the worst way imaginable. You probably followed it up with damaging lies and evasions that have killed any trust between the two of you. Your spouse is hurting now. Hurting more than you assume, and probably more than you can even comprehend.
Despite this, your spouse may choose to offer you a gift: attempted reconciliation. If you are offered this gift, recognize that this is likely the ONE AND ONLY CHANCE you have to save your marriage. If you just play along, if you don't put your whole self into the reconciliation process, then this will constitute another betrayal, and you will almost certainly lose your marriage. It may not die immediately, but half-hearted attempts at reconciliation eventually render marriages "undead": two partners going through the motions, denying the inevitable.
If, after reading this plan, you cannot put your ENTIRE SELF into reconciliation -- if you cannot go ALL IN -- then stop. Admit the truth, end the marriage, and don't subject your betrayed spouse to any more pain.
If you are not offered the gift of reconciliation, understand that this is the result of a choice YOU made. Your affair has destroyed your marriage. Maybe it should have ended anyway, or maybe not. But either way, your affair has now become the reason your marriage is ending, and you have to accept that. Don't ever blame your betrayed spouse for what you did.
If you are offered possible reconciliation, and you are ready and willing to work to earn it, you now have a lot of work ahead of you. You need to take responsibility for undoing as much damage as you can. You must help your betrayed spouse heal. Don't wait for your spouse to act, YOU need to take action. Your main mindset must be focused on what your spouse, yourself, your marriage, and your children (if you have them) need to recover, and you need to maintain this mindset for a very long time. Your spouse will develop a finely-tuned ability to detect insincerity or lack of commitment. Only real effort with you taking the lead will do.
(WS) - Wayward Spouse (had the affair)
(BS) - Betrayed Spouse
(B) - Both
(A) - Affair
(AP) - Affair partner of WS
(IC) - Individual counseling
(M) - Marriage
(MC) - Marriage counseling
(NC) - No-Contact
(R) - Reconciliation
When "Discovery Day" hits, neither the BS nor the WS really has a firm grip on what the right outcome should be. Whether reconciliation or divorce, that conclusion is very far away. If both spouses are open to engaging in the work of R, it is absolutely worth trying to save the M, but there's no way to tell for sure that it will be successful. Both spouses could follow all the steps in this plan to their utmost ability, and still the marriage could end. One or both spouses could look at the other and say, with finality, "I just don't love you any more." That's just a fact about infidelity: despite the excuses the WS may use to permit themselves to stray, it is lethal to marriages.
This is probably going to be the hardest thing either you or your spouse has ever done. Give it your all.
Anything less won't do. Allow no higher priorities in your lives (other than children's or other family members' critical needs). Both of you must reach deep within yourselves to foster healing, emotional transparency, honesty, devotion, and new patterns of communication and conflict management. Failing to confront the problem -- sweeping it under the rug -- will guarantee failure.
It is because the odds are so steep that it's so essential that both spouses, wayward and betrayed, put their very best into working towards reconciliation.
PART I: NO CONTACT (WS)
Treat the acute crisis and trauma. Immediately:
- Truthfully renounce all intentions of any interaction with any AP.
- Together with your BS, craft an unambiguous, final no-contact message. Send it to your AP while your BS observes.
- Disclose any AP message immediately. Do not destroy any messages. Both spouses must agree on any outgoing message; otherwise, send nothing.
- Don't play games with NC: taking the affair "underground" is the surest way to kill any chance at reconciliation. NC means no interaction of any kind, no matter how slight.
PART II: STABILIZATION
Continue stabilization until traumatic phase of A recovery is complete. This may take a long time.
- No infidelity (WS)
-- Keep Part I NC rules in force, including emotional, physical, text, phone, internet, or any other questionable intimacies. This requirement is absolute: there is no wiggle room of any kind.
-- Immediately inform the BS of any "near misses": passes, flirting, etc.
-- Inform partner of any new or past "gray" relationships or conversations (those about non-monogamy, infidelity, divorce advocacy)
-- Disclose all relationships with people that are unsupportive of the M. Establish NC with these people as desired by BS.
