The complexities of an intimate relationship can suddenly come to a fore when faced with the heart-wrenching shock of infidelity. The emotional turmoil that ensues can be overwhelming, resonating through every interaction and affecting not only the couple but also the day-to-day tasks that hold the relationship fabric together. Our individual emotional states heavily influence the health of our relationships. It is crucial to understand this dynamism, especially when one partner is grappling with the aftermath of the other's unfaithfulness.
When an affair is revealed, the shock waves can leave the deceived partner drowning in a whirlpool of emotions. Expressing these feelings adequately may prove challenging, and the same applies to listening to the views of the partner who had the affair. The wounded partner might find it strenuous to perform even mundane tasks such as paying bills, making decisions about children, or dealing with a car that needs repair. As these responsibilities pile up unchecked, the consequential stress of neglecting them can worsen the situation. The phone company might threaten to disconnect your line; your child may encounter problems at school; a minor car issue could blow up into a major engine overhaul that you can't afford. This could all transpire even if the partner who had the affair seems to be managing their feelings reasonably well.
The partner who was unfaithful could, despite appearances, be wrestling with their own emotional turmoil. While it is understandable that the wounded partner may not initially be sympathetic to this, gaining an understanding of the emotions the unfaithful partner is experiencing is crucial for improving interaction down the line. This partner may be contending with feelings of confusion about the future, anxiety about the relationship, loneliness, hurt, anger, guilt, or shame. Even if the deceived partner is effectively managing their emotions, the relationship could still be teetering on the edge due to the emotional state of the unfaithful partner.
The emotional chaos created by infidelity is a perfect storm brewed by the individual turmoil of both partners. A situation may arise where, just when one partner feels ready to have a constructive conversation, the other might not be emotionally prepared to do so. It's also possible that the emotions one partner grapples with at any given moment can trigger equally intense and difficult emotions in the other.
To comprehend why this occurs, it's useful to view your interactions as serving three functions—communication, protection, and restoration. However, each of these functions is disrupted by the trauma of infidelity.
Firstly, it may become challenging for the unfaithful partner to comprehend the pain caused by their actions. The hurt partner's feelings could be so intense that they exceed their ability to express them. If the unfaithful partner has any care for the deceived one, hearing these feelings will be distressing or even painful. This could lead the unfaithful partner to emotionally withdraw when the deceived partner continues to express their feelings, creating a vicious cycle of feeling unheard and misunderstood.
Secondly, both partners' need to feel safe could manifest in trying to protect themselves from each other. The fear of getting hurt again could trigger a "fight or flight" response. The fight response could involve verbal attacks or aggressive attempts to assert control. Unfortunately, this approach is not effective at restoring a damaged relationship or ensuring safety, as it can lead to counterattacks. The flight response, on the other hand, could involve physical or verbal retreat. While this may create a temporary feeling of safety, it can also lead to a superficial relationship, devoid of depth and genuine intimacy.
The efforts to restore the relationship can often be misplaced if not thought through. While both partners might be trying to rebuild their relationship in their own ways, these attempts can be unsuccessful if not executed strategically and at the right time. For example, the partner who had the affair might attempt to convince the other that the affair was meaningless or that they're now fully committed to the relationship. On the other hand, the deceived partner might try to cut off the affair partner, push thoughts of the affair out of their minds, or find out "why" the affair happened. These efforts, although well-intended, might not effectively rebuild the relationship unless they are carefully considered and appropriately timed.
An essential consideration is whether a particular effort is the right move. Sometimes, attempts to restore the relationship can backfire and cause further damage. For instance, trying to promote closeness by insisting on doing everything together might make the other partner feel suffocated and desperate to escape. Similarly, the timing of these efforts is crucial. For example, exploring the factors that led to the affair, while ultimately essential for long-term security, might not be constructive if one partner still feels deeply misunderstood or emotionally vulnerable.
Recognizing the individual turmoil of both partners and its impact on the relationship, the necessity of clear communication, the need for safety, and the importance of well-thought-out restoration efforts is fundamental to navigating the aftermath of infidelity. This understanding serves as the foundation for implementing effective strategies for reestablishing safety and restoring individual and relationship security in a sequence and timeframe that are more likely to be successful.
Although the journey to recovery from the trauma of infidelity is fraught with emotional upheavals, it is possible to rebuild trust, intimacy, and stability. With patience, understanding, compassion, and thoughtful actions, partners can traverse this difficult path and emerge with a stronger, more resilient relationship.