Friday, July 18, 2014

Healing Steps for the Hurt Spouse - General

This is a chapter excerpt from our book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair. You'll find not only other helpful articles in that book, but our story of how my wife entered the affairs, how I found out, and how we successfully rebuilt.


While true that the unfaithful spouse carries the bulk of the work to rebuild from an affair, what types of things aid a hurt spouse in this? It is tempting to sit back and think the hurt spouse doesn't need to do anything to help heal from the hurt, that it is the unfaithful spouse who needs to change and fix everything. But this is not true. If rebuilding is to work, both spouses need to invest in the rebuilding 100%, or it will likely fail. That means the hurt spouse also has to be on board with making the necessary changes. In this section for the hurt spouse, we'll examine the actions and principles that the hurt spouse needs to heal from the affair.

I need to add some disclaimers before we start. One, everyone's situation is different. I will be, of necessity, speaking in more general terms. But something here may not apply to certain situations, or I may not list something that is needed in others. So take these as guides to check and make sure you are doing the things that will benefit you and your rebuilding efforts the most. Not as hard and fast rules to follow. Adapt, adjust, or throw out as needed.

Two, I've broken this up into three areas. A general area, when your unfaithful spouse is responsive and cooperating, and when he is not. The approach between the two are different, and when an unfaithful spouse becomes responsive, it may require a shift in approach if you determine it is genuine. But you will have some unfaithful spouses that are also cooperative at first, but later shut down. Some cooperate in certain areas, but not others. So depending on the situation, you may need to apply one set at one time, another at another time, and sometimes, a mixture. This chapter will be the general steps most hurt spouses will need to take into consideration.

1) First, realize you are not at fault for your spouse's affair. Many times an unfaithful spouse will attempt to say you are, and no doubt in their mind that is how they justified their decision to give into temptation, but the truth of the situation is the following. Despite whatever issues they had with the marriage or with you, cheating doesn't fix any of them. It only complicates and destroys things further. Therefore, the decision to cheat is never a good response to marital problems. Because of that, it is never your fault, no matter how bad of a spouse you've been or how difficult the marriage has been. Take responsibility for your part in the problems of the marriage, but not for their decision to cheat.

2) Don't automatically assume you have been rejected, and that there is something wrong with you. It is natural to feel they chose the other person over you. Because obviously as far as actions, that appears to be the case. It is usually a source of confusion to the hurt spouse why, if the unfaithful spouse says they love them, they could do something like this. How could they risk the marriage, the family, your sexual health, etc., on a fling? On a secret lover?

But the bottom line is this: in most cases, the unfaithful spouse never says to themselves, "You know what? I don't like X and Y, so I'll just go find someone else to have sex with." It happens, but the majority of cases is the unfaithful spouse becomes vulnerable due to their personal issues and needs, and gives into temptation without thinking about the consequences. As a matter of fact, the mind that is being tempted in this way is not rational at all. If it were, the person wouldn't do what their desires are wanting.

This state of mind is called a "fog" for good reasons, because the unfaithful spouse can't see anything other than what he wants right now. Though somewhere buried in the back of his mind he know this will hurt the marriage and his spouse, the strong desires he has, which may be sexual desires, ego stroking, attention, companionship, or a mixture of those, the desire for meeting those perceived "survival" needs blinds him to taking a serious accounting of the potential consequences. The stronger that desire is, up to an addiction, the less the later consequences play into the decision.

What happens for many unfaithful spouses is they give in at a moment of temptation without thinking through the consequences. As a result, they often come away feeling the victim, that it just happened, and so they start looking for reasons why. Often the finger is pointed at the spouse because he didn't do X, Y, or Z. They often don't feel like they consciously made a decision to cheat. What they miss is failing to recognize the decisions that led to the temptation to cheat, like choosing to flirt, believing it to be "innocent fun."

Often he didn't intentionally reject you by having an affair. He was tempted and let it happen. He gave in to his desires. That is often why he doesn't bring up his desires and needs with the spouse, because he doesn't identify them that way. Not too many unfaithful spouses wake up one morning and think to themselves, "Wow, I really have a need for intimate conversation with my spouse. I could talk to them about it, explain how desperately I need this, and we could go to marriage counseling. Or I could have an affair. Hum...the affair sounds like the best option." Usually those needs are ignored or erupt in anger and fights instead of constructive cooperation, and the unfaithful spouse isn't always directly aware they have become more vulnerable to temptation because of them.

