In continuing my work to share stories of couples who sit on my couch, it is my goal to provide hope and encouragment out there to those who are struggling in their marriage.
Infidelity is one of the most painful and difficult challenges for a couple to work through because it pulls the floor of safety and security right out from under you. But the marriage can be restored. In fact, it can be better than before. It's been said that time heals all wounds. When it comes to infidelity, time is certainly a factor, but it's not the only one. There is work to be done in that time to restore trust, emotional safety and connection to the relationship. Time alone won't solve those problems.
This story is about a young couple I'll call Tom and Suzanne (fictitious names, of course). Suzanne had lost her father at a young age which left her feeling abandoned. She grew up never having felt "good enough". When she married Tom, she had a lot of insecurities and needed a lot of approval. Because of this she avoided conflict like the plague. She was afraid if Tom got upset with her, he would abandon her. He would see the qualities that she saw in herself and he would not want to be with her any longer. Because of this fear, she manipulated herself to please him, never really being authentic. As some years past, she felt a loss of her sense of self.
Along came an older, attractive co-worker who showed her a lot of positive attention. With him she could really be herself because there was no fear of loss. With him she didn't have anything, so she had nothing to lose and in that, she felt free. The relationship progressed into a physical affair.
In counseling, along with healing from the affair and rebuilding trust, Suzanne had to do a lot of individual work to understand her pain and fear and how it created problems in her relationship.
Tom had difficulty understanding how Suzanne could claim to love him and still have an affair. Through exploration, he was able to understand that it was her deep love for him that made her so afraid, which was what created some of the pull of the affair. He worked to find compassion for her fears and pain while also working to heal his own.
Suzanne had to take responsibility for the poor choice she made in her marriage. She had to work toward making amends and rebuilding trust. The affair made her feel even worse about herself than she felt in the first place, so she had to do a lot of work in forgiving herself and building up her sense of self. She took on the challenge of addressing issues in the marriage by being open and honest about her thoughts and feelings with Tom. Understanding her fears, Tom worked to create an emotionally safe place for Suzanne to share. He worked on being a good listener and not reacting negatively to the vulnerabilities that Suzanne exposed.
Together they built a more open, connected relationship through sharing, compassion, listening and working to understand one another. It took time and practice and while neither Tom nor Suzanne would have wished for the affair to happen, the growth that came from the experience helped them create a marriage that they are both very grateful for.