When couples enter counseling as a result of one partner’s affair, they are in very dissimilar mindsets. Here is a sample of the two perspectives.
The Non-Affair Partner
You discover your partner is having an affair. The nightmare begins. But just where do you begin? Waves of shock, disbelief, rage, sadness, grief, and fear wash over you. It’s as if you are emotionally drowning. You and he have had that initial painful discussion, but there are still so many questions:
- How did this happen?
- Who is the person you had the affair with?
- Where did you meet?
- Do I know her?
- What attracted you to her?
- How long did this go on?
- How many times did you meet?
- Did you have sex in a hotel, a car, at our house?
- Did she travel with you on work trips?
- Didn’t you think about me?
- Who are you?
- How often did you talk to her?
- What does she know about me, and about our family?
- Do you love her?
- Do you still love me?
The list could go on endlessly. When couples come to us post the revelation, or more likely discovery, of an affair these are just some of the questions that the non-affair partner has for his/her spouse.
The Affair Partner
Your partner discovered you’ve been having an affair. The urge to run away is overwhelming. Your marriage and your family, flash before your eyes. You never thought she would find out. Your body starts to tremble and feelings of fear wash over you. The shame is overwhelming. Your mind is racing with a million thoughts:
- What is she going to ask me?
- How much should I reveal?
- She’s more wounded than I’d imagined.
- It’s all my fault.
- I’m going to lose my wife.
- I am such a jerk.
- I don’t deserve forgiveness.
- What if she tells the kids?
- The kids are going to hate me.
- Who else will find out?
- I’m so humiliated.
- I don’t want my marriage to end.
- Is there any hope?
- Does she still love me?
The first stage of recovery for couples is walking through the pain, and the questions and answers together. Some affair partners spill everything out immediately. Others, rationalizing that they don’t want to hurt their spouse any further, choose to let information slip out a little at a time, and/or only answer what’s asked. They don’t volunteer extra information.
What’s the most constructive way to talk about the affair? Here are some guidelines:
For the Non-Affair Partner
1) Ask questions you want/need to know. Make sure you want to know the answers before you ask.
2) Stay away from asking details about sexual activity. You’ll have many unwanted thoughts and pictures in your mind; don’t add more.
3) Express your feelings in a way that your partner can hear. You will likely feel tremendous anger, even rage, over the betrayal. However, your partner won’t be able to hear you if your anger escalates. Work on cutting through the anger and express the hurt, pain, sadness and fear that lie just underneath. This will elicit empathy and remorse.
4) Remember your partner is hurting too. Being the one that’s betrayed, it’s easy to forget that your partner is also experiencing tremendous pain. They have to deal with your feelings, and in addition have to face themselves in the mirror. Self-loathing, guilt, and shame make their journey very difficult. Find empathy for their pain.
For the Affair Partner
1) Be open. Spill it all out. Answer any questions your partner asks. The only caveat is if you fear doing so will put you in physical danger.
2) Express remorse. Don’t hold back. You may have to apologize over and over for a long time. This is the most major betrayal in a marriage.
3) Listen with empathy. You’ll spend a lot of time listening to your partner talk about the hurt you have perpetrated upon the marriage and the family. Focus on, hear, and validate her feelings.
4) Stick with it. I tell clients that they will be eating lots of humble pie for a long time. Patience and perseverance are what it takes to get through the recovery process.
Recovering from betrayal takes time and energy, but it is possible. If you are in this situation we are here to help.
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