A love affair can be a wondrous thing unless one is presently married

A love affair can be a wondrous thing unless one is presently married. Though it may be an enjoyable experience for the unfaithful spouse, it is a disillusioning experience for the betrayed spouse. Many very difficult questions arise if the couple decides that they would like to recover and live productively after the affair. Step one is to stop all contact with the lover and begin the healing process at home; healing can happen, but it involves teamwork and takes time. Ups and downs are normal and to be expected. Just as things are looking up, a reminder of the affair can happen and create a downward spiral…

The betrayed spouse typically experiences shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness all of which may be accompanied by depression and/or anxiety and sleeplessness. The unfaithful spouse may experience tremendous remorse and guilt leading to reluctance to talk about details and address negative feelings and lingering questions. Sincere regret, frequent apologies, and a change of behavior of the unfaithful spouse help the path to recovery. Understanding and attention to the betrayed spouse helps soothe mistrust. Talking about the affair, answering questions, and spending time together to reconnect and nurture the friendship is critical. Using good listening skills allows each partner the opportunity to be heard and understood.

Progress is difficult until the couple grasps some understanding about the details of the affair, how it happened, and the relationship issues that contributed to it. The struggle about how much to tell can stifle advancement and is an issue that every couple trying to recover from infidelity faces. It is common for the betrayed partner to obsess over learning details, while the unfaithful partner tries to suppress descriptive information. Information disclosed too early can be destructive, but total avoidance tends to intensify alienation. Before revealing too much it helps to lessen emotional intensity and resolve ambivalence about the future of the marriage. Understanding the story of what happened is an essential part of the recovery from the trauma and allows the pieces to be put together into a meaningful whole. Research shows that individual recovery, survival of the marriage, and restored trust are contingent on honest communication about the infidelity. Who, where, when, and how long are helpful and can be requested calmly and without confrontation. Though previous lies and deception may be exposed, it is crucial that the unfaithful partner’s current truthfulness be appreciated rather than attacked.

It is advisable to reserve sensitive and painful topics for discussion with an impartial third party like a minister or counselor while focusing on renewing positive aspects of the relationship at home. Most people find that there are aspects about themselves that they liked during the affair. Developing opportunities for those aspects to occur in the marriage brings more satisfaction at home. For example if one liked his/her assertiveness and outspokenness, but at home is tightlipped and withholding; the spouse’s willingness to listen without criticism can provide hope that he/she can be free to be real in the marriage.

The best resolution of infidelity is achieved when both partners assume responsibility for improving the relationship and are able to co-construct a story of the affair that integrates their different perspectives. At the final stage of mutual understanding and responsibility, couples can have free-flowing and introspective discussions without accusations or defensiveness and allow forgiveness to occur. Misunderstandings about what partners need from us can be clarified with open and honest talks. For example, one husband discovered that his need to rescue was triggered by a woman he saw as a damsel in distress. His wife’s perception was that he had been attracted to her competence and strength so had not allowed her vulnerable self to show in the relationship. Addressing these misunderstandings and being able to speak one’s own truth including needs, feelings, and tolerances helps maintain the equilibrium to sustain lasting relationships.

Several things determine the likelihood that there will not be another affair. It is the first affair and complete admission about it. Some reveal pieces of information at a time making it difficult to heal. Just has healing starts, another revelation can send things backward and intensify the process. Though the intension is to avoid hurting the spouse by not saying too much, it tends to backfire and make things worse. Once all is revealed, a sincere expression of remorse can be soothing. It is tough to believe the remorse when more information is learned later.

It also helps when the betrayed partner manages hurt and anger by taking care of self and finding a safe place to express emotions. While trust is being rebuilt, suspicions are normal and need to be handled with patience. Avoiding focus on the “other person” keeps attention on personal contributions to the couple dance. The couple can then make a mutual decision to understand why the affair happened, improve communication, and be willing to implement individual changes necessary for personal growth. These steps require skill, understanding, and frequently the help of a professional.

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