It’s not what you deserve. It’s what you believe.
Continuing in the vein of this idea that affair recovery, if it’s going to be successful, cannot be stuck in thinking about what you deserve. If a person is to heal, she must begin to really focus on what she believes, what she stands for, what defines her.
And this has nothing to do with what she believes about how others should behave, or about morality, or “justice.” This kind of thinking is like a bad record. It goes around and around, skipping or mutilating the good stuff.
A person’s beliefs show up in their actions, in the decisions they make moment-by-moment. The process of defining your beliefs, of defining what you are made of, is not something that occurs only in your mind. Most measurably, it occurs in the real world by your actions, in calm moments or when push comes to shove. And if marital infidelity isn’t a shove, then I don’t know what is.
One of the most important beliefs a person going through affair counseling might consider is the belief that they play a key role in their own healing. The idea that a person is responsible for their own actions and reactions is essential.
But I’ve worked with lots of folks in 20 years on affair recovery, and many get stuck on this issue. They’ve heard it. Over and over. Yeah, yeah. I’m responsible for my own actions and reactions. But SHE cheated on ME! Why do I need to be more responsible for myself than she is for herself?! I’m doing my work. She’s not doing hers! And if I do even more work, then she gets away with it! I’m tired of working harder at this relationship than she is!
If you are someone with this reaction, it might be important to just stay with it. You can’t rush this emotional process, and you can’t force yourself to feel differently. Most people who have these feelings don’t want to have them but don’t really know how to get rid of them. Perhaps some thinking and focus in another direction can lead to a softening of these feelings over time.
When you can’t go through the front door on these painful issues, see if you can get through the back door.
Many people find direction and can gain momentum in their affair recovery when they begin to consider a broader view of the problem. Consider the possibility that you and/or your spouse may be impacted (and powerfully) by more than just the marital relationship.
In other words, there are more relationships involved in this situation than just you and your spouse.
For example, marital infidelity commonly occurs sometime in the year or two following the loss of a member of the extended family. The death of a parent, let’s say, is not a cause, but rather a factor that can destabilize the family emotional system, making it more vulnerable to infidelity. An affair can be an automatic reaction to a teetering, multigenerational system.
For example, Wilma had been pursued by an old boyfriend for years, but she was never interested or even tempted. After the death of her father, whom she spoke with regularly and who was an important part of her life, she gave in to the old boyfriend. She was miserable in the cheating and had no explanation. Of course, this situation was more complicated than I’m sharing in this short paragraph, but you get the idea. I see it in almost every couple I work with.
Other events that can contribute to a teetering emotional system include but are definitely not limited to empty nest, serious illness, job change/loss, marriages, births, moves, and so on.
Before you go thinking that this can be used as some kind of excuse, think again. A broader view of things doesn’t mean marital infidelity is “OK.” It doesn’t mean your spouse is not responsible for themselves and their actions. And it is most definitely not some kind of simple explanation. It is merely a factor to consider.
It is simply the idea that marital infidelity is bigger than just the marriage. Many couples in marriage counseling start to feel a fair amount of relief when they start putting a bigger picture time line together. It can be a powerful exercise in reducing blame. Even if your marriage after infidelity didn’t work out.
Here’s a quick review of the beliefs we’ve covered so far that make a big difference to the real couples that have adopted them:
Belief #1: People do the best they can at any given moment. The-best-they-can does not always mean great, and sometimes it means terrible. This belief instead of getting hung on the idea of morality. The folks who are hung on the moral issue seem to stay there.
Belief #3: An affair is much bigger than just the two of you. It is a multigenerational balancing act gone off kilter.
In the next post I will talk more about this broader view and of how Wilma and Brian accidentally discovered their greatest resource in their healing process: their extended families.