Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides, but you and your partner can survive it.
I got a call from a TV reporter after the infamous “blue dress” incident during Clinton’s presidency.
He wanted to do an interview about the likelihood that the Clintons would break-up.
I started smiling.
“If most couples didn’t make it through affairs, the divorce rate would be even higher than it is now. You just hear about the ones that don’t.”
Working through an affair is tough. It takes tremendous energy and vulnerability on both sides. The reported numbers are growing, with the percentage of women cheaters rising dramatically. Still less than men.
Here are my caveats of treatment.
1) See your therapist together.
Trust is an obvious issue. Even if it’s talking about his or her feelings of letting go of the love they had for the other person, it’s important that the spouse regain their role as confidante. As someone who can be opened up to safely. “I trust you can hear what I am saying, and still be committed to working this through.” It’s vital that those be shared conversations between husband and wife.
It’s time for openness. Trust has to be regained.
This assumes that reconciliation is the goal. If you are not sure, then seeing a therapist individually can be helpful, and perhaps necessary.
2) Know that the “truth” rarely comes out all at once.
This is a tough one. The cheating spouse usually, whether they have been caught or whether they have actually come forward, rarely tell the whole story initially. Usually they either feel guilty and extremely protective of their spouse or the person with whom they had the affair. Or both.
The latter reason can infuriate the spouse.
This has to be recognized as a process. It’s part of it.
3) The problems in the relationship did not cause the affair, but they are important to talk about.
The spouse who had the affair is totally responsible for going outside the marriage to get his or her needs met. That is clear.
The couple wants to create a fresh, enlivened relationship where both can recommit. Leave behind the relationship that was not working. Learn new skills and new ways of communicating so both can feel better about their marriage.
Sometimes the cheating spouse is adamant about blaming the marriage. And only the marriage. That’s not a good sign. Should be a red flag for anyone trying to make a decision about the future.
4) The regaining of trust goes both ways.
The cheating spouse’s job is evident. Ties with the person on the other end of the affair should be cut, however reasonably possible. He or she needs to provide whatever information the other asks for to help them heal. Some people seem to want a lot of information. Some very little.
If they do not willingly and proactively offer openness to what used to be more private choices (cell phone or bank account passwords, for example), that may be a signal that the hurtful impact of the affair is still not understood or responsibility accepted.
Here’s a technique for talking. I suggest picking a certain time. Two times a week. Maybe three. During those times, and those times only, the “offender” should open up. Answer any and all questions. The other spouse expresses whatever they need to express. But at the end of that time (and don’t make the time too long—an hour of talking about something this exhausting can be enough), and until the next, the affair is not mentioned. This helps keep things from exploding or from the affair gaining any more power than it already has.
While honoring the need for healing.
The affair will be on everyone’s mind. But it’s got to be fenced into some degree. You are looking for new information to use for recommitment.
There should come a time when the non–cheater finally says to themselves, ” “You know, I just don’t need to ask that question. I am okay with not knowing.” That’s their goal.
Further, the noncheater’s job is to give reassurance to their spouse that trust is building so that hope can be established.
The spouse who did not have the affair can sometimes get lost in the details. Wants to know everything from panty color to sexual details. Others don’t want to know anything. You have to be careful here. There is potential chaos in either choice. Too many details can lead to obsession. Too little knowledge can lead to later regret.
The last thing that someone wants to realize is that 10 or 15 years down the road, their spouse says, “You know, I never really forgave you for that affair. I want a divorce.” Or never say those words. Just act on it. Passive-aggressively.
That is very sad. The unforgiving spouse is bitter. The unforgiven … lonely.
5) It takes time.
There are many variations to the above. Such are the complications of being human.
The good news?
It can be accomplished. And the commitment can be richer than ever.
Not because of the affair. Because of the work done to make the relationship … a better relationship.
Originally appeared at Midlife Boulevard. Reprinted with permission.
You can read more of Dr. Margaret on her website. Subscribe and you will receive a free copy of her new eBook, “Seven Commandments Of Good Therapy”, a basic guide on how to choose a potential therapist or how to evaluate the therapy you are currently receiving. You can also email her with comments: [email protected]
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