Every now and then I see something new.
Right now I’m working with a couple that is coping with the fallout from an affair, but they’re handling it very differently than your typical couple.
The story started like many I’ve seen before. He had an affair.
She found out. The marriage is in trouble. I see that frequently.
What’s different about this couple is how they are handling the situation after the affair. She wants him back. He wants to come back. There’s still hurt, anger and trust issues like with any affair. But instead of the couple putting up walls, they’re staying calm and working through the issues together. Instead of lashing out in their pain, they are able to express themselves without tearing the other one down. It’s refreshing to see. Both people are handling a lot of strong emotions without damaging each other further in the process. They are making my job so much easier!
I really like this couple. But I have to say, they’re not normal!
He’s owning his stuff, and not minimizing or denying it. For her part, she’s taking him back and truly welcoming him with open arms even though he hurt her.
They’re really fighting for their marriage and not putting up walls that slow down the healing process.
We can learn from this couple.
After an affair, there’s often anger, hurt and confusion on the part of the injured spouse. And this is normal.
“I can’t believe you would do that to me.”
“I thought I knew who you were. I thought I knew our marriage.”
“What else is a lie? Did you ever really love me?”
Life isn’t so hot for the spouse involved in the affair, either. This person often feels embarrassed, conflicted, not heard, and like his/her world is unraveling. The betrayer often carries around a lot of shame and guilt that makes it hard for him/her to be appropriately involved in helping their spouse heal.
So it isn’t really surprising that when a couple comes in for help after an affair, there typically are emotional walls that keep the couple from reconnecting and healing.
Walls after an affair are normal. Your partner just broke your trust and cheated on you. There should be some walls after an affair!
But before we can repair the marriage, we need to turn those walls into windows. That’s why a therapist is so important. Identifying and slowly dismantling these walls is not easy! Especially when both partners are hurting.
The injured spouse puts up walls because they are hurt and trying to cope with their world being turned upside down.
Life after an affair is an emotional rollercoaster for the spouse who has been cheated on. There are feelings of betrayal, despair, hopelessness, fear, anger and bargaining. Emotions often change by the hour.
Infidelity is profoundly traumatic!
So an injured spouse puts up emotional walls for protection. The betraying partner has to work hard at making his/her spouse feel safe and loved in the relationship again. This hard work often looks like a bottomless well of patience. Yes, the one who was cheated on needs to talk about the affair again and again. Yes, the betrayed spouse has more questions they need answers to.
The partner who committed the affair also puts up walls, often centered around embarrassment and shame.
The spouse who cheated wants secrecy around this entire thing, and they don’t want to talk or think about it.
They are used to isolating the affair and compartmentalizing it, being secretive, and on some level, most are also are ashamed and remorseful.
I mean, how awful is it to tell the person who loves you and whom on some level you love that you broke their trust? That you snuck out of the house? That you lied about where you were going? That you spent money you weren’t supposed to spend on being with someone else? That you shared your body and your intimacy with someone else?
This is painful stuff!
So the spouse who cheated also creates walls in the marriage because they don’t want to talk about it and relive that pain.
Breaking down these walls takes time and care.
The walls are there because neither spouse wants further trauma.
What I do when I work with a couple who has gone through an affair is set up guidelines and a process for disclosure. That’s the first step and one reason that a therapist is so important.
There needs to be a process with guidelines so disclosure unfolds carefully, accurately and completely so nobody gets completely worn out or re-traumatized.
We have the injured partner ask all the questions and write them down. Then we go through the questions one by one.
This is not a quick process, though!
Marriages don’t heal fast after an affair. It can take years. In fact, some research says it takes 3 to 5 years.
Your emotions are going to be upside down and all over the place. You’re going to have moments where you can’t stand the pain you’re in. And moments where you can’t stand the thought of losing the other person.
It is okay to have walls after an affair. It is okay to feel like your world is going to end. To survive this you both agree not to act on these feelings. Give yourself time to metabolize what has happened.
You’re going to take it slow. You’re going to ride out the tsunami.
An affair is like a fox that got into the hen house. First, you clean up the mess, then you find out where the fox got through the fence and you fortify it.
So you fix the breakdown in communication and clean up the mess. You slowly turn those walls into windows. Then you repair the hole in your marriage that left a vulnerable place for the fox to come in.
That’s where we can learn from the couple I mentioned before.
When he cheated on her, she lost trust and felt hurt. But she didn’t give up on her marriage. Neither did he, even though he knew he had made a big mess of the relationship.
It still has been hard for them, and picking up the pieces has taken time. But they didn’t walk away, and this has made the recovery process much easier. The walls they put up were less formidable, and they’re coming down faster.
If your marriage is going through an affair, seek help. Overcoming an affair is one of the hardest things you’ll do. You need help with this process.
Call or go online to schedule an appointment with us, and we’ll help you turn your walls into windows and rebuild your marriage after infidelity. Remember, we work with clients all over the world! You don’t have to live in Texas to work with us.