Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Recovery Timeline

How long does this take?

When the pain is intense and life is undone, the process of recovery seems as slow as pouring thick molasses on a cold winter day. Actions can be taken that help facilitate healing, but it still takes time. At the risk of writing a boring article, I think it could be helpful to lay out the healing timeline. Let me stress that this timeline is hypothetical. Each couple travels through this process at their own pace, but this will give a general rule of thumb. Also, as you look at the timeline, don’t get discouraged. The intensity of the pain and the frequency of the intrusive thoughts should subside over time. The following diagram reflects the stages of the recovery process.

In a perfect world, and I’m afraid we are far too complex to let that happen, here are the general timelines for a couple’s recovery.

I.    The discovery stage: zero to six weeks:

This stage is frequently characterized by shock and emotional instability. Hopefully, by the end of six weeks the story has been told. During this stage the couple tries to establish “WHAT” has happened. Until this initial stage is completed it’s almost impossible for the couple to move forward. If this stage take’s longer than six weeks, then it becomes more difficult for the hurt spouse to redevelop trust. Once this task is complete, it’s possible to move forward in the recovery process.

II.    The reaction stage: six months

During the first six months multiple tasks have to be completed in order for both parties to feel safe about continuing in the relationship. The hurt spouse needs to feel that their mate cares. This is done through the development of empathy and a willingness to explore the reality of why this happened. A shared understanding of “why” this happened needs to be established before moving forward. Both parties have to learn how to regulate the emotions generated by the event. There is a grieving over the loss. The unfaithful spouse should be pursuing whatever actions are necessary to assure they don’t put their mate at risk of being hurt again.

III.    The release stage: Month 9 to 12

This stage is characterized by forgiveness and this opens up the door for reconciliation. By this time, both parties have a better understanding of “why” this happened, and hopefully their mate’s personal pursuit of healing provides the hurt spouse assurance about their commitment to the marriage.

IV.    Recommitment and moving on: 12 to 18 months

During this stage the couple makes a conscious decision to move on with their life. The event will have brought new meaning to the couple, but it won’t define them. Rather, their ability to deal with the adversity created by the infidelity and to move forward, can provide new meaning and significance for the relationship.

Please don’t think that because I said 18 months you’re beginning to freak out. Please don’t do that. If you’re on the right path you’ll experience a much improved marriage long before 18 months. However, the intrusive thoughts may still cause emotional swings into the process.

If for some reason you feel stuck and are way off on this timeline, please seek help. Do all you can to move forward.

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extended timeline

This timeline assumes the cheating spouse is comletely separated and done with his/her relationship.  My spouse couldn't get over the intense feelings he had for his "girlfriend" and tried reconnecting with her secretly after three months.  At ten months, he finally let go when she wrote him a letter saying it was over and he needed to leave her alone.  We are at 18 months, and I'd say we have not hit the rebuilding part.  So much damage was caused that I cannot retrust him and am not sure this person or relationship is the right thing for me.  I'm sure some people go through it quicker, but again I think this only happens if the cheating spouse is DONE and already feeling some empathy for the devastating effects of his/her actions. 

agree

I am sort of in a similar spot but much earlier in the process. I just found out three months ago and he is telling me it's over but I find things that show me it's not. I want to work it out but I don't know if he can ever be honest. It's devastating to go through this after 25 years.

"how long does it take?"

Rick,

 

Excellent article on "how long does it take?"

 

Jerry Sinclair, Marriage Missionary

Faithful and True of Jacksonville, FL

follow me on LINKEDin

Other Woman/Man

I would like more information about forgiving the other person.  In my case it was a woman who was supposed to be my best friend, someone I had a 17 year history with.  I'm 6 years past discovery but am having difficulty with this as we attend the same church and I see her from time to time.

My marriage has been healed for quite some time, I trust my husband.  I am not concerned about it happening again.  She has truly shown her true colors over the past 6 years and they aren't very pretty.