So even if the unfaithful spouse says things like, "She made me feel better than you ever did, that's why I cheated," don't give into the lie that he chose her or him over you. Chances are the unfaithful spouse is coming up with reasons because he is too deep in the fog to believe it is his fault and accept blame for it. People cheat because of their own character shortcomings, not being able to deal with their problems in constructive ways. It is more a rejection of who they are than you.

"But she said she loved him, and she can't stop thinking about him." Yes, that happens. Unfaithful spouses all the time mistake infatuation for true love. They often get in it so deep they have a hard time realizing what they feel isn't love, but a feeling they enjoy and desire. Wearing the rose-colored glasses of infatuation, their love for their spouse will seem to pale in comparison on the passion level. But that isn't the fullness of love, and it cannot compete with real, unconditional love for each other if your relationship is based on more than passion and friendship, but a self-sacrificing love for each other.

In short, what he is often in love with isn't the affair partner, but in how the affair partner made him feel. He is in love with a feeling.

3) Realize that the healing process and rebuilding trust will take time. Two years minimum, maybe longer if the unfaithful spouse isn't fully cooperative, or you have trouble getting past issues. During that time, you'll have periods when you're making progress, and periods when it feels you've sunk back to day one. Even the best of rebuildings will experience periods of depression and a sense of loss on a recurring basis. Don't expect even two or three years down the road to be "past this." As time goes buy, assuming you both are dealing with the issues instead of shoving them under a rug, incidences of feeling the loss and the hurt will become less and less, duller and duller. But that takes at least two years or more, about the amount of time it takes for a couple to feel the changes in their life have become the "new normal." Even if the rebuilding goes well, don't expect the pain and hurt to be totally gone even at two years.

4) Know the stages of grief so you can work through each stage, avoid getting stuck, and find acceptance. You can read up on them in this article. Realize that these emotions and struggles are normal and needed to heal, as painful as they are. Bottling them up and ignoring them can prevent healing.

5) Work toward a healthy and strong sense of self. Affairs can be big blows to one's self-esteem and sense of knowing who you are. The affair changes the relationship significantly from what it was before. Both in how you look at your spouse, but also in how you perceive yourself through your spouse's eyes. It will never be what it was prior to the affair.

Get individual counseling, read good books, and keep the following in mind. While you may have blame for some marriage problems, you are not to blame for the affair. That is fully owned by the unfaithful spouse and his affair partner. The reason they cheated, no matter what he claims the reasons were, are due to his inappropriate responses to issues he is facing within himself. There is a character flaw in him that allowed, maybe even sought out, the affair as the way to deal with his needs. It is not a lack in you, it is a lack in him that is the problem.

Therefore, to get your view of your self through him is going to be a very distorted picture. Don't rely upon it. Assume his view of you will be filled with distortions and exaggerations. He has proven himself untrustworthy in hiding the affair from you, he will be untrustworthy in other areas until he takes ownership of his wrongs and gets out of the fog enough to think clearly.

6) For those of faith, seek out spiritual counseling from your pastor/priest, or spiritual leader, or even a close friend who you feel is strong in the faith. While generally this is a tragedy not readily shared, especially among church members, and there can be some shame felt even by the hurt spouse for the fact it happened to them, you will need someone who is not emotionally impacted by the affair to keep your feet on solid ground.

For those of faith, this can be a time of faith crisis. Why did God allow this to happen? Why did my prayers for him not get answered? Approached the wrong way, some could lose their faith in God over this. Or, they will find their faith a firm foundation in the midst of the raging sea of emotions, hurt, and struggles to rebuild. Having someone that can give input and guidance to what you are going through can make the difference between healing and letting the pain crush you. If nothing else, you need a listening ear. You don't want to carry this struggle alone. Also your spiritual life is just as important, if not more so, than your emotional life, because it will impact your emotional life and can be the difference between a successful rebuilding or ending in divorce.

A disclaimer. Not all pastors or priest are adequately trained in dealing with affairs. Don't expect them to be marriage counselors unless they have a degree or certification in that area. But hopefully they can provide spiritual guidance. Some have unhelpful ideas about marriage and affairs based on their interpretation of the Bible. If one pastor or priest isn't helping you, seek out another who can. Some communions have more resources to deal with these things, or the pastor will know good counselors you can contact.

