There is perhaps no greater pain than that of intimate betrayal by a mate. The one whom you’ve entrusted your life to, whom you’ve shared every intimate aspect of living with, now has shared those very aspects of their being with someone else—a place and part of them reserved exclusively for you.
Having an affair, physical or emotional, is a betrayal of the worst kind, leaving us breathless, hopeless and with a loss of meaning.
Perhaps your mate is having an affair with your best friend. Maybe it was a casual friendship on Facebook that went from friendly to familiar to failure. Perhaps your mate has had serial affairs and you’ve just discovered the damage. Your mind races, your emotions range from maddening frenzy to abject panic. You can’t eat, sleep or think straight.
Nothing is as painful as an affair. You trusted someone with your heart, soul and emotions; you expected faithfulness. You counted on them to keep you safe. An affair shatters the trust, safety and honesty you believed in.
“How could they do that to me? How can someone I love and trust betray me in this way?”
Having an affair seems unthinkable. Unspeakable. Unbearable. After all, the one who had the affair is the one who stepped out of the sacred bounds of the marriage.
With feelings intensified, the victim often attacks the villain, creating even more distance than existed before. Feeling intensely betrayed, enraged and resentful, the lines are drawn—victim and villain. While it is tempting to close our hearts, vilifying the one who had the affair, we must examine what led up to the affair.
As we embark on this journey to examining why it happened, I must be clear—nothing justifies an affair. This is a form of acting out in a most egregious manner. This is a most hurtful response to inner and outer stress. It is a failed attempt to find peace that only leads to even greater pain.
As we attempt to unravel the complex layers of problems, we often find many “reasons” why an affair can happen. Never justified, an affair often has meaning, and understanding that meaning can provide insurance against it ever happening again.
Most affairs occur in the context of significant marriage issues. Again, while this in no way justifies an affair, the skilled counselor can help the couple look deeper at the marriage problems that existed long before the affair took place. The marriage usually needs far more repair than problems caused by the affair alone.
Studies show that marriages susceptible to having an affair struggle with these issues:
- A lack of functionality – fighting about the same issues again and again;
- A lack of intimacy – ineffective communication, with feelings of distance, resentment and turmoil;
- A Lack of Acceptance/ Significance – ignoring your mate’s need for acceptance, appreciation and significance;
- A lack of excitement – allowing the relationship to become stale, with little “spark” or adventure;
- A lack of sexual enthusiasm – allowing their sexual life to become boring and routine, or perhaps nonexistent.
If you find yourself with some of these “symptoms,” seek immediate, in depth help. Your relationship is vulnerable to an affair.
If you are struggling from the aftermath of your mate having an affair, here are steps to take to recover:
Be with your feelings. The one who has been victimized, as well as the one who had the affair, has feelings about what took place. Both must learn to be patient as they work through feelings of betrayal. Healing will take time, and you must settle in for a long period of counseling. The one victimized by the affair can expect to have a long season of roller coaster emotions, and the one who had the affair must be very patient in the healing process.
Consider trauma work. Through special interventions such as Lifespan Integration and Core Self Integration, (read about these on our website) in the company of a caring, trusted and trained marriage counselor, you can move through this trauma. Should you fail to move through the trauma, this suggests further intervention is needed—and available. We will help you determine what is blocking and impeding growth and recovery.
Recognize both played a role in the affair. This doesn’t mean the victim “caused” the affair, or must take responsibility for it. What it means is both are responsible for creating an environment in which an affair could occur (short of being married to a sexual addict.) Subsequently, both will need healing and changes to their personality and patterns of relating to ensure an affair doesn’t recur.
Both must take an active role in healing from the affair. Both must examine the circumstances in the marriage prior to the affair, exploring ways their communication, conflict resolution skills, and perhaps patterns of intimacy, played a role in the affair. Both must be diligent about taking responsibility for their part, and set out to heal problems. Again, this is where trauma work may play a key role in healing.
Understand that it will take time, and effort, to restore trust. Trust can be restored, but this will require effort and wisdom. Healthy boundaries must be restored to the marriage. The one who had the affair must show, repeatedly, that they are truly sorry for the damage they have caused. Both must be committed to long term healing of the marriage.
Make every effort to understand what your mate is experiencing. If you had the affair, make continuous effort to understand your mate’s feelings of betrayal. If you have been victimized, work at seeing the larger picture. Try to see the affair as a symptom of a larger, more complex problem.
Agree to grow through this trauma, not simply go through it. Locking arms, dedicated to healing, you both can work diligently with a trained specialist to heal and become stronger than ever before. Notice the gains, reinforce progress, and dedicate yourselves to having a healthier marriage than ever before.
I fully recognize that finding out your mate is having an affair is an incredibly sensitive topic.
It is so easy and tempting to become adversarial, shift into blaming and shaming, when what is needed is a fierce desire to become united to save your marriage. This “roller coaster” recovery is best done with expert help, and we at The Marriage Recovery Center are available.
Please contact us for help…