I believe part of the problem is knowing that on any given Sunday I may run into her however I think a part of the problem is getting my head around how she could have done this to me.

Elaine

Same situation here...

My spouse cheated on me with my best friend of 20+ years. I'm finding that's it's easier to forgive him than it is to forgive her. I haven't seen her in months, and certainly not since d day. I've expressed my hatred towards her to her many times. It doesn't help the situation, but at the moment, it makes me feel better. I could NEVER see her. It would be way too painful. Some days I really miss our friendship. But most days I want to slash her tires!! I don't know how to forgive her and move on for me, not for her. Sometimes I get so angry I just want to scream! How could he sleep with my best friend?? How could she do that to me when we've been so close for so long? Talk about pain! Not only did he cheat, but I lost my best friend in the process.

timeline

your timeline is way too short. we have been in intensive couseling with a wonderful counselor for two years and we are just now starting to normalize. this may be due to my unfaithful husband's reluctance to let go of the other woman.  he continued to insist that he would always love her for over a year after the disclosure. it is only by the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we have made it this far, but now I believe we will make a full recovery. I think your timeline should be twice as long.

I think the timeline is based

I think the timeline is based on when the unfaithful spouse is truly done with the affair and focused on the marriage relationship. That's when day 1 can begin.

Its been three and a half

Its been three and a half years for me...but my husband tood over two years to tell me everything.He ended it immediately, but we had to get a restraining order against the other woman.  it was a 5 yeal long afair with a women he practically lived with.  My husband travels extensivelly and he took her with him...meanwhile I was home raising three children.  My husband did thing that I can't even fathom..the pychiatrist says I suffered fromm post tramatic stress syndrom.  I met me husband when I was 14, and he is the only man I've ever been with....and up until this affair I though I was the only women he had evver been with.  We are committed to making the marriage work...but it has been a long, long, hard road.  I'm not sure what stage I'm in..it depends on the day.  Your advice and input help alot.  I've just never heard of anyone quite in my situation

 

Kelllyt

Hi Kelly, did things ever get

Hi Kelly, did things ever get better?

timeline...

While I agree there is hope that the timeline can be achieved, I do not agree it is true in most cases and it can give a false sense of "completion" at 18 months.  I have heard from various counseling resources in Austin - recovery takes 18 - 24 months, 3-5 years or even 1/2 as many years as the unfaithful spouse was in the affair and for some that is many more years than 2, 3 or even 5 years.

I am 3+ years into recovery and find my marriage is better than it has ever been, but, I feel like I am still healing from the pain to the point of "I'm good" but, not truly "healthy" just yet.

ARC helped my husband and I so much and I am truly thankful for all the counseling and encouragement we received.  We would not still be together if it were not for Rick and Leslie - You guys are AWESOME!!!  My desire is "Let's be real about the possibility of this life changing pain and the effects it has long term and that becoming "HEALTHY" after discovery may take many more years to come."  To me, I find there is a big difference in being "healed" and being "healthy"...  My thoughts...for what it is worth! : )

K

Re: Intrusive Thoughts

It's been over 12 months since my husband revealed his 2 affairs. As much as I can see the changes he has made over the last year, I still can't let go of the past. I feel the intrusive thoughts I have on a daily basis is hindering my healing. Any advice on how to stop these thoughts.

