Are you struggling to rebuild trust after an affair?
Did you have a physical or emotional affair and are now desperately working to repair the damage? Are you afraid it’s a losing battle? Or are you devastated that your spouse had an affair? Are you struggling with intrusive thoughts or even fantasies of revenge? Are you wondering if your spouse is telling the truth every time he or she opens their mouth? Is coping with infidelity becoming overwhelming?
Perhaps you feel like everything you thought you knew about your marriage and about your spouse is now a lie. Maybe you are questioning your whole relationship. Perhaps you are feeling like a fool and like you should’ve somehow known or that somehow it’s your fault. Maybe you are the one who cheated and are filled with regret, and want nothing more than to make this up to your spouse.
Have the two of you already started working to rebuild trustwith checklists and promises and extra communication? Perhaps you feel you should be further along than you are. Or maybe you fear that all of your efforts won’t amount to what you’re hoping they will. Maybe you fear that nothing will ever be the same again.
You’re not alone. You’re not abnormal. And despite how you may be feeling right now, you are not broken irreparably.
The emotions almost every couple goes through when an affair has been revealed are like a violent flu rushing through the system, both internally and between spouses. And like a flu, the only thing you can really do in the beginning is ride out the worst of it while you do as much as you can to soothe your aching body and mind. Figuring out how to recover from an affair will come, but it’s best not to push too hard too quickly.
It is normal to feel rage, extraordinary fear, and to be plagued by nightmares…if you can sleep. It is also normal to go around and around with the same thoughts, trying to solve the problem of trust, as if you were a mouse in a maze blindly bumping up against wall after wall only to bump into more dead ends.
The hard reality with learning how to cope with an affair is that you cannot think your way out of it. A therapist who specializes in infidelity counseling understands this and can help the two of you through this initial roller coaster stage. A therapist who specializes in affair recovery can help you slow things down and eventually develop perspective and insight.
Ultimately it’s not about recovery. It’s about growth.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of
thinking we were at when we created them.”
Conventional couples counseling for infidelity focuses largely on rebuilding trust. While trust is very important to a happy marriage, many of the couples I’ve seen through my 20 years in practice have found that the work of rebuilding trust surprisingly has significant drawbacks.
Take Joe and Marie. Joe cheated on Marie after 11 years of marriage. Joe was remorseful and wanted to earn Marie’s trust back. He gave her his passwords and let her check his phone. Joe also called to check in to let her know when he was leaving work and so forth. Joe answered all of Marie’s questions and was there to listen to her and comfort her whenever her fears rose up. Joe did everything the books told him to do, all in his earnest attempts for surviving infidelity. Initially Marie was reassured, but she still couldn’t quite trust Joe. It was a feeling she couldn’t shed no matter how hard she tried. This went on and on for a year before they came to see me.
When I suggested to them that rebuilding trust didn’t work for them because rebuilding trust doesn’t work, they actually felt relief. They hadn’t been doing anything wrong. Trust isn’t something that can be “worked on” or forced. It is something that occurs more as a result or side effect. But why is this?
Rebuilding trust inadvertently pressures the spouse in Marie’s position to believe something they just can’t believe and pressures the spouse in Joe’s position to be continually on their knees asking for forgiveness. Both spouses end up feeling perpetually like they have to make up for something—Marie for her lack of trust and Joe for his affair. This is not a formula for success.
Maturity, by the way, is a much deeper concept than trust. Dogs and cats and gorillas are capable of trust. Humans are capable of so much more. Humans are capable of integrity and honesty in difficult situations. There are no formulas after an affair, but there are basic principles of human relationships that can guide a couple forward. An experienced therapist can help slow things down and keep the two of you focused on the work at hand.
You may feel ready for affair recovery work but still have some questions.
This has been so painful for us. We aren’t sure we can make it. Can a marriage survive an affair?
I don’t know if there is hope for you. It would be more than nice to get that reassurance I’m sure, but if one of you has had an affair, you’ve got a mountain to climb. Climbing that mountain successfully means one small step at a time. It also helps to have the right equipment. I have been treating affairs successfully for many years, and I have a unique perspective on what helps couples succeed. Couples often find hope in finding a therapist that is right for them.
My husband wants to know details of my affair. I have resisted telling him. Will therapy force me to reveal the details?
No. Whether a person shares details is still up to them. I have found that when couples can make the decision collaboratively as to which and how many details to share, the conversation goes much more smoothly than if they feel forced. When done collaboratively, rather than out of desperation, couples can actually feel closer after the details are shared. This often happens after many months or even a year or more into the process. It is well worth the wait.
I want my husband to pay for what he’s done. Will therapy help me get him to apologize?
No. As much pain as you may be feeling, revenge won’t ultimately fix anything, and apologies offered under duress are meaningless.
Looking for free resources to help you through this time?
Check out Beyond Affairs Network or B.A.N. This is a volunteer only organization that runs support groups for betrayed spouses only. There is currently a support group in Fort Collins. For more information you can contact B.A.N. directly (www.beyondaffairsnetwork.com) or you can email the Fort Collins group leader at: firstname.lastname@example.org.