What are affair relapses and how to cope with them


The discovery of the affair can spell disaster for a marriage. The betrayed spouse and the straying spouse must decide whether they should work on their marriage – and whether they can work on their marriage, while trying not to give into the negative emotions that come with the discovery of an affair. The road to recovery is long and difficult, and so it is inevitable that there will be a number of setbacks along the way. These setbacks may be in the forms of lapses – small slips of sadness or negative emotions, followed by a speedy recovery, or relapses, which are larger slips of regression to feeling emotions that you experienced when you were highly distressed, followed by a slower recovery.

Although experiencing lapses and relapses can make it feel as though you’re not moving forwards in your recovery, it’s important to remember that they are an entirely normal part of the healing process. Experiencing a lapse or relapse does not mean that you will experience a collapse.

When and why do relapses occur?

Relapses can occur at any point in the recovery process, or even after the relationship has recovered and both parties are doing well. Relapses occur when the individuals involved in the recovery of the relationship are stressed, tired, upset, emotionally or physically vulnerable, fearful or just unable to focus on the road ahead. Because the recovery process involves a lot of emotional effort, and a lot of making yourself vulnerable and putting your feelings out in the open, if one partner is not willing to give their all – or if one partner is still unable or unwilling to make the changes needed to rebuild the marriage, it can cause an outburst of emotion from the other partner. Or, if one partner is not putting in the right amount of effort, it can make the other partner experience feelings of resentment or anger.

When both spouses are not on the same page, sooner or later, one spouse will react to something the other spouse does or doesn’t do with anger, bitterness, resentment or sadness. This outburst of emotion will, at some point, inevitably cause the other spouse to relapse back to a previous state of negative emotion – for example, the straying spouse might be sick to death of hearing their partner complain about the cheating, relapsing to the mind-set of “this is why I had the affair in the first place”.

Triggers for relapses

Relapses can occur in all sorts of scenarios, and in the first few months following the discovery of the affair, as both parties try to recover from the affair, it is more likely that a number of relapses will occur. It’s common for relapses to occur after a night of intimacy or emotional vulnerability – perhaps when the couple makes love for the first time following the discovery of the affair. What might feel wonderful and intimate one night – almost like you are “getting back to normal” as a couple, could prompt a relapse of negative emotion the following morning.

This is completely understandable as laying yourself bare in terms of emotions – or even laying yourself bare physically – can make you feel incredibly vulnerable, and this vulnerability can cause you to regress back to a state of vulnerability and all of the emotions that come with it, such as fear, sadness or anxiety.

Another common trigger for relapses is when one spouse displays traits that used to be tolerated or even embraced, but that are completely unacceptable following the discovery of the affair. For example, if one spouse always used to be a little bit flirty, the other spouse may have tolerated it, seeing it as just an extension of their partner’s bubbly personality.

Following the discovery of the affair, however, this trait is seen as much, much more unacceptable and could cause a huge number of relapses in the betrayed spouse – leading to relapses in the straying spouse. Another trigger could be a spouse that was always a little bit lazy or lackadaisical before the affair – and their lack of interest in household affairs following the affair could cause relapses of anger, resentment and irritation.

How to cope with relapses

When a relapse occurs, it is important to understand why it happened, the reasons for it occurring and the emotions that it triggered in you. To begin with, right in the heat of the moment, if you can acknowledge that you’ve gotten off track and that your emotions are threatening to overcome you, it will work wonders in preventing further relapses and from preventing your relapse from turning into a full blown argument.

Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re getting off track with your emotions, speak to your spouse. Recommend that you both take a little time out of the situation to calm down. If you both have to go and sit in different rooms, so be it. Take time to reflect on your emotions and to figure out what caused the relapse and what prompted you to feel those strong emotions – and in the future, you can hopefully prevent those relapses.

Once you’ve calmed down and are thinking clearly, rather than emotionally, just sit down with your spouse and have a conversation. Although you could find it difficult to empathise with your spouse, try to look at the relapse as a way of addressing the problems within your relationship and getting the opportunity to work on them. Ask why the relapse occurred and what you should do about it. Think about what you can do in the future, address the triggers and try to work on them – especially if the relapse was triggered by a certain personality trait in one spouse.

It’s important to always remember that a relapse does not mean that the recovery process isn’t working out. You shouldn’t give up because of one relapse and you should always keep trying. A relapse simply means that you’re feeling strong emotions, which is entirely normal – so try not to worry about it.