Happiness At Home: Recovering From An Affair
Forms of Infidelity
Infidelity takes many forms. Some people have sequential affairs—a series of one-night stands or short affairs. These affairs involve very little emotional investment and may be rationalized as harmless. When such behavior continues for several years and finally is discovered, it is difficult to heal the years of deceit.
Other affairs are discrete events. These also involve minimal emotional investment.
Sometimes affairs last longer and become more serious. These affairs may be quite romantic and sexual. Sometimes they grow into more serious relationships and may last for years.
Why Affairs Happen
Infidelity happens for many reasons. Here are a few of the common explanations:
- An affair may be a response to a crisis such as the death of someone important, moving to a new city, a job change, or some other kind of life transition.
- Sometimes people become bored with their partners and seek sexual or emotional excitement with someone new. The new person seems to supply the excitement that has been missing.
- Stressful times in the family life cycle lead some to seek escape in an affair. This includes things like taking care of aging parents, raising teenagers, and becoming new parents.
- People sometimes look for outside relationships because their expectations of marriage have not been satisfied.
- Some people seek outside relationships when their partners are emotionally unavailable because of illness.
- Other people begin affairs because they seek more affection than their partner has been providing.
- Other people seek professional or social advancement.
There are also many social reasons why affairs happen: factors that exist in our society that lead many of us to expect a fantasy version of marriage that could never really exist. When marriage doesn’t live up to this expectation, some of us keep looking for it outside of marriage.
Common Reactions to Infidelity
People who are involved in relationships in which their partner has been unfaithful say they have a wide range of reactions. These are a few of the common ones:
- A physical reaction, such as feeling like you have been punched in the stomach.
- Ruminating on the details, wanting to know everything – or the opposite: not wanting to know anything.
- Feeling traumatized, having flashbacks, trouble sleeping, or trouble controlling your thoughts.
- Blaming yourself (I didn’t pay enough attention to her; I wasn’t sexy enough for him; I let myself get too fat, etc.).
- Blaming your partner (I can’t believe anything she says)
- Blaming the relationship (We were too young; We were wrong for each other; We had different values, etc.).
- Blaming the lover (It’s all his fault; If it weren’t for him); transferring anger from one’s spouse to one’s lover.
- Feeling discouraged and wondering how to ever trust your spouse again.
Many couples who experience infidelity in their marriages report all of these responses at different times. There is no one “right” way to respond, and how you feel one day may differ wildly from how you feel the next. This is normal.
Even though infidelity has a devastating impact on marriages, many do survive. Let’s look at what it takes for a relationship to recover.
If You Were Unfaithful
If you had the affair and want to save your marriage:
- Stop the affair and be honest about it.
- Make the choice to practice fidelity.
- Understand your partner’s need to ask questions and understand what happened.
- Spend plenty of time with your family.
- Find a therapist and explore what has happened in your marriage.
- Expect to reassure your partner of your commitment to the marriage.
- Listen carefully to your partner and accept his or her feelings and thoughts.
- Show remorse. Have empathy for your partner’s feelings; don’t let your shame get in the way.
- Make amends. Identify what it would take for you to gain forgiveness. Then, do it.
If Your Partner Was Unfaithful
If your partner had the affair and you want to save your marriage:
- Acknowledge your anger and express it productively.
- Be aware of distorted thoughts that may fuel your anger.
- Expect ups and downs.
- Find a way to explore and express your feelings, such as writing in a journal or working with a professional therapist.
- Identify what would help and ask for it, such as more time together and reassurances.
- Establish a safe environment where you can learn about what happened, if you want to hear the details.
- When you are ready, create a ritual for letting go of the anger and forgiving.
Finally, what are some things you can do to protect your marriage and keep it from becoming an infidelity statistic?
- Make your marriage your first priority; don’t take it for granted
- Pay attention to your partner. Be aware of his or her needs and do your best to meet them.
- Think about how you behaved when you were first dating. Do the same things now.
- Make sex fun.
- Look for opportunities to talk and listen.
- Be thoughtful and romantic. Send cards, flowers, gifts.
- Avoid high-risk situations. Discuss these with your partner and ask him or her to do the same.
- Be polite to your partner.
- Say nice things about your partner, in public and in private.
- Spend regular private time together.
- Focus on the positive.
- Show that you are glad to see your partner. Be energized and pleasant.
- Accept that you are responsible for your own well-being.
- Be proactive about nurturing your marriage. This relationship is your most important investment; give it the time and attention it deserves.
- Look for ways to express appreciation and respect.
Spring, Janis, A., How Can I Forgive You: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To.
I wrote about Skills For Making Your Marriage Thrive in a previous newsletter.
Marriage Advice for any couple.