-- Avoid any rationalization about the degree of infidelity: emotional affairs cut just as deeply as physical affairs. The moment another person has been invited into your marriage, the damage is done.
- Continue work on healing as needed by BS (WS)
-- Understand that marital issues other than the affair cannot be addressed until stabilization is accomplished.
-- NEVER: minimize, justify, or shift responsibility for the A.
-- Work to understand the full emotional impact of the A on your BS.
-- Understand, disclose to the BS, and work to change core attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs that allowed the WS to choose an A. Discover and disclose what made the WS vulnerable - unmet needs, poor boundaries, etc. Recognize that these reasons are not excuses and that the A was still a conscious and deliberate choice of the WS.
-- Practice empathetic interaction without resistance: Go "all in," and express emotional vulnerability.
-- Read together -- out loud -- about infidelity (including "Not Just Friends" and "How to Help your Spouse Heal from Your Affair," and others as identified by BS). Put the reading into practice. Be proactive.
-- Recognize unhealthy advice from others. Reject any suggestion that the BS had any responsibility for the A.
-- Make special efforts to prevent or address hurts (example, after a trigger or flashback: leave a party, turn off a TV show, etc.)
-- Fully disclose locations and schedule, open access to online calendar, with as much detail as BS desires. Send updates throughout the day if this is comforting to the BS.
-- Provide complete transparency in a form that the BS can review privately (compile a journal, disclose phone records, etc.)
-- Expect and allow extensive time for full recovery (B)
- Disclose all remaining aspects of A (WS)
-- Do not destroy or discard any evidence unless your BS asks you to.
-- Disclosure will be based solely on the BS's stated or expected need to know and not the WS's interpretation of what is best for the WS or others; discuss as needed.
-- Work to consider what could be important to BS and offer to disclose all details to BS. For details of sex acts allow BS to make the final decision before disclosure.
-- Create a timeline of important dates and events. Use phone records, calendars, emails, and any other resources necessary to reconstruct what happened. Offer to share this timeline and discuss any questions the BS has about it.
-- Disclose all methods used (communications, transportation, web sites, etc.) and expenditures.
-- Answer questions patiently, fully, and truthfully, even if they have been asked multiple times. Expect to cover the same ground over and over. Eliminate defensiveness.
-- Make best efforts to prevent BS needing to "stew" on lingering hurts or questions. The WS should respond immediately when the BS is in pain.
-- Accept that there are no topics off-limits for BS to ask in good faith. The WS may defer answers to MC in good faith only
- Committment to truth: (B)
-- No lies, no falsehood, period.
-- No lies of omission or deliberate misleading.
-- Ensure no false impressions based on previous lies.
-- Always assume truth is more important than hurt feelings or self-protection. Tact and timing are considerations but are not excuses for falsehood.
- Emotional Health (B)
-- Continue weekly MC and IC. Be completely open and truthful in therapy.
-- If any therapist hints at rugsweeping, justification, minimization, or shared blame for the A, fire them immediately.
- Electronic transparency (WS)
-- Inform BS of all credentials for all of WS's communications services and devices; no changes without informing BS.
-- No deleting texts, email, or other messages (Facebook, e.g.) without offering to BS first.
-- No clearing email "trash" folder or deleting individual messages (OK to put messages in trash if they are still accessible to BS).
-- No private browser mode or clearing history in any browser.
-- No new or existing accounts on any social media, email, or communications service without spouse's agreement.
-- No phones or other communication devices without spouse's consent.
- Workplace Affairs (WS)
-- If the AP was a co-worker, get another job or transfer to another department where there will be no interaction with the AP. Ensure there is no regular contact (even just visual) with the AP.
-- If this is impractical, discuss the situation with your BS and explain the issues involved. Let the BS make the final decision on what is acceptable.
- Financial transparency (WS)
-- Provide BS access to all bank and financial websites.
-- No ownership or use of temporary credit cards.
-- No new financial accounts without agreement.
-- If BS desires, keep a log of all cash expenditures.