I think a few things help

I think a few things help intrusive thoughts:
- thinking of them as attacks from Satan - what would you do with an attack from Satan? pray about it, reject its message and pass it along to God. You can actually say out loud "I do not want that, God please you take it".
- not to fight the thought as in "I will not think about a pink elephant". Did you just think about a pink elephant? That's why fighting a thought doesn't work.
- place the thought on a piece of paper in your mind, like a sticker on a piece of paper, then rip the paper off the pad, and throw it in the river. This is all done in your mind. Watch the paper run down the river out of sight in your mind. Handling intrusive thoughts like this helps to objectify them for your mind, to treat them as things that can be managed in your mind. Its using the other parts of your mind to relax the hurting part.
- write about the thought on physical paper. The mind trusts things written down can be safely forgotten or de-stressed.
- walk or do something else physical. Physical activity helps the mind flush things in the mind, process them. Do not sit in one place or stare in one place, that's a way to enter a trance which is the opposite of how to relax from an intrusive thought.
- allow yourself to feel that thought, cry from it, count it as a loss/hurt, and ask God to take it from you over time.
- Go help someone. Helping others, is great healing for the hurting heart/mind.
- Talk to someone safe about this thought. Tell them what it was, why it hurt, how it made you feel, how that feeling is connected in any way to any past life experiences, and if there is anything about those past feelings that you'd like to be rid of as well. Kind of an amateur self therapy. If the person you can share with can just listen, not try to fix it, and be your "witness" to the moment you will feel some peace as you cry and let the moment/memory/thought come out of your concerns and become a pain which has been processed.

The book "growing yourself back up" by John Lee can be helpful. Intrusive thoughts are one form of regression. They can't be cured but they can be identified faster, and processed more efficiently and affect your present life less. And as that happens you'll feel your current life improving and your control over your emotions feel stronger. Just reading the first 2 chapters of that book can help - if you know what's happening in your mind then your mind can handle that better.

Thank You

Your advice is perfect and it's in perfect timing that I discovered it. For me my husband's affair was discovered 2 years ago. We had several false starts but most recently he has told me, he does not want to work on our marriage (as he continues to live at home, sleep on the couch, but see the other woman whenever he feels like it). The thoughts of what he is doing with her, invade my mind all the time. I have been working on myself spiritually for 2 years now but it seems the closer I try to get to God, the stronger the attacks. I put on my spiritual armor each and every day just to have it torn off me at times due to the thoughts I allow to rage in my mind. I know the Lord wants me to surrender completely to him and I try to each and every day. I lost my husband and my best friend and sometimes losing my best friend is worst. I know I have to see him as God sees him and not look at his behavior or give much thought to what he says. Your practical advice is great for someone like me. Thank you!

What if the betrayer, whose

What if the betrayer, whose betrayal is part of sexual addiction, begins raging, name calling, verbal abuse, ect?  This has left me, the betrayed, with more reasons to not trust.  How should this be dealt with?

how much infidelity over a longer period of time = more time

I might point out that for every injury of infidelity, or when new information surfaces that changes the picture of the once disclosed betrayal, you can expect the recovery and healing time to take much longer than reported here. My investigation from other resources states that sometimes the more injuries to the marriage, and the longer period of time the betrayal occured, determines whether or not a marriage can survive at all. The injured person's hurt will take however much time is needed, and depends on the spouses assistance and support, or not. Otherwise, it is not so easily grafted as stated here.

I'm not following the stages

I am not following the stages very well. :) I actually forgave my husband almost immediately. I still don't completely understand what/why things happened. He's not telling me the complete truth but only enough to try to pacify me. But I am a pretty smart woman and can see through his lies even though I don't know what the truth actually is. He says it was just a friendship but I have never seen friends send such racy texts and emails and I have never seen just friends have such a difficult time breaking it off. We are at about 90 days. If we didn't talk about this situation we pretty much get along perfectly and have a great time. I've made some big changes in the areas that I was not working well in. Pretty much I don't sweat the small stuff and I have decided as my husband I should do things for him because I love him and I want to show him that. So, sex and everything else has gotten better. But I don't think it is over and it's not just guessing. If he could stop I could get over this but he keeps seeing her and then swears he won't again. I know I've been an idiot for staying but I love him and feel very strongly on keeping marriage vows.