7) For successful rebuilding, you will want to eventually reach a stage of empathy with the unfaithful spouse. This won't happen quickly, certainly not right away. You are going to be too focused on your own pain, and your anger at what they did won't allow much empathy to take place. But in due time, as you work through the stages of grief, and if rebuilding is going to be successful, eventually you'll need to get there.

Notice, I did not say sympathy for them. Two different things. Sympathy is "feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune." Empathy is "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." Sympathy says you have pity on them and feel sorry for them. Empathy says you understand that their pain exists, even if you can't care about it or deal with it adequately right now. Empathy acknowledges that the other person has real needs, concerns, and difficulties in this journey as well. But for the hurt spouse to move past an obsession and focus on self and their own pain, they have to reach a place where they are able to understand the pain the unfaithful spouse is going through.

I’m not talking here about understanding the why or reasons for the affair. I'm talking about his hurts and pains. Believe me, he has them. Some of them are good at covering them up, even from themselves, and not focusing on them or dealing with them. While some unfaithful spouses are good at fooling themselves so that they seem to be immune to sorrow and repentance, they are just as damaged by the affair as their hurt spouse is. In some cases, even more so.

He has to deal with the reality that he committed an act against the one they love (if that's the case) and who he doesn't want to lose. He has been spiritually and emotionally damaged by living in the fog. As the Scriptures say, unlike other sins, fornication and adultery are sins against one's own body and person. He may try to cover up that pain by blame-shifting, gas-lighting, sweeping it under a rug and refusing to talk about it any longer, sticking his head in the sand by keeping busy, etc. to avoid facing up to it, but it is there.

He also has the initial pain, if the affair was ongoing when discovered, of breaking off a relationship he was enjoying, usually before he was ready to do so. One of the hardest things for the unfaithful spouse to do is break that relationship whether or not he felt he was "in love." Think back to an early relationship that broke up of your own, and how emotionally devastated you were.

Except here, there is the added hurdle to overcome, that he shouldn't talk about it or show those feelings to the hurt spouse because it further hurts them. So many unfaithful spouses struggle through that alone. Many cases, it leads them to reconnect with the affair partner. But the unfaithful spouse who successfully breaks that contact will experience a major loss. Though that is not what the hurt spouse wants to hear, that's the reality of the situation. He could no easier not feel that loss than if they had lost one of their parents to a car accident. It is one of the many negative consequences for being unfaithful.

For the unfaithful spouse who really puts forth the effort to fix themselves, he must endure the painful and slow process of facing his sins and misdeeds, owning them, staring their guilt in the eyes, repenting, and working on himself to ensure the sin doesn't happen again. Rebuilding for the unfaithful spouse is a painful process if he really invest himself in it. It too will take years, not weeks or months, before it is conquered. He will always live with the reality that he did this to the one he loves, and face her everyday with that knowledge.

Until you reach a stage of empathy for the unfaithful spouse, until you can find the ability to care for what they are going through, rebuilding will not happen. For what you are rebuilding to isn't just an existence with each other, but a rekindling of the love you have for each other. Without empathy, that will never happen.

8) Don't obsess over the affair partner. I know, it is natural to do so. Most hurt spouses at one point or another expresses anger over the other person who their spouses cheated with. They are convenient targets of hate, because you are not trying to rebuild with him. To express that blame and hatred to the spouse would be counter productive to the rebuilding. Also sometimes unfaithful spouses will not tell the truth about their affair partner, to deflect blame from themselves. "But Honey, she seduced me when I was depressed."

So often hurt spouses will want to meet the affair partner and tell them what for, or punch them, or destroy their property and lives. But this will not be productive. It will only destroy you and keep you from healing, and take your focus off where it needs to be: on your spouse.

The only concern you should have about the affair partner is to make sure your spouse has broken all contact with him and then treat him as if that person doesn't exist. The affair partner becomes invisible. The goal should be to get him out of your lives as cleanly, quickly, and as forcefully as possible. The more you stir things up with him, the more likely he is to reestablish contact with your unfaithful spouse and stay in the picture, and continue to seek after what he once had. Because the only way the unfaithful spouse can break the bond he has with the affair partner is to go for a long time with no contact. The more contact he has, the less likely he'll break that bond, and the more likely he'll return to the affair partner.

