In reality I do not think there are words to describe what I see in people’s eyes when they talk about the discovery of an affair and its aftermath. Often the hurt partner is not alone in their pain. Both the hurt partner and the unfaithful partner experience a title wave of heart wrenching emotions.
Affairs do not all look the same. There are too many different kinds of affairs to list here. Affairs do not need to be sexual in nature to cause hurt, pain, and devastation.
On-line relationships with strangers
On-line relationships with old friends
Long-term relationship with an affair partner
A friendship that grew too close
The list could go on forever.
An opening, no matter the size, for a partner to have a hidden or even only partially secret connection with another person outside the marriage threatens the safety and security the couple once knew.
What the betrayed partner experiences after the discovery of an affair is similar if not identical to what someone experiences after a major traumatic life threatening event. Reactions to an affair may look like anger, hurt, and confusion.
“How did this happen?” “How could you do this to me, to us, to our family?” “I never thought you would do this to us.”
This initial reaction is not limited to the hours after discovering an affair and can continue to stay with a betrayed partner for days, weeks, and even months. The continuation of these raw feelings often causes sleepless nights, intrusive thoughts of recounting detail after detail, stress that lives in the body, avoidance of the topic followed by an overwhelming need to have more answers. A hypervigilance of the unfaithful partner is likely to appear wanting to check phones, computers, social media, e-mails, whereabouts, and on and on. These reactions are normal and can occur even if you never previously had a jealous bone in your body.
Our marriage is like our home we come to for comfort, safety, and protection from the outside storm. An affair turns your world upside down. Like the aftermath of a tornado, your safe haven is now in shambles. Looking around, nothing looks like it used to. You are unsure what to do next, where to begin, or even if it is possible to repair. But unlike a tornado often no one knows. You have to continue on with kids, work, and life like everything is fine but inside an atomic bomb just went off.
The unfaithful partner is now faced with a decision. “Do I tell my spouse everything, everything, potentially causing more pain than what I’ve already caused or do I try to protect them at every step, withholding, denying, and lying more in an attempt to minimize greater hurt and pain.”
Unfaithful partners often do not lie because they are thoughtless or uncaring people but instead because they are filled with remorse and shame, not wanting to cause more pain then they already have. It is difficult to imagine any good coming from telling the whole truth.
In reality, hurt partners know, like a sixth sense, when there are still more lies. One of the fastest ways to ease your partner’s pain and in turn lessening the hypervigilance, endless thoughts they can’t get away from, and countless questions is to tell the WHOLE story. Volunteering information the hurt spouse would have never otherwise known demonstrates, “I see the pain I caused and I want to stop hurting you.” Volunteer what you were thinking, who, when, where, why and more to avoid your partner feeling like they have to pull it out of you.
You, as the unfaithful partner, might also be confused by your own actions, unsure how or why you got yourself into this position. We are not always sure why we do things, what it means to us or even how we feel about it. If this is the case, try to hold in your mind what happened, what lead up to it, and what you felt, instead of avoiding these thoughts. You can then begin to understand yourself and explain to your partner what happened. If you need them to stop grilling you to do so, ask for their help. The sooner you can honestly open up, the sooner you can move through this together.
Do your best to stay present and open with your partner. There is a natural tendency to shut down or get defensive in the face of accusations and conflict. These responses make sense for many reasons, but try your best to avoid these reactions. Shutting down or being defensive will most likely exacerbate the hurt and distrust.
What to expect in therapy
Therapy is a place you should both feel heard and respected. I want to listen and understand what each of you have been through since the affair was discovered, how it was discovered, how the discovery was responded to, and what has happened between you since.
I work with couples to create a safe, nonjudgmental space where they can talk about the affair, gain understanding of how the affair happened, and learn more about their marriage pre and post-affair.
Where we might begin: What happens when you try or try not talk about the affair? Does it feel like you are caught in an endless loop wondering if this will ever end or even get better?
We will work to untangle the knot you get caught in when the affair inevitably comes up between you.
Each couple and situation is unique. You will guide me to the important topics. I will help you have a more constructive, meaningful, and to the point conversation than you may currently be able to have at home.
Finally, we get to what you want back in your marriage that has gone missing: trust, love, intimacy, care, concern, and friendship.