Unsure how to even begin recovery

With the first affair occurring 6 years ago, we divorced... We later reconciled, and I never realized I hadn't forgiven him for the first time. I believed I had, but hadn't. The same female who was more relevant to him than a faithful wife and family has became an issue yet again.... I always swore that I'd never feel this way again... Yet here I sit. I don't think a second Chance means anything if you didn't learn from your mistakes.... I feel like a fool, and want nothing more than to end this pain. We have 3 sons together and that is my main reason for seeking any and all help I can get.... Any advice would be greatly appreciated...

Unsure how to even begin recovery

With the first affair occurring 6 years ago, we divorced... We later reconciled, and I never realized I hadn't forgiven him for the first time. I believed I had, but hadn't. The same female who was more relevant to him than a faithful wife and family has became an issue yet again.... I always swore that I'd never feel this way again... Yet here I sit. I don't think a second Chance means anything if you didn't learn from your mistakes.... I feel like a fool, and want nothing more than to end this pain. We have 3 sons together and that is my main reason for seeking any and all help I can get.... Any advice would be greatly appreciated...

Timeline & Achieving Ground Zero

In my experience, I believe the timeline is relevant to ground zero. Every couple is unique, so recovery times vary based disclosing everything the faithful spouse needs to know (with discernment and the right counselors). Some couples hit ground zero early, seeking sufficient guidance. Other's wait years to start the process. My husband and I began at ground zero barely 8 months ago, although it had been 1 and 7 months since D-day. It also depends on the willingness of the unfaithful spouse to seek help in no longer contacting the AP and his true understanding of covenant marriage.

Difference between a Contractual and Covenant Marriage

Contract: I take thee for me.
Covenant: I give myself to thee.

Contract: You had better do it!
Covenant: How may I serve you?

Contract: What do I get?
Covenant: What can I give?

Contract: I’ll meet you halfway.
Covenant: I’ll give you 100% plus.

Contract: I have to
Covenant: I want to

If it is your true desire to remain with this man, it is possible. It is not an easy path, but it is possible, despite all the challenges that you may be currently experiencing. Continue staying connected, getting your support through the forums, small groups, counseling, trusted friends and pastors. As long as you continue to surround yourself with others who are or have experienced similar circumstances within this blog and Rick's other resources, you'll be able to find yourself again and build up the confidence in yourself to know what path you want to take.

Don't feel like a fool. A

Don't feel like a fool. A fool is someone who does not seek wisdom. You are seeking wisdom, asking for help and advice.

I would suggest having a phone call or meeting in person with Rick of AR. He was unfaithful 4 times and now leads AR. If you want to understand a pirate its a good idea to consult with a former master pirate. His wife has had to forgive him of 4 affairs. So he can share what works and doesn't work.

It is important to forgive. But don't make that your first priority. I would recommend making your relationship to God your #1 place right now. And that your husband behaves safely (whatever that looks like to you) while you think about your next step.

I'm sorry there are 3 sons in the picture to muddy it for you. But really I don't see anywhere in the bible where it says children are an excuse for infidelity, or Trust God with your sons, not your husband. God will care for them. They were made by him, he knows how many hairs on each of their heads. Its important that your life is not ransomed for the raising of your sons with an unfaithful husband. God ransomed his only son for you, for your life, not for your situation. Do what is right as a steward of God's image in you, that does not mean become a 2nd wife to your husband.

I know its conventional to tell people to fight for the marriage. But I don't believe that. I believe you fight for your relationship with God.

Also its very important to get personal help. Call AR and speak to a counselor there. You need a specialist. Second its important that you have some personal help like a dear friend, parents, sibling, someone you know who will be there for you. Don't try to work this alone, it doesn't happen. God is not in favor of us hiding our needs from the community of believers and our circle of society. They can help you.

Discovery after stroke

I accidentally found out about my husband's long term affair after he had a stroke.
I 'could not' act out/grieve because I had to take care of him. It's been 10 months but
I still feel very sad and overwhelmed at times. God spared him and he is doing quite
well although a little slow with his speech. Has anyone else experienced this type of
situation? I could really use the support.

What type of affair was it?

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