The Imagine Hope ladies have shared some great statistics and information on infidelity, and how to affair proof your marriage, but what can you do if an affair has already happened?
- Seek out a professional counselor that has knowledge and experience in healing from infidelity. This one is imperative, because if you can't heal from the affair, it will cause more damage to your marriage on down the road! It's important to understand how your relationship got to this place, and without professional help, it can be difficult to do so. We all have blind spots-- that's what makes us human. Most of the time, it's necessary to have someone who is a neutral party help us understand things from an outside perspective.
- Set firm boundaries with your spouse in ending the affair. Your marriage can't heal with three people present! Ask your spouse to be included as a part of this process. It helps aid in working on establishing trust. It's difficult to trust that your spouse has truly ended the affair when the core trust of the relationship has already been broken.
- Ask your spouse to reveal the necessary information about the affair-- the who, what, when, and where. Why is a difficult question to ask. While it's necessary to understand how the individual went down the "slippery slope" and how the relationship got to the place of one person having an affair, no answer to "why" will take away your pain completely. Searching for the magical answer of "why" and putting all of your healing into the answer to that question will only set you up for disappointment. Your healing will be comprised of more components than that single answer. Communicate to your spouse that all secrets need to be shared from the start. If secrets continue to be revealed, each time you begin to heal then find out more information, your healing will start back at the beginning and cause additional pain and issues.
- Be real with your feelings. We tell our clients that there is no right or wrong way to feel. It is important, however, to be appropriate with your feelings. Don't allow anger or rage to cover up the more vulnerable feelings. Rage will only cause your partner to distance more. Remember, as the betrayed spouse, you need your partner who had the affair to be vulnerable with you in order to heal and get to a place of forgiveness towards them. If you use inappropriate anger, rage, personal attacks or attacks on their character to cover up your feelings of hurt, sadness and betrayal, what would ever make them want to move towards you and comfort you? I always tell my clients in affair recovery that, while anger can be a natural response to feeling betrayed, no one wants to hug a cactus! If your are being "prickly" like a cactus, your spouse isn't going to do what you need them to do, which is comfort you and provide reassurance so you can rebuild trust. Don't be your own worst enemy and self-sabotage progress by covering vulnerable feelings with anger. It will not only hurt your spouse, but will hurt your own healing progress as well. It's also important to NOT sweep your feelings under the rug! This will only set the relationship up to be vulnerable for future affairs.
- Remember that trust is earned, not immediately given. Sometimes, a spouse who has committed a devastating act towards a relationship will want the betrayed spouse to just hand over trust once the affair has been revealed and ended. Keep your boundaries and slowly work on ways to build trust. You certainly can't give trust to someone who repeatedly breaks it, because they aren't safe to do so. We don't suggest that you withhold trust, either, but give it based on what is earned. Forgiveness or grace that happens too quickly is hollow and isn't lasting. But withholding trust and purposefully refusing to acknowledge the actions your partner is taking to rebuild trust, just to punish them, is only going to set you both up to fail in the long run.
- Ask for and expect complete disclosure and transparency. This means that the person who was unfaithful to the marriage gives passwords to email, Facebook, voicemail and cell phone records, and complete accountability for time and whereabouts. This one can be a struggle, but help your spouse understand how important this is for your healing.
- Understand that the spouse who was unfaithful is going through their own grieving process. After all, an affair is a relationship, and ending relationships, even when it's the right thing to do, can cause mixed feelings. Try not to take it personally.
- Try to keep your focus on healing the relationship and not obsessing in your thinking about the affair partner, or allowing yourself to stay stuck in the "victim" role. We have seen many couples come to counseling years after an affair has ended, where the betrayed partner is continuing to keep the affair alive and present in the marriage by talking about the affair partner a lot, checking on the affair partner, or using the affair as a weapon during fights. In order for your relationship to heal, it is important to talk about the affair, but also to keep good balance of having conversations that focus on the relationship.
- Make sure you have a good support system to help you get through this difficult time. Even though you might want your spouse to be the person who listens to your every feeling regarding the affair, he/she might not be able to be your sole listener. Find balance in sharing with your support system, while maintaining good boundaries about what and how you share. BAN (Beyond Affairs Network) is a great support group of individuals who are recovering from infidelity (www.dearpeggy.com).
- This is a difficult one for a lot of people to hear, but don't make your healing entirely dependent on your spouse. This goes along with being in a "victim" role. While your spouse is the one who took actions that negatively impacted the trust and connection in your marriage by having an affair, at the end of the day, regardless of what they are doing or not doing, your healing process and progress ultimately depend on what YOU are doing or not doing. We aren't saying that the spouse who had an affair has a green light to do whatever they want, but be mindful of looking internally at what you are doing or not doing that is allowing you to stay stuck. That is where true healing begins. Perhaps it is that you are not letting vulnerable feelings come out to create the emotional safety for your spouse to move towards you. Or maybe it is that you are complaining without following those complaints up with boundaries and stating what you need (realistically).
These are just a few of the many tips to healing from an affair. For more information, check out our resources page for articles on infidelity.
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, infidelity counseling and affair recovery, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.