Where do you begin when you’ve just found out your spouse has had an affair? Or, what if you are the one who’s had the affair and your partner has just found out?
If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions. It is not a time to make any permanent life-changing decisions. Here are some important things to consider:
You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You are in crisis and may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. Give yourself time to make important decisions. Emotions are very raw right now so it’s okay to not know which direction to go yet.
Some people make the mistake of telling friends and family and then regret it later. So be choosy about who you share this with, the best route is to seek out a counselor who can help you sort through all the challenges that are in front of you. It’s also important to have a support system, again, select confidants carefully. There may be support groups in your area, seek these out through your local church or counseling center.
You are going to experience a lot of different emotions from anger to sadness, betrayal and fear, confusion and frustration. All this is normal. Research has shown that individuals who have been betrayed show symptoms of post traumatic stress. You may have flashbacks of the affair and images that you never even experienced. You will have triggers like when the phone rings or your partner gets a text message, where the fear and anger comes alive. You may want to cry one minute and scream the next.
In this kind of situation, the fight or flight response kicks in, but neither are conducive to moving forward. If you want to save your marriage, you can neither fight nor flight. A normal human reaction is to act out the rage and blame, yell at, accuse, distrust or check up on your partner. While these are normal reactions, they do continued damage to the relationship and to your own self esteem. Sometimes what might make you temporarily feel better in the moment, makes matters worse in the long run.
Self care is critical during the time of healing. Self care includes things such as exercise, going for walks, getting enough sleep, spending time with those who are supportive, getting counseling, making sure you eat well and enough. These small things might seem trivial or difficult to do, but it is important to take care of yourself.
You may want to ask questions or know details about the affair. It is okay to ask these questions, just be sure that you really want to know the answers. For some people the not knowing causes suffering and they would rather know, for others they would rather not know. There is no right or wrong, only you can know what is going to be helpful.
If you are the person who has had the affair, some important things to consider:
There is no right time frame for getting over an affair. So do not push your partner. Your patience and support is critical. Do not avoid talking about the affair, do not give excuses or blame. Right now your partner needs to know that you understand the impact this has had. This is not going to be easy for you either, but it is important that you remain supportive during this challenging period.
This may seem obvious but it bears pointing out: be honest. Be where you say you will be, do what you say you will do, don’t leave anything out no matter how insignificant it seems. Rebuilding trust is going to take time, but it starts now
Listen to your partner. If they ask questions and want to know the answers, it is important that you answer them with total honesty. Do not decide for them what they should and should not need to know. It is important to allow your partner to make the determination what he/she needs to or wants to know.
Be an open book for your partner. And remember, this is temporary. But this is an important time to be in close physical proximity to your partner to maintain a sense of safety. Allow your partner to see your phone, text messages, emails, to regain a sense of safety. You can, and it is necessary to, have your privacy back at some point, but for right now your partner may need this to begin the process of rebuilding trust and feeling safe.
You are going to go through difficult emotions as well. Guilt, shame, regret are all normal feelings to experience. It is important not to let them get in the way of being there and listening to your partner. It is also a good idea for you to seek counseling as well to deal with these emotions and to understand why you made this choice.
If you want to save the marriage (or even if you are unsure) it is important to seek couples counseling as soon as possible. It may take some time to find a counselor that you feel comfortable with. Remember, affairs happen in good marriages and to good people. There are many reasons why an affair occurs and it can take one to two years to recover whether you stay in the marriage or not. Take your time, seek help and work together to begin the healing process.
One of the things I hear most from clients who have experienced infidelity is, I never thought this would happen in our marriage. It is not something any couple plans for or thinks will happen to them. But it can and does happen in marriage, but it can be avoided.
There are many reasons affairs happen, but typically it’s at the point when vulnerability meets opportunity. So first is to reduce vulnerability in your marriage. There are two major ways that I am going to talk about in this article. The first is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. The second is communication. If these two areas are prioritized in the marriage, you reduce your risk of infidelity.
The first priority is taking care of your marriage, yourself and your spouse. We all want to feel important in the life of those important to us. We want to feel useful and appreciated. We want to belong. It’s important that this is considered in how you treat your spouse. Often in marriage, partners begin to take each other for granted and complain about what’s wrong rather than appreciate what’s right. Daily things like noticing how your partner looks and commenting on it, noticing efforts made with chores around the house or parenting the kids and sharing these appreciations, taking the time to be affectionate and making your partner feel loved and noticed. These may seem like small gestures but they add up to connection and sense of belonging that is key in preventing affairs.
I often hear the spouse who had the affair say things like, this person listened to me, understood me, made me feel I was important. Things that all too often fall out of a marriage. Recognizing love as an action, not just a feeling and treating your spouse accordingly not only works to keep your spouse from looking to get these needs met elsewhere but also helps you nurture your fondness and admiration of your spouse.
In addition to this, it is important to make the marriage as much of a priority as you would your job. Early in marriage, people are focused on having kids and advancing careers. Both of these can pull you in different directions and distract your from your marriage. It is important to prioritize and not let this happen. Carve out time on a regular basis for your marriage to include communication, fun, play, intimacy and connecting.
Another important piece is self-care. It’s important that you make your own needs known, and when your spouse can’t meet them, meet them yourself. For example, if you are a person that likes to go to the beach to unwind but your partner doesn’t enjoy that, go anyway! Otherwise resentment builds, needs go unmet and you make yourself vulnerable to an affair.
The last but possible most important piece is communication. It’s not always possible to avoid vulnerability in a relationship. Vulnerabilities can be anything from job loss, loss of a loved one, new baby, anything that can bring stress to the relationship. By always communicating with one another and working together to overcome challenges, you reduce the risk of turning to an affair to cope. Share your needs with one another and be responsive and sensitive to each other’s needs. The stronger your connection and level of intimacy, understanding of one another, ability to cherish one another and treat each other as such will build a fortress around your relationship that will be difficult for an outsider to break through.
How to go forward from here
Whether you are trying to decide if you should divorce, or have already made the decision, counseling can help you deal with the process and emotions involved.
Divorce can be a painful process and can lead to feelings of grief and loss even if it was the right decision for you. Counseling can help heal these difficult feelings, bring relief from pain, increase understanding to gain clarity on the relationship and closure.
Divorce counseling can help you understand the patterns that occurred that led to this place, how to gain clarity and grow from the experience so that patterns are not repeated in future relationships, and that you don’t carry the wounds from this into your next relationship.
If children are involved, you will never truly be divorced. It is important that you learn effective skills of communication post-divorce so that your are able to peacefully co-parent together. You can enter into this type of counseling individually or together.
Family counseling can help your children understand their own feelings and how to manage the changes that are happening in their lives.
We are here and ready to help. Contact us today.