Using Empathy to Help Your Partner Heal After An Affair

The period after cheating has been discovered is painful, chaotic, and anxiety provoking. The vulnerability from the uncertainty of this experience can leave you feel like you’re crawling out of your own skin. Our natural reaction to this type of a feeling is to try to get out of it. However, working too quickly to get out of this will insight suspicion, fear, and sometimes even anger from your partner. On the other hand, being patient can seem to yield as much animosity.

Rescuing someone you love from their painful emotion sounds healthy. However, when we don’t allow people to feel how they are feeling, we can actually make them feel completely invalidated. Genuine empathy is a skill. Although almost everyone is capable of it, it’s not something that comes easy to us. The short version of empathy is, “when I hear the feeling behind your story, can I recall a time where I had a similar feeling?” Feelings are the most significant part to this puzzle. However, we often get caught up in the story, rather than the emotion. Your own history begins to interfere with your ability to validate the emotions of your partner.

Remember that empathy and comfort don’t always go hand in hand. Truly staying with someone who is suffering and hurting is one of the hardest and bravest things that we can do. When you actually hear your partner’s story, and accept it for what it is, you risk being exposed. For example, if you notice your partner is experiencing anger about the affair, you risk your shame about it being known. It’s tempting to quickly try to push through it, with the idea that this means that you’re moving on. The truth is, without validation and connection, you’ll likely be as stuck where you started, if not more so.

Practicing empathy is one of the most vital parts to long-term relationship recovery. Without empathy, you might be able to get to a place of calmness, but relapse, disconnection, and old patterns of behavior are much more likely to resurface. By showing up in an empathetic way, you increase the chances that your relationship will make it. You also encourage healing in your partner, as well as yourself.

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