- Create private zones (B)
-- Calls / written letters to family members
-- Personal journals
-- By mutual agreement, details of specific conversations / messages
PART III: RECONCILIATION
- Attempt R for [six] months, from [STARTING DATE] until [ENDING DATE]
- Continue all elements of stabilization phase except by mutual agreement.
- Expect one of two outcomes:
-- Desired: Shift the M into a stable phase, continuing to work on healing, renewal, and growth, but with the expectation that indefinite commitment is restored, or
-- Contingent: Terminate the M in as amicable and collaborative a manner as circumstances permit
- Earnest attempt to reconcile (B)
-- Continue weekly MC.
-- Wear rings at all times.
-- Make a true effort to establish intimacy and affection even if doubtful about R.
-- Work to create equitable balance of each partner's needs without judgement or resistance.
-- Work to earn forgiveness for A. Make efforts visible to BS. (WS)
-- Work to achieve acceptance of the A. (BS)
-- Only after acceptance has been achieved, work to grant forgiveness for A. (BS)
-- Work to earn and grant forgiveness for pre-A and other issues identified as critical by either partner.
- Continue work on healing as needed by BS (B)
-- Expect and allow extensive time for full recovery.
-- Make no assumptions about how much time is enough. The only certainty is that true healing will take years.
- Empathy (WS first, then B)
-- Work to understand what it's like to be in the other person's shoes.
-- Allow spouse to share feelings without fear or invalidation.
-- Allow spouse to express non-abusive anger without fear or invalidation.
-- Use IC if needed to develop empathy.
- Intimacy (B)
-- Work to overcome fear and resistance to intimacy.
-- Expect contradictory or confusing sexual signals from BS, including withdrawal from sex or hyper-sexuality ("hysterical bonding"). Accommodate BS's legitimate sexual needs. Be very sensitive. (WS)
-- Make no guarantee to anyone else that conversations with them will not be shared with your spouse or therapists. If needed, inform others before they talk. Make exceptions for others sharing their personal issues for which they need support.
-- From conversations with others, disclose to your spouse any comments, advocacy, or attitudes that conflict with M goals.
-- Avoid wearing "masks" or "candy-coating" interactions, but also allow for authentic joy and optimism even in difficult times.
-- Make best efforts to be known to your spouse in the deepest sense, even at risk of shame, embarrassment, or fear. Create a safe interpersonal space for this to happen.
- Personal growth (B)
-- Develop and share personal wants, desires, and vision for the future. Understand that some of these may have been suppressed due to the dynamics of the M, and may need time to develop.
-- Determine each partner's core needs, especially unmet needs, and the role other partner should play in meeting and affirming them.
-- Identify and disclose any co-dependent or passive-aggressive behaviors and work to eliminate them.
-- Identify and disclose any negative Family of Origin ("FOO") issues and address them.
-- Develop a deep understanding of how to create and maintain healthy marriages.
- Relationship building (B)
-- Engage in regular reading together (in addition to A and R reading).
-- Work to be physically close when socializing.
-- Commit to avoid the "Four Horsemen." (see Gottman books)
-- Bias to spend time together even if doing different things.
-- Revitalize and discover new common interests.
-- Work to establish what needs and expectations each partner has of the other, and why (what purpose they serve).
-- Make efforts to appreciate, nurture, and cherish your spouse.
-- Create better patterns for communication and conflicts.
-- Ensure you have at least one meal or date out per week (without children).
- Sexual health (B)
-- Openly explore and share sexual desires, both during sex and at other times.
-- Disclose and discuss sexual phobias and hang-ups.
-- Share what partners find physically attractive and work to address these wants.
-- Be open about intentions for sex (signaling during the day, e.g.).
-- Allow for asking about sexual needs or issues without fear of shame or criticism.
-- Keep all sexual interactions private between spouses except with therapists.
- Children's issues (B)
-- (If applicable) Repair and prevent child-centered marriage
-- Understand what effects the A and the crisis have had on children. Assess what they know and whether they need to hear more from you.
-- Research whether children could benefit from IC, and pursue if appropriate.