9) Guard your thoughts. This is something that is learned. Many hurt spouses have instances of flashbacks, can't get the picture of their spouse in bed with the affair partner out of their head, imagine all sorts of scenarios that probably never happened between the two, usually blown out of proportion. But these thoughts tend to be obsessive. They intrude into your daily life, sex life, and when something triggers your memories of the affair. At first, these will be strong and need to be faced. But at some point, they become obsessive and can prevent the hurt spouse from healing. To do that, the hurt spouse (and the unfaithful spouse for other reasons) needs to learn the art of guarding your thoughts.

One method is to use distraction. One simple way is to have a phrase you say to yourself when those thoughts arise. For the more religiously inclined, a simple one to remember is what is known in ancient Christianity as the "Jesus prayer." The simple form is, "Lord have mercy," which is a response in prayers at many churches. The fuller form of it is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." But even if you are not religious, you can find a phrase that can help distract you. A saying like, "Que sara, sara." That is, "Whatever will be, will be."

A second form of distraction is music or talk radio. Get your mind engaged in a song or discussion so it won't wander to the wrong thoughts. Strike up a conversation with someone. Give someone a call.

Another form of distraction is to do something physical. Many use exercise of some form. But that alone may not occupy your mind, though it can help burn off some steam. My wife was instructed to use a rubber band around her wrist, and when thoughts she didn't need to be thinking of arose, to snap it so that the pain would distract her from her thoughts.

Another method is reclaiming. This is especially good for triggers. If there is something that tends to make you think of the affair and other obsessive thoughts, reclaim that event. For example, my wife met her primary affair partner at the local gym. I didn't go, obviously, or it wouldn't have happened. Once I discovered the affair, I had two options. I could forbid her to go to the gym any longer, for fear she'd met him there again and this would keep going, or I could start going there myself to ensure he and no one else would hit on her. I opted for the later, in part because I didn't want remembrances of the gym to be her private domain of good thoughts about the affair partner, and I wanted to claim that joy they shared for me and her. So I went. Yes, the first time or three were awkward. But now I don't ever think anything about it. Driving by the gym holds pleasant memories of us working out and swimming together instead of remembrances of "this is where they started their affair, worked out together, swam together." Seeing the gym isn't a trigger to the affair as it would have been had I taken the other route.

A third method is to substitute positive thoughts for the negative. When the obsessive thoughts arise, have ready some positive thoughts to direct your mind to. If, for instance, images of your spouse in the arms of the affair partner arise during sex, causing you to lose all interest, have ready images of you and your spouse to shove in front of them.

All these things take some practice. At first you'll forget and suddenly remember, "Oh, I'm not supposed to be thinking on these things," and you'll do one of the things above. At first, it will have to be a conscious decision. But after a few weeks of doing these, they'll start to become automatic and natural. What you are doing is retraining your mind to not go there. In the first weeks after discovery day, forget it. You can't avoid thinking about it day and night, all the time. But as you move on, and some of those thoughts won't leave, you have to work to get them out and learn how to guard your thoughts so you control them, and not them, you.

10) Interact with the unfaithful spouse in a straightforward, clear, and business-like manner. Yes, at first your emotions are going to be running wild. Everyone's does. You'll probably say things that you later wish you could take back. But once you settle down from the initial roller coaster ride, you'll want to accomplish the following things in communicating with your unfaithful spouse.

First, what your goals and expectations of him will be. Include as short but complete of a list as possible. Transparency and what that practically means. Financial. Availability to answer your questions, and maybe an agreed upon method to do that. That he will allow you to vent and relate your hurt without him becoming defensive or shutting down on you. Read books together like Not Just Friends. Go to marriage counseling, committing for two to three months at least. Communicate that rebuilding will take years, so he doesn't have the idea it will blow over in a month or two.

The above are examples, you may have more depending on the situation. But the important thing is to make it clear what he will need to do to meet your needs to heal from what he has done to you.

Second, list the consequences of these not happening. One thing you will need to do, despite beliefs in never divorcing, is to leave the divorce option on the table. For some unfaithful spouses, they have convinced themselves that you would never leave them, and it gives them motivation to just get through the initial fallout from the discovery before picking back up where they left off. For them to be shaken out of their fog thinking, they need to feel you could really leave them. But draw that line carefully. Make sure you are ready to do that should it go that far. Nothing worse than drawing a line in the sand, to back up and draw a new line when that one is crossed. Then the lines mean nothing.

