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  • Writer's pictureAdaeze Chiwoko

The 3-Phase Model For Affair Recovery

World-renowned. relationship psychologists Drs John and Jill Gottman researched and promote a model to affair recovery that I have found to also be an almost intuitive journey for both the betrayed and the betrayer to embark on when an affair has occurred and they want to save their marriage.

Through my work with many couples around the world, I have witnessed that with the right support and guidance the model that I'm about to elaborate on is the most beneficial and effective when it comes to allowing for full healing and building a new marriage. It allows for trust to be rebuilt and intimacy to be restored in a way that feels natural and not forced.

So what is this model? The Gottman’s developed the following 3-phased approach: Atone. Attune. Attach.

Let’s explore these phases one by one.


The word ‘Atone’ relates to actively making amends for wrongdoings and even paying the price for that wrongdoing. There is a sacrificial nature to atonement that goes beyond just being sorry. Active atonement is necessary for this phase of affair recovery as the betrayed person needs to see and feel real remorse and repentance from their partner.

The discovery of the affair is extremely traumatic, particularly to the betrayed person. This can cause some level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder responses such as:

  • Hypervigilance

  • Depression

  • Anger

  • Flashbacks

  • Nightmares

  • Emotional numbing alternating with emotional explosions

  • Sleep disturbances.

Both parties need to recognise that these responses are typical and can vary from person to person.

In this phase, there must be a lot of talking as well as evidence of remorse and regret. This is not the time to highlight any issues in the relationship or point fingers for blame. The betrayed must be given the space and time to express his or her feelings about the affair without judgment or correction. How they feel is how they feel.

Likely, the betrayed will also ask questions. A LOT of questions over and over again. Sometimes it will be the same questions in different guises and they will come thick and fast as his or her mind is working overtime to attempt to make sense of the betrayal.


To attune with your partner is to reach a state of understanding, coming together, and listening to each other.

At this phase, we can begin to ask the question of what has gone wrong in the relationship. We can begin to unearth how we, as a couple have ended up at this place and start to look back at the marriage as a whole.

The attunement stage allows for empathy and compassion to begin to flow in the relationship as it moves away from being all about the betrayed person and starts to be more about the union itself. I find that at this stage many couples can talk about and express their needs and true feelings about things that they had previously avoided.


In this phase we are looking at becoming more certain in our commitment to move forward, creating and building on our connection intentionally and exploring our sexual intimacy.

It’s critical at this stage to ensure that the betrayed person can still express areas of insecurity and that any gaps are filled such as the breaking off of unhealthy relationships, not going to that bar after work, or an evidenced reduction in social media use.

This phase is about beginning to build a new marriage. I typically advise couples to start right from scratch and imagine that they are at the dating stage of their relationship. Prioritise making time together, make elaborate expressions of love, go out and have fun together, spend time talking and rediscovering each other. Begin to rebuild the friendship again.

What about our sexual relationship?

Now let’s mention sex, it is not uncommon for this to be the last frontier of infidelity recovery so patience is inevitably required. The more that there is a focus on building emotional intimacy - the more sexual intimacy should begin to also develop naturally without force or compulsion.

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