After an affair, it’s hard to imagine that hope, healing, and trust could exist in any way in your relationship. From a recovery perspective, the reality of the state of the marriage is different from the way you, as the significant other who was cheated on, see it. I have a bright, brilliant, put together couple who come in to heal their marital wounds from an affair every week. Each week is particular painful for the wife, we’ll call her Jenny. She expresses her anger in outbursts in each session, but not until several minutes have passed. Her composure at the beginning of each does not reflect her deep pain and hurt about the affair. Her husband, we’ll call him Bill, is often surprised at her reactions, because in their private life, Jenny either wants to be with Bill, all the time, or emotionally cuts-off.
Her reactions are normal, understandable, and valid for what she has been through. The confusion she experiences is so chaotic, because she was in love with her husband before, while and after he cheated. She was unaware of how disconnected he was emotionally, how he was pulling away, how he was making a choice to be dishonest, seek comfort elsewhere, and remain lost as to how to handle himself in the marriage. Jill was in the mind-set that they were “okay.” So when she begins her sessions as a couple, she is surprised at how much work she must do for herself even though HE had the affair.
It’s easy to assume that he is not working and she is working too much, and it’s not fair…however, this is not an emotionally mature perspective. What happened in this marriage is that Bill “broke open,” with an affair, what the hidden issues have been in the marriage. He comes from a broken place and so does Jenny. Jenny has many emotional issues and intimacy disconnect just like Bill and how they have been managing these issues in their marriage has been growing over the years. There was no other way this marriage was going to get into recovery, until something woke them up from the unhealthy habits.
Jenny and Bob still love one another, through the anger, through the hurt, through the betrayal, and know they are working on being in this grey place, where there are no guarantees and no assurances. But they both work, honestly, openly, and come together to marriage counseling to rediscover their inner child, rediscover how to communicate, and rediscover how to love each other and themselves, as individuals. They had each been self-abandoning, spinning in their daily lives, disconnected from intimacy. That’s why everyone involved must work on their individual issues. Jenny and Bill have a good chance for a loving marriage, because they are both willing to be humble and broken, to do the emotional work. Recovery is not about shaming the cheater, worrying about keeping score, being defensive, or figuring out what is fair. All is fair in marriage and in real life, that’s why it’s called real life.
Some steps you can take to begin your recovery after finding out about infidelity:
(1) read “Surviving an Affair”
(2) connect with your partner, be honest about your feelings
(3) make an appointment for marital counseling
(4) commit to counseling, this is not something you want to manage alone
(5) begin building bridges for hope, trust, and love in counseling.
(6) do NOT enmesh for fear of being abandoned, this is a false sense of security
Since the issues are within your marriage, you’ll need guidance to address these issues. You’ll need tools and different perspectives, outside of yourselves, to assess emotional barriers and to make healthy changes.