It's been estimated that 20 percent of married women and 37 percent of married men have been unfaithful to their spouses. There is little that is more devastating than the discovery that your partner has strayed. Affairs corrode trust, the basic building block of marriage. If your spouse has been unfaithful, I'm sure you have difficulty imagining moving beyond your pain, rage, sadness, and disillusionment. You are probably desperate for answers about how the affair could have happened and how your spouse-the person you thought you could trust-could have betrayed you. You might even be questioning your commitment to your marriage.
But you should know that most marriages do survive infidelity. That's the good news. But how they survive is another matter. Some couples stay together but never truly rebound from the hurt, while others are able to mend their marriages completely. In fact, many say their love becomes even stronger than before the affair. How well couples mend depends upon what they do or don't do to facilitate the healing process. This chapter will offer you information about the steps you need to take to turn the crisis of infidelity into an opportunity to make your marriage better than
Let the Healing Begin
Over the years I've been practicing marital therapy, I've helped many, many couples get their marriages back on track after infidelity. And although it is no easy task, I have observed definite patterns in the marriages that have been successful in overcoming infidelity. I want to share my observations with you.
Before I outline the steps both the unfaithful partner and the hurt partner must take to heal their marriage, I want to tell you one important thing about recovering from infidelity; the healing process always takes longer than you think it will or should. Since infidelity is such a major breach of trust, it takes time to recover and rebuild, even if your commitment is strong. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes years. If you were the unfaithful partner, you will have to be extremely patient with your spouse. You might not fully understand how devastating it is for him/her to have learned about your affair, but whether you understand or not, you should brace yourself for a rather long road to recovery.
If you are the hurt partner, you will also have to be patient. Just when you think you're feeling better and you're beginning to see light at the end of the infidelity tunnel, something reminds you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. The road to full recover)' is a jagged rather than a straight line. You will feel as if you're on a roller coaster and, for all intents and purposes, you are. When you hit a low, you will feel tempted to tell yourself that working on your marriage isn't worth it, that it's just too painful. But take it from me, the alternative-separation or divorce-is no less painful. There's no running away from the nightmare. The only way to get to the other side is to go through the pain.
The following guidelines are written for couples where both spouses want to make the marriage work. Your situation might be different; perhaps your spouse isn't certain s/he wants to continue in the marriage. If so, keep reading because I will address your situation in the section that follows.
The Betrayed Partner
Although both partners may feel hurt and betrayed in the marriage, the phrase, "the betrayed partner" refers to the spouse who is faithful rather than the one who has had an affair.
Know That It's Normal to Feel A Whole
Range Of Emotional Responses
Once your suspicions have been confirmed or you have been told about the infidelity, you probably will feel shock, disbelief, rage, anger, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. No, you are not going crazy. These are normal emotions, given the situation. Also, expect your feelings to vacillate. You may feel one way at one moment and a completely different way five minutes later. You may cry a lot and find it difficult to sleep or eat. You may feel completely obsessed with thoughts about the affair and have a hard time concentrating or doing anything else. Know that for the time being, your emotions are in the driver's seat. As difficult as that might be, it's completely normal. And although you probably have convinced yourself that you are going to be miserable for the rest of your life, you won't. You will move beyond this eventually and you will be able to reclaim your life. I know it's hard to believe this when you're in the midst of feeling this way, but it's true. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
Express Your Feelings And Ask Questions
About the Affair If You So Desire
Rather than lick your wounds and pull away from your partner, it's helpful to discuss your feelings with your spouse and allow him or her to help you through this process. If you feel angry, say so. ff you feel hurt, tell him or her that too. Even though it's painful to discuss your vulnerability, when you do, it will give your partner the opportunity to reassure and comfort you. This is an important part of the process.
In addition to talking about your feelings, it is very likely that you will have lots of questions about your spouse's relationship with the other person. I suggest that if you are full of questions, ask them. However, be aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to asking detailed questions.