Friday, April 4, 2014

The Top 5 Traps of Hurt Spouses

Rebuilding a marriage from infidelity is hard work for both spouses. Granted, the bulk of the work falls to the unfaithful spouse. They destroyed the hurt spouse's trust. Only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild that trust over months and years. Way too often, the unfaithful spouse is not willing to make the commitment and do the work necessary to create the emotional security for the hurt spouse to heal and "get over it."

With that as a given, there are traps that a hurt spouse can fall into that prevents healing from taking place despite heroic efforts by the unfaithful spouse. For hurt spouses, you'll want to make sure you avoid these traps when possible so if the rebuilding fails, you can confidently say it wasn't because you didn't do all that you could to heal.

1. Staying in Victim Mode

Yes, the hurt spouse is a victim of the unfaithful spouse's cheating and deception. While they may not be a victim in other marital rough spots, when it comes to being cheated on, rare is the instance when the hurt spouse is in part to blame for the unfaithful spouse's decision to cheat.

That said, being a victim isn't the same thing as living in victim mode. Being a victim is a fact. Living in victim mode is to wear that status as a manipulative tool to guilt your spouse into submission. Especially if the unfaithful spouse is already feeling guilty, it can be tempting for the hurt spouse to take advantage of that emotional insecurity.

In so doing, however, you prevent the healing of the marriage by creating an unequal relationship dynamic. Instead of partners, you lock someone into emotional slavery until they can't take it anymore and leave. The unfaithful spouse will not likely heal because instead of repentance-producing guilt they'll feel unredemptive shame.

For sure, the hurt spouse will naturally live in victim mode in the days and weeks following the discovery of the affair. Unfaithful spouses will need to be patient, understanding their spouse is dealing with trauma levels of emotional pain during this time, and they are a victim in this case.

The hurt spouse will need to leave living in victim mode if rebuilding is to succeed. 

2. Claiming Moral Superiority

No two ways about it, cheating is morally wrong, sinful, and destroying to all involved. Most unfaithful spouses who have lived through the aftermath of what they've done get that. Even some in the midst of their affairs know this is true, but give into the passionate romance of it anyway.

Because of that, the hurt spouse can develop an attitude of moral superiority over the unfaithful spouse, using it to manipulate the unfaithful spouse. It is the flipside of the coin for point #1. Instead of manipulating with guilt, the hurt spouse manipulates with their own "holiness." Bring up past failings is not effective because everything else pales in comparison to the huge sin committed by the unfaithful spouse.

This trap prevents successful rebuilding for the same reasons as #1: it creates an unhealthy relationship dynamic. It is tempting for the hurt spouse because they've been out of control for the duration of the affair. Exerting control over the unfaithful spouse gives the hurt spouse a temporary sense of security.

In the end, it destroys any chance for the unfaithful spouse to rebuild real security back into the marriage.

3. Having Your Own Affair

There are many reasons a hurt spouse may be tempted to have their own affair. Revenge. Entitlement. Giving up on the marriage. Perceiving the door is now open to do what they always wanted to do. Believing the mythical "this will make us even" justification. Attempting to bolster the lack of self-esteem from the affair, just to name some popular reasons.

The problem with all those reasons is cheating is not wrong because people and culture says it is, but because it is so destructive to all involved, including the unfaithful spouse. One doesn't heal by inflicting more damage upon themselves and their spouse. It only complicates the ability to rebuild.

4. Bigotry

That is, bigotry against unfaithful spouses as a group. Generally this is reflected by applying labels to the group as a whole, often in absolute terms. "Cheaters are narcissistic. Cheaters are abusers. Cheaters are morally bankrupt. All cheaters don't give a damn about anyone other than themselves." Etc.

Such conclusions are often reached by spouses whose marriages are falling apart due to the affair, getting a divorce, or forced to live in a loveless marriage. They tend to generalize their experience onto all unfaithful spouses. Such labels can give hurt spouses a sense of explaining the why of the affair but in very straightjacketed terms. It can also feed into #2 above.

If a hurt spouse in rebuilding picks up on that attitude and "explanation" from such sources, it does what any bigotry does: treats people as an impersonal classification instead of as individuals deserving respect. That creates an "us vs. them" dynamic that will short circuit any rebuilding attempt.

5. Getting Stuck in the Grieving Process

To progress toward healing from infidelity, the hurt spouse will progress through the grieving process until they come to a point of acceptance. Acceptance is the point where the hurt spouse no longer focuses on the pain and loss of the affair, but looks ahead to the future. Doesn't mean the hurt spouse never thinks about any of it again, only that their life is not defined by a preoccupation with their loss.

The general stages of grief leading up to acceptance is denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. A chapter in our book is devoted to this topic. Each stage has the potential to trap a hurt spouse and keep them from progressing.

For some, denial is their security. They are the ones likely to say, "I wish I'd never discovered the affair," and promptly attempt to forget it ever happened. The issues never get dealt with, and the unfaithful spouse has no motivation to make the changes they need to make. Rebuilding doesn't even get off the ground.

Others get stuck in bargaining. They end up enabling an unfaithful spouses inappropriate behaviors by making deals as if it is their fault. "You cheated on me because I wasn't giving you enough sex? Okay, I'll give you all you want, then you won't cheat on me." Or insert whatever reason the unfaithful spouse might indicate as to why they had the affair. Such a spouse believes if they just make them happy, they won't leave them.

Then of course depression is a big trap. The hurt spouse laments the loss of how life used to be. The blind trust they had. The joy they experienced. The innocence lost. Lost health can factor into it if STDs are involved. It is here that moving on means coming to acceptance. Many hurt spouses are afraid to give it up. For some, they can't because the unfaithful spouse isn't rebuilding trust. In other cases, releasing that mourning feels like suggesting it wasn't important what was lost.

Until acceptance manifest itself, healing will not happen. Most hurt spouses will need to go through most of these stages to get there. Some of them may take longer than others. But allowing yourself to stay in a stage longer than necessary stalls not only the grieving process, but also the rebuilding.

Those are my top five traps that can keep a hurt spouse from healing, and therefore, keep the marriage from surviving the affair.

Can you think of any more you'd add?

No comments:

Post a Comment