So I would suggest breaking them down in stages as much as possible, both loosening up as he does better, and tightening down if he falters. So, for instance, maybe one consequence of either not being transparent and/or of breaking no contact is he is forced to hand in his smart phone and get an old fashion, no frills, basic phone with no texting ability. Or he allows spyware to be installed on his phone so you can fully monitor him. Then after a period of time has passed, say six months as an example, and he's been good, that gets taken off his phone or restored to being smart. Or you first take an extended trip to a relative, and if that doesn't reverse things, separate. If he falters again, divorce after a certain amount of time has passed without resolution. Break it down into progressively more restrictive stages as required, and back them down as he becomes more cooperative.

Third, write down something similar for yourself, dependent on him or her doing the above. Be transparent yourself. Good marriages are transparent without an affair. Maybe you'll wash his clothes and fix his dinner. Find out what his needs are and seek to meet them. Don't assume they are the same as yours, because they won't be in most cases. Certain ones can be taken away if he isn't cooperative. Not to be manipulative, but to reward behavior that will help rebuild, and discourage behavior that will end in divorce court. The idea is you are joining him to work on this together, not just him doing all the work.

The idea is to have good communication. Don't rely upon hints and "he should know what I want" type ideas. Be clear about your needs and wants. He can't be expected to meet them or change for them if you don't voice them clearly. The communication needs to happen in a calm, rational manner. Not threats, ultimatums, and screaming. You also need to be firm and confident. A no-nonsense manner of "this is the way it needs to be if we're to make it. Are you with me or not?" Also allow the unfaithful spouse to communicate clearly to you as well. Make it a discussion, not a lecture. Not all of your goals need to be given at one time. You may start with a basic list, but add to it over time as new things pop up. Think in terms of short-term needs and where you want the relationship to be over time.

11) Get help through counseling and good books. Too many spouses have a lone-ranger attitude. I know, because that was me. Until Lenita's infidelity, I'd never been to a counselor for anything. Despite there were times we should have done so in the past. However, I knew this time I wanted to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to rebuild. I knew we had one good shot at healing. I knew we were in over our heads. We were treading new territory and needed a guide to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.

Since you are reading this book, it is likely you already have sensed the same thing. But perhaps someone shoved this book into your hands and you've reluctantly read it, though by this point you have no doubt discovered the value of this type of help or you would probably not still be reading by this point.

Books can be a major source of help in rebuilding both yourselves and your relationship. I'd recommend the following book to begin your healing journey.

Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On -- Together or Apart by Douglas K. Snyder. The strength of this book is it gives you some practical steps to take in dealing with the affair, including the initial days and weeks after discovery day. It is based upon a sound understanding of the dynamics in rebuilding relationships, and can help if rebuilding doesn't succeed as expected or isn't the ultimate choice of either spouse. Also includes steps for the unfaithful spouse as well as the hurt one. For these reasons, I recommend reading this book first to get some immediate guidance and direction, including finer points on what we've talked about here.

While books like these and the one you are reading now are helpful, they can only be of a general help. The author(s) cannot cover every conceivable circumstance, nor address your specific situation. A person reading these books still needs to take the general principles and apply them to his relationship.

Because of this, it is also strongly suggested to obtain individual and marriage counseling as soon as possible. Both spouses need to evaluate how these events have affected them based on their history, how to rebuild their sense of self-identity, and what will be the best approach, given their specific circumstances, to proceed with rebuilding the marriage.

Once, I attempted to change the ball-joint on an AMC Pacer. I followed the instructions in a book, but a frozen bolt refused to come lose. It was then I read in the book, "This is not a 'backyard mechanic' type job." I thought, "Now they tell me!"

In the same way, rebuilding a marriage and yourself after an affair is not a do-it-yourself task. If you go it alone, chances of success go way down.

When you look for a therapist in your area, search for those with experience in helping with infidelity. Once attending sessions, if it is clear they are enabling rug-sweeping, blame-shifting, or other tactics which divert you from dealing with the issues, feel free to change counselors until you find one that can truly help you. Not all counselors are created equal, or in some cases, you just don't mesh well with a given counselor through no fault of either person.

These are some of the general steps. I could continue on and get more detailed, but this gives a broad overview of the general steps that can help a hurt spouse deal with the aftermath of an affair. Next we'll look at the steps a hurt spouse can take in dealing with a cooperative unfaithful spouse.

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