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.
We all spend time thinking about and illustrating the kind of partner we want to have. But how often, if ever, do we think about the kind of partner we want to be? If you have already chosen the partner you want to be with, now it is time to focus on the kind of partner you want to be. Make a list of your ideal self as husband or wife. How far off are you from that ideal self? Everyday is a day to bring yourself closer to becoming that person.
As you know, good communication is vital to the health of a relationship. But what is good communication? One important element is respect. Without it, your communication can be very damaging to the relationship. No matter what the conflict or how intense the emotions, commit to treating your partner with respect and kindness as the first step toward healthy communication and a healthy marriage.
Grousing is to complain, nag, or criticize. These are deadly habits in relationships and over time can be highly destructive. So I challenge you to 3 days without grousing at your partner. Work to notice things done right rather than things done wrong, even if you have to take out a microscope to find them! Show appreciation and gratitude for your spouses contributions rather than finding fault. Do you think you can do it? (it’s not as easy as it sounds, and the longer you’ve been together, the harder it is!)
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Think of one thing you can do for your spouse today to make his/her life easier. Do it without expectations, do it just to be kind and loving and giving. If you do this everyday, what kind of marriage might you have?
We have all heard the notion, don’t get to bed angry. I don’t disagree with the notion, however, not every conflict has a resolution that can be reached by sundown. So if you find yourself going round and round well into the night, don’t be afraid to put the argument to rest. Things often look different in the morning. After some rest and time to regroup, you can go back to the discussion in a calm manner, or sometimes you might just realize it wasn’t something even worth fighting about. So break the ice and get on with your day!
What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?
Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.
Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.
Thank you for visiting!
Here is part 2 in the series of what makes marriage work. My goal is to dish out tidbits of information that will help you improve your marriage.
This post will focus on conflict resolution. Conflict. It can be a scarey word to a lot of people but the avoidance of conflict will result in killing the passion in your relationship. When two human beings come together and allow themselves to be their authentic selves, there is going to be friction. To try to avoid this results in walking on eggshells and not being able to share genuine feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas for fear you are going to rock the boat.
Rock the boat! If communcation is dealt with inside the boundaries of love, respect, kindness, and empathy, conflict can lead to deeper understanding of one another which leads to a deeper level of intimacy. But it means allowing each other to be who you are and not trying to change each other. It means respecting one another’s views, feelings, and opinions. It means allowing your partner to feel what they feel and express emotions in a genuine way.
Embrace healthy conflict and have a happy New Year!
Emotional safety is an essential part of a healthy relationship. To trust another human being in an intimate relationship is a choice made when one feels emotionally safe. When this sense of safety has been compromised in a relationship, it can be very difficult to rebuild trust, but it can be done.
The first step to rebuilding trust is acknowledging the impact of the hurt that has been caused. For example, if there has been an affair. The partner who had the affair must fully understand and acknowledge the damage and pain this act has caused. Your partner must feel like you “get it”.
The next step is understanding why the betrayal occurred. There can be many reasons. I’ll site a few common examples. If a man is working overtime and is rarely home, his wife may feel neglected and unappreciated. She may then look for attention and affection elsewhere. This example shows a breakdown in communication. It does not excuse the behavior, but there must be understanding of what is going on in the relationship for the behavior to occur. The wife needs to communicate her needs to her husband and he needs to be responsive to those needs. (I am oversimplifying here just to illustrate the point.)
Another example may be of a husband who lies. When he tells the truth about a matter, he pays a high price. His wife may yell and criticize him so he deals with it by avoiding confrontation and continuing to lie. While you are not responsible for the choices your partner makes, it is important to reflect on your contribution to the dynamic of the marriage. Understanding where your communication with each other breaks down and your responsibility in that, is important to healing and rebuilding trust.
During the process of rebuilding trust, it is important not to do more damage. There is no room for punishment. This may feel better in the moment, but to use the incident as ammunition does nothing to heal and rebuild trust. For example: the wife whose husband had an affair, anytime he gets upset at her for something, she brings up the affair as retaliation. This continues to do damage to the marriage.
It is necessary to have open, honest, respectful communication with each other on a regular basis. It is important that you keep your word, follow through on commitments, and always treat each other with respect. If you are feeling pain, communicate your experience to your partner without attacking or blaming. For example: “whenever I think of the affair, it stirs up all the negative images and feelings and I am having a hard time dealing with it. Remembering the affair makes it so difficult to trust and believe this won’t happen again.” This is an example of sharing an experience without attacking or blaming. A responsive partner might say something like this: “I know I made a mistake and I am so sorry. I realize you are in aÂ lot of pain right now. Is there anything I can say or do right that would help?”
These are just a few of the tools it takes to rebuild trust. Rebuilding safety in a relationship after a betrayal takes time, patience and committment. Counseling can be a helpful tool through the process. Having a third party to help you cope with the pain and not cause more damage can make for a smoother process. If you have experienced a trauma in your relationship and need help, call anytime. (865) 283-1777