The affair has been uncovered. The decision has been made to try to save the relationship. There’s a constant tension though – the one who has been betrayed feels the need to talk about it all of the time (“I want you to understand the pain you have put me through”) and the one who cheated wants to put it behind them and move on (“If you keep punishing me for the past, we’ll never make it”).
As with everything, there is no one-size-fits all answer here and both perspectives have some valid points.
If you cheated on your partner,
When they first discover the affair, expect the tears and the anger to be ever-present. Their entire world has just collapsed. They though that you were their rock, that they count count on you, and that foundation has just been abruptly pulled from beneath their feet. They will probably say some very harsh things. It won’t be rational because they have been thrown into full-on fight or flight. This is not the time to be defensive or to try to correct assumptions, even if they’re off-base. Your role right now is just to take it (as long as it doesn’t move into threatening territory).
And yes, it sucks to be attacked, to be villainized. But guess what? It sucks to be cheated on too. They didn’t ask for this. You made choices and those choices have consequences. It’s time for you to take responsibility, and some of that is being open and willing to listen to their pain.
Now obviously, if this emotional intensity continues and the affair is an ever-present topic of conversation, the relationship cannot heal. But you don’t get to control your spouse’s reactions or dictate the timeline of their healing. You’ve already taken away their agency by having the affair. You don’t get to tell them how to move on. There is a difference between you being uncomfortable because you cannot hide from your poor choices and your spouse deliberately using your past to hurt you.
You don’t have to stay in a position where you are feeling constantly punished for an extended period of time. Just like they have the right to say, “I just can’t get over what you have done and I think we should end things,” you have the right to set your boundaries around this too.
If you have been cheated on,
In the beginning, you need to talk. Your pain demands to be heard, you are desperately seeking understanding and you’re trying to process this enormous thing that has completely upended your life. Obviously – and understandably, some of this will be directed at your spouse. Yet make sure that they are not your only outlet. These feelings you’re carrying are big and are best distributed. Seek out a therapist or support group, a trusted friend or two and a journal. These become especially important as time passes and your healing is on a different schedule than the one the relationship is on.
It’s natural to want to know every detail about the affair as you try to regain some sense of control over your life. Yet this information has diminishing returns and focusing too much on the play-by-play keeps the energy in the past. It’s also understandable that you have the impulse to share every time you’re triggered. After all, they are the ones that planted that seed to begin with. It makes sense to share these when they first emerge so that you can talk through them together. Yet if it’s the tenth time that you’ve driven by a certain spot and your stomach plummets, it may not need mentioning. After all, they already know that this location bothers you and they can’t make that association disappear for you.
You didn’t have a say in the affair and you have every right to have a say in how the recovery plays out. It is not your role to alleviate their guilt or to stay quiet in an attempt to keep the peace. Your emotions are valid. That being said, be mindful of your motivation when you bring up the affair. Are you looking for reassurances that it won’t happen again? Are you wanting to make them feel badly? Are you coming from a place of self-righteousness? Are you wanting the person that hurt you to be the one to heal you? These are all the relationship equivalent of a dryer being stuck in the tumble cycle – it will beat you both up, but won’t make much of anything happen.
None of what happened is fair. And if you’re committed to staying, you have to decide what you want more – to punish them or heal the relationship. You can’t have both.