When infidelity occurs in a relationship, a couple generally finds it unbelievable that their relationship could ever heal from such a breach of trust. This same couple will present in my Rockville MD Couples Counseling office – confused, angry, scared, numb – and in need of direction. One of the first things I tell them is that it is possible to move beyond the affair and repair their relationship, but the process will be fraught with emotion and take hard work from both parties – but the other option, ending the relationship, can be just as painful and difficult. Either way, the hurt party needs to learn to trust again, and the couple has to work together to make this happen.
Several books exist that provide excellent guides to navigate affair recovery. I have found, however, that couples seeking marriage counseling in Rockville MD tend to be very overwhelmed at initial discovery of an affair, so reading through a book (many of which are long) is unmanageable and, perhaps, impossible given that not every section pertains to them. Through ongoing meetings in my office, therefore, I provide them with the guidebook that meets their needs and their particular situation. Despite that every situation is, in fact, different, there are several considerations every couple dealing with infidelity should know from the start:
1. First Steps: The unfaithful partner should not commit to the marriage and to any change in behavior until they know they are ready. All too many times, I have seen the unfaithful partner swear they won’t communicate with their affair partner only to connect with them again, be discovered by their spouse – finding themselves in a more difficult spot where they have even more ground to cover to rebuild trust. While awaiting their partner’s decision, the hurt partner must behave in a way that their spouse knows that, if they don’t end the affair, they will no longer stay in the marriage and that they will be fine without them. This is counterintuitive because many hurt partners are desperate to win their spouses affections and are extremely needy. However, the unfaithful partner needs to begin to experience what it might be like to not have their spouse in their life and wake up to this very real possibility.
2. Who to Tell: Honestly, it is usually too late by the time a couple presents to Rockville couples counseling to help them make a wise choice on this matter. In desperate times, both the hurt and unfaithful partner reach out to their confidants to get necessary support. The problem is that this can be detrimental to marriage recovery if they do not understand infidelity (just leave him!) or they are not a friend of the marriage (you can find someone else who treats you better!). In addition, some friends and family are very protective and will have a hard time forgiving the unfaithful spouse even if the hurt spouse has long since forgiven. This added stress and negativity can be very difficult and diminish the ability to overcome some of the hurt and pain.
3. You will feel unexpected feelings: Couple’s expect anger, hurt, fear, sadness, etc. What they do not expect is to, at times, feel the exact opposite – which can be unabashed passion and intimacy. With both partners fearing the loss of their marriage, at times, the fight or flight mechanism kicks in – with “fight” in full control. Fighting for the marriage can result in either/both partner’s desire to connect emotionally and sexually in order to, for lack of a better way to say it, “stake their claim” and not feel so scared to lose the other person. Both partners tend to be surprised and unsure of these feelings despite the fact that they are a natural response to a threat to the survival of your marriage – ie, your security.
3. Transparency: In order to repair the marriage, drastic steps need to be taken. When a couple is ready to move forward, the unfaithful partner must be completely transparent in order to show their spouse that they are committed and no longer in the affair – that they can be trusted. Phone records must be presented, whereabouts must be proven, and any contact from the affair partner to the unfaithful partner must be immediately disclosed. All of these efforts are example of ways a unfaithful spouse can regain trust – and are the only way to fully regain trust. I have worked with couples where the unfaithful partner has taken pictures of their location to prove where they are and who they are with, disclosed the mileage driven on their car, or agreed to be tracked by cell phone apps. Your marriage must take precedence over your need for privacy.
4. Roadmap to the future: I wish I could give everyone a clear roadmap to the end result of recovery and forgiveness, but due to the length of the affair, how the hurt partner finds out, personalities, the couple’s history, every situation is quite different. No matter what, the road is difficult but, if the couple can make it through these challenging times, the success of overcoming is rewarding. One thing I hear often is that, despite the affair being a horrible experience, the marriage is often stronger in the end. A couple has to face the challenges they have had in their marriage and see each other in a way that, perhaps, they have not done in years. The couple learns to hear each other and really see each other again. Again, this outcome can be hard for a couple to believe possible, but it is important for them to be given a realistic hope that there may be a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Though there are many other factors to consider and challenges to face along the way, understanding these four things can start the couple on a successful path to recovery from infidelity. Please do not think that you have to do this alone – couples counselors, such as myself, have the knowledge and skills to assist you on this difficult journey. Contact us today and begin the road to recovery.