Affairs have the power to deeply hurt our loved ones and rip relationships apart. But is there hope or life after cheating? That’s what we’re looking at today. In this post, guest author and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Redonno Carmon, shares his views on how to help your spouse heal after an affair.
The secret is out.
For your spouse, this feels overwhelming— it is overwhelming.
A violation of this magnitude creates the type of chaos, and confusion, that comes with a strong desire to know — Know what happened.
Know if it will happen again.
After an affair, talking about the affair involves patience.
Here is what you can do to help satisfy your spouse’s need to gather information.
Opening up after an affair allows your spouse the opportunity to slow down from obsessing over details and begin to heal.
Talking Helps It Make Sense
As much as it can make sense.
Your spouse married you because he or she admired you.
Even when the idealization of the “honeymoon stage” faded away, he or she believed the best in you.
Your spouse saw you as someone they can trust.
So, it’s not a stretch when he or she screams, “you’re not the person I thought you were.”
The affair doesn’t make sense to them.
The disbelief your spouse is experiencing is loss.
The loss that he or she is special only to you.
The loss of his or her own identity – “What does this say about who I am?”
The loss of their basic sense of how the world, and marriage work — “If I do what I’m supposed to do, my spouse won’t cheat.”
These losses cut deep.
And they bring up questions — lots of questions.
The questions after an affair are his or her way of trying to make sense of what happened.
It’s their way of connecting the dots.
Particularly, if he or she had suspicions.
They’ll want to know about the unexplained absences, the last-minute work trips, the overtime, the lack of affection over the past few months, the cold shoulder, the decrease (or increase) in sex drive, the renewed interest in working out, the new makeup.
You get the picture.
Secrets dominated the relationship.
Your spouse has been denied the emotional energy you were redirecting to the affair partner.
It only makes sense for him or her to want to know your level of investment with the affair partner.
Did you buy him or her gifts?
Did you, at some point, feel guilty about what you were doing?
If so, in what ways did you justify it?
Did you give him or her money?
What did you tell him or her about me?
Answering questions after an affair helps start the process of healing.
You may assume your silence is helping — “Why would I make things worse?”
Attempting to avoid the conflict will only intensify your spouse’s painful feelings.
Let your partner see your willingness to do what it takes.
Restoring trust in your marriage will have a lot to do with how you handle their questions.
Honouring your spouse’s desire to grasp the reality of what has happened…
Allows Space To Express Hurt
After an affair, safety is necessary for recovery.
The threat of the affair will continue until safety has been reestablished.
Even if he or she senses your remorse is genuine, the hurt remains.
It will be a challenge for your spouse to express his or herself in a controlled way.
Give your spouse space to not be perfect in how he or she talks about the hurt.
He or she will, most likely, have countless questions about the details of the affair.
Where did you meet?
How often did you see him or her?
Has he or she been around the kids?
Who else knows about him or her?
Did you go see him or her the weekend I was visiting my parents?
When this happens, it’s important to be honest.
Full disclosure after an affair helps ease your partner’s confusion.
You may hesitate to share information believing it will only cause more pain.
But what’s important, during this time, is patience with your partner’s pain.
You will probably feel like your spouse is “out of control.”
Even if you feel it, don’t say it.
There is a deeper emotion hidden behind the angry emotion you’re seeing.
It’s the hurt of feeling betrayed, embarrassed, ashamed.
Unless there is the threat of or behaviour of physical violence, stay with them.
Try to stay calm, and not be reactive.
Your spouse needs to know you are willing to allow him or her to be mad.
Helps To Restore Trust
Restoring trust after an affair will be nearly impossible if your spouse doesn’t have space to talk about the affair, or express hurt.
Affairs are fueled by secrecy.
Crafting your responses in a way that continues to hide details after an affair, only maintains a different form of secrecy.
Secrets create barriers.
Withholding information after an affair won’t allow the closeness your spouse needs.
The affair broke your spouse’s trust, being trustworthy will help restore that trust.
That will come by thoroughly answering questions, being accountable to where you are and what you’re doing, and being patient with your spouse’s suspicions.
Helping your spouse heal is a long term process.
And it doesn’t happen in a straight line.
There’s zig zag.
Positive days are followed by negative days.
There are two steps forward and one step back.
Setbacks are common and expected after an affair.
The negative moments tend to outweigh the positive ones, and you’re likely to fall victim to “what’s the point” thoughts.
Remind yourself that setbacks are part of the process.
Setbacks mean progress is happening slower than you would like.
But I get it — It doesn’t feel good.
But restoring trust after an affair takes time.
In no way will it be short and sweet.
Patience is necessary for affair recovery after an affair.
Your spouse will be dealing with feelings of insecurity and shame.
One day your spouse will be touchy-feely, engaged, and all in on making it work.
The very next day, he or she may feel the sting of shame for staying with someone who betrayed them.
One moment your spouse will want you close.
The next moment he or she may not want you to be anywhere near them.
It’s part of his or her recovery process.
Just allow your spouse the space to heal by committing yourself to honest communication, changed behaviour, compassion, and patience.
He said his sorry but it happened 3 times and we are not intemacy, no touching no sex 3 years. We are just friends and bed partners. I am 61 years old and got health issues so I am not sure what to. I just stay with him.
So sorry to hear about that Busisiwe! It must be difficult for you. Have you checked out any of Dr Esther Perel’s work? She specialises in infidelity and the dynamics around it. She has a few books and plenty of talks on YouTube. For example, see her video here on “Why your partner cheat on you.”