Copyright 2014 Roberta Gallagher
It might surprise you to learn that most marriages do not end because of an affair. True remorse and willingness to seek counseling and other support can save a marriage if each of the participants loves the other.
You have been kicked in the stomach and reeling from the shock. “How could you?” “What were you thinking?” You love and desire your partner and yet after you first find out the two of you are more passionate in lovemaking than you have been in years.
After a while your feelings change and you cannot stand to have your partner near you. This is a horribly conflicted and unstable time.
How is it that they committed the betrayal, yet you are the one obsessing about them, raging about them, and confused? It is impossible to come up with some rational explanation.
There is no explanation. There is a context where you can see your part for not meeting the needs of your mate. But they did not tell you, or you did not hear that they felt so deprived. Perhaps you were complacent but still they had a choice to not cheat.
Healing Mutual Resentments
Joe and Rue came into see me because mutual resentment had poisoned their marriage for two years. Rue had an affair and insisted she was not sorry because Joe had neglected her for years due to his alcoholism. He had been in recovery for 3 years and she is still resentful about his past behavior.
And he is resentful because of her lack of remorse about the affair. They love one another and want to find a way to get passed this impasse.
It is not uncommon for a lack of remorse after an affair because each person feels that it was the other’s fault. Apologies can help in beginning a healing process but taking action is the only thing that can move this process along. For each person to lay down their defenses, mutual apologies for behaviors in the past, is a helpful step.
One key for recovering from infidelity is empathy. You have to know that your partner knows exactly how you felt when they cheated. It is necessary for there to be a total understanding of your perspective.
A second key is knowing that they will be faithful in the future.
Using the Keys to Recovery
The betrayed partner must share that she or he is having an internal battle to feel open and trusting again. You need to be sure that your perspective is understood fully, and then you can perhaps be open again.
Then, talk again about how you felt at various points along the road of finding out about the affair -- the shock, the anger, the anxiety, and the stage you’re in now, where things may look and feel okay on the surface, but you are not fully able to open.
Have your partner try to think of times in their life when they felt anything like the emotions that you felt during this period: shock, fear, betrayal, low self-esteem, self-blame, anger.
The goal is to truly feel understood, and hopefully more emotionally connected.
Next you must also empathize with them. This does not meaning saying the behavior was okay, but just understand where they were coming from. Why did they cheat? Did they grow up seeing infidelity? Did they feel you weren't to attracted to them anymore? Was it impulsive due to alcohol use? Was there a feeling that you were distant or complacent?
If you truly want to move past this, you have to fully empathize with their perspective, and accept that this is a flawed human who chose the wrong path but maybe had some reasons they were unhappy within the relationship. If you want to feel close to this person who was suffering and wrongly acted out this is necessary.
The two of you can write down a plan to change the relationship. Write down all the behaviors that need to change.
Some examples are “We commit to talking about our negative feelings if and when they arise. We commit to having an emotional check in, or a 30 minute conversation about how we feel the relationship is going, every week. We commit to seeking counseling if either or both of us is unhappy for long than a couple of weeks.”
The plan should be concrete that you can picture actually doing. Don’t use the words Never or Always. Keep it practical.
Recovery can create a relationship that is better than what you had before and a love and understanding that is mature and deep. I do believe that if your dream is a lifelong relationship this can be a bump in the road. Mutual forgiveness is a beautiful thing.