Tom came home and sat down on the family sofa and began to shake uncontrollably. “What’s wrong?” said Sarah as she nervously regarded her husband.
The next few words were ones she never thought she would hear from him…
Tom watched the colour drain from his wife’s faceas the reality of that moment sunk in. In some ways he felt relieved for finally letting out the secret that he’d kept for almost a year. At the same time, he knew it would take a long time to recover from what he had done.
Sarah just felt hurt. Should she stand by her husband, or was recovery impossible for her?
It can be difficult to know how many couples suffer the effects of an affair because statistic like that relies heavily on self-reporting something that is both sensitive and embarrassing. Sexual Health Australia states that up to 70% of marriages experience some type of an affair somewhere along the way, whether emotional or sexual. Knowing that should make a couple of shudders, fuelling them to build a strong and healthy marriage.
An affair is deeply traumatic to marriage and there really is no timeframe for how long recovery will take. It’s common for the betrayed to experience PTSD-like symptoms and experience unstable emotions and troubling thoughts triggered by similar circumstances.
Now that Tom has revealed his transgression, he and Sarah are wondering how on Earth they get through this. Sarah may be wondering whether she wants to get through it at all. One thing we know for sure is that the weeks and months ahead will feel a lot like a rollercoaster as the details of the affair become known. Tom will be feeling overwhelming guilt and shame as he struggles to answer all of Sarah’squestions, while Sarah is madly scrambling to understand ‘why whilst carrying a deeply wounded heart and self-esteem.
After the discovery of an affair, a couple needs to decide whether they can work through the incident, or whether their relationship is unrepairable. There is a lot at stake. Often there are children, finances, family connections and a reputation to consider.
For those who have worked through an affair, many speak of the relationship becoming stronger than it ever was before. As their relationship gets stripped to its core the determination to never go back to that place causes them to rebuild stronger, andwork hard towards recovery.
There is never an appropriate excuse for an affair, and accepting one is unwise. Nobody ‘falls’ into an affair or, ‘finds’ themselves in an affair, rather there are many bad choices that are made to get them there and many opportunities to make good ones also.
The one who has betrayed their partner will need to show deep remorse and take 100% responsibility for their failure. It’s the very first step toward for healing and recovery.
I’m so sorry I’ve hurt you.
I’ve made a terrible mess of our relationship!
There is no excuse for my actions!
I love you and want our relationship to work.
What do I need to do to help you heal from what I’ve done?
This is the appropriate language of a deeply repentant spouse.
CUT OFF CONTACT
It’s not unusual for the wayward spouse to still feel emotionally connected to the person they had an affair with, that’s why all contact with them must cease.
A relationship cannot be rebuilt unless the betrayed partner feels like every connection with the person that their partner had the affair with isgone. That may mean the change of a job, gym membership, or a letter written together which may bring closure to the person they had the affair with. After all contact is ceased the freedom to check phones, computers, social media accounts and bank statements at any time should be made available. This may seem intrusive, but it helps the betrayed rebuild trust and recover.
KEEP NO SECRETS
Secrets are always the centre of an affair and that’s why honesty and living with an open book is such an important part of recovery. Trust is lost in buckets, and gained in drops. It’s impossible to build a relationship without trust, and rebuilding takes time!
The betrayed partner will need to understand how the affair happened and the one who had the affair needs to expose everything in total honesty. They need to feel that they can ask their partner when they get worried, or when they get triggered by something as simple as watching a movie on TVthat involved an affair or sitting in the bedroom where they were first told. If the open truth is not revealed at this point trust will have no foundation to build on and recovery will be stopped in its tracks.
As the betrayer answers every question with openness and honesty they become the healer of their wounded partner.
Although it would be convenient to discuss the details of the event once and move forward, that never happens. Walking through the hurt and pain of an affair will involve many conversations over many weeks and months, with the betrayed partner needing reassurance of the other’s love along with a commitment to live authentically from here on. In the process, be careful to avoid sharing any graphic sexual details; this will only create unhelpful visual images that will hinder recovery.
BRING IN EMPATHY
As a relationship therapist, I have walked couples through affair recovery many times. I have found that the experiences that people absorb throughout their life is part of what brings them to the brink of the affair in the first place. Although that is never an excuse, discussing what made it easier to have an affair will bring empathy into the relationship. The betrayer may appreciate some empathy, just as the one betrayed may be helped by some understanding.
Here are 3 questions to explore in the process of recovery:
- What is it that your partner has experienced in the past that made an affair a possibility?
They may have witnessed their parents’ affair when they were younger or struggled with a deep inadequacy that the affair helped fill.
- What circumstances made an affair possible?
Your partner may have gone through some significant failures, feel highly stressed and vulnerable, or have a job that involves regular travel.
- What was happening in your relationship that made the affair an option?
Your partner may have been feeling criticized and unable to make their partner happy and/or physical intimacy may have been rare, leaving them feeling unwanted and disrespected.
WALKTHROUGH THE HURT
This can be a difficult process so if you haven’t engaged in a therapist already, you may need to do so. A therapist will give you the structure that you need to confront the pain of the affair in a safe manner as well as discuss the health of the relationship prior to the affair. Both incidents need to be addressed so that the couple can fully process their hurts, let go, forgive, and decide to rebuild.
Although it does take time to move through recovery, at some point the couple have to decide to leave the past in the past and move forward.
CHOOSE TO GROW
As a counsellor, it’s a great feeling when a couple commits to rebuilding their marriage and beginning affair recovery. Using the affair as motivation to rebuild their marriage to a place that is stronger than ever before is entirely possible. That experience is a powerful force that carries a lot of motivation for change.
If the couple have gotten this far, then there is already a lot of growth happening both as individuals, and in their relationship.
Usually when there is an affair the needs of one or both have been unmet for years, so it’s important for the couple to begin to look for small, regular ways to show love in the relationship. Every day they can be looking for a way to make things easier for their partner, show affection, or spend some intentional quality time together. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a great resource that explores the different ways that people feel love. For instance, reading a chapter of that book and discussing it together regularly is a great way to gain a greater understanding of what you both need to feel loved and connected.
After an affair neither partner feels very good about themselves. One may blame and shame themselves for making such a big mistake, and the other will wonder why they weren’t good enough. Use these emotions to work on yourself and grow your relationship.
A NEW SET OF BOUNDARIES
Most people have an affair because they have very few boundaries in their relationship, especially around the opposite sex.To recover from the affair and rebuild strong, this needs to change.Having a plan to protect yourself is a wise and healthy choice.
Just like we have fences around our house to give us a safe perimeter, boundaries around our relationship provide that too. They are important to let usknow what we can and can’t do, keeping unwanted people out of the relationship whilstallowing us to build a fortress against an affair ever happening again.
Discuss these questions to affair-proof your relationship:
What measures are wise to take when one partner travels for work alone?
How much is too much when talking to the opposite sex?
How do you protect yourself in a gym, party or at work?
How much alcohol is appropriate when out alone with friends?
What is not acceptable behaviour around the opposite sex?
There is safety when there are boundaries; that’s why creating some strong boundaries around your relationship will allow you both to live and love within those perimeters and build the type of relationship where an affair is not welcome.
Rick & Fiona Leeworthy are passionate about helping couples reignite the passion that they once had in their relationship. Visit https://unbreakablelove.organd purchase our latest book “The Marriage Playbook”, and join our private Facebook group to build the relationship that you dream of.