Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Healing Steps for the Hurt Spouse
– Cooperative Unfaithful Spouse

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.


The previous chapter looked at the general steps a hurt spouse needs to take for healing to occur. In this chapter, we want to take a closer look at the specific steps a hurt spouse can take toward healing with an unfaithful spouse who is cooperative.

First, what do I mean by cooperative? Does that mean he does everything he should do, right off the bat, perfectly? No, since few will ever do it perfectly, and the healing process is more a series of steps. By cooperative, I mean an unfaithful spouse who is actively working toward healing by consciously taking the steps to heal. Those steps are listed in the "Healing Steps for the UnfaithfulSpouse". His attitude should be one of humility and repentance, rather than sweeping it under the rug and blame shifting. If he is willing to face the consequences of his actions and stick with it for however long it may take to help the hurt spouse heal, up to at least two years or more, and he takes the steps in progressive manner, he is cooperating.

An unfaithful spouse may start out cooperative but grow weary of the struggle and pain. It isn't easy. He may give up and withdraw at some point and become uncooperative. Likewise, an unfaithful spouse can start out uncooperative, but become cooperative as the affair loses its hold on him. Sometimes an otherwise cooperative unfaithful spouse on some issues will become uncooperative on others.

A warning is appropriate here. An unfaithful spouse can sometimes appear cooperative, but is doing it as a front to please you, to get you to settle down, but he is still either planning on getting back with the affair partner or is still secretly seeing the affair partner. All you have to go on is what you can see until you discover evidence to suggest he is putting on a front and being manipulative. You'll have to judge his attitude and decide which path to take. When he gets caught still headed down the wrong road, and you realize he hasn't been honest in his cooperation, then shift over to the uncooperative unfaithful spouse's path.

When it comes down to it, trust your gut. Maybe he appears cooperative on the outside, but the sixth-sense in your gut tells you something is not right. Get evidence before acting on it, but if your gut is sounding a warning, pay attention to it. Start investigating the warning. It will generally give you a good clue whether your spouse is being cooperative or not.

Also, an explanation about this path. It may seem to some that by doing some of these things, you are giving the unfaithful spouse a "free pass" and letting him off easy. But that is not the case. If your unfaithful spouse is responsive to rebuilding, the goal of these steps is to give the unfaithful spouse the best chance at succeeding. The rebuilding process for the unfaithful spouse is painful enough if he does it like he should. But if he doesn't respect the opportunity you are giving him and he violates it, then you move to the next list. But as long as he is doing what he needs to, the goal is to entice him to continue to do the right things, to work on rebuilding, and to stay honest with you about what is going on with him.

As mentioned in the previous article, the better he does, the more freedom he gets. If they blow it, then the restrictions get a little tighter to motivate him to straighten up, that this is serious, and you will not allow him to walk over you or your feelings. So keep in mind that these are steps with an unfaithful spouse who is cooperative. The steps change when they are no longer cooperative.

Also, this is assuming that you have already laid out expectations and consequences as mentioned in the previous article. Here are the steps.

1) Think in terms of stages in healing. There are things you expect to happen pretty quick after discovery day. Most will list that the unfaithful spouse must become "transparent," which means he gives the hurt spouse the passwords and user names for all his accounts that are allowed to stay open, their email, social networking sites, and any cell phones and cell phone bills. Also, he is willing to discuss all aspects of the affair as needed. The unfaithful spouse has lost trust, and this is the only way to earn it back.

Also, the unfaithful spouse is expected to break all ties and contact with the affair partner pretty quickly. He is usually given a chance to tell the affair partner that the affair has been discovered and is cutting off all contact with her. But after that goodbye, nada. That is usually hard for the unfaithful spouse. From the hurt spouse's point of view, it is an illegitimate relationship that should have never happened in the first place, so the hurt spouse tends to not have much sympathy for the unfaithful spouse's struggles. But you can have empathy here as we discussed in the previous article, and know that because it isn't easy, most unfaithful spouses will have a period of time in coming to terms with this. Yet it is expected to happen fairly quickly after discovery day. The unfaithful spouse needs to understand that for the hurt spouse, until no contact is established, the affair is not over and no healing can happen.

But there are other things that the unfaithful spouse may hold onto at first, but need to change at some point. Whether the hurt spouse is willing to wait for those to happen would be spelled out in the expectations you've discussed with him. To avoid a lot of words to describe what I mean, I'll give an example from my experience.

Lenita had some pictures of both Clyde and Bubba. I told her early on that she needed to get rid of them, but she was reluctant. At that point, she still felt like she wanted to keep something to remember them by. I could have demanded she delete them and forced her to comply. But I also knew that doing so might push her to save some in a hidden place because she wasn't ready. Also, I had an ulterior motive for not pushing her. I wanted some things left to her decision so I could gauge whether she was making progress or not. I knew if she came to the place where she was ready to get rid of them, not only would she actually get rid of them all, but I would know she had arrived at a milestone. That didn't happen until around three months after discovery day.

As time went by, she dug deeper and made other changes that served to cut off remembrance of the affair partners that I couldn't have possibly known about or demanded so easily. She started guarding her thoughts, so when her thoughts turned to thinking about the affair partners, she took steps to distract herself and not focus on them.

It will mean more if your unfaithful spouse comes to some things on his own volition. Doesn't mean you don't express your desires on a point, as I did with Lenita, but I didn't press her to do it right then. If he is moving in the right directions, assume he'll get there, and it will confirm he is on the right course when he does it.

It is also important because you can only focus on so much at one time and implement it. Throw too many changes at someone too fast, and it can backfire. The more you can change together, cooperatively, the better.

As you evaluate things, decide what needs should be implemented immediately, and what types of changes you want the unfaithful spouse to make later when they are ready. If he is cooperative, then you are working together, so you want the minimum number of ultimatums possible. Only those things that have to happen to solve the immediate crisis of the affair trauma and to start the required healing should be required within the first weeks of discovering the affair. But if a certain item is causing you additional trauma, then communicate that a trigger is preventing you from healing. Be open and honest with the unfaithful spouse. You need to be transparent with him, just as he needs to be with you.

2) Praise successes. Make note of them. Highlight them. They will encourage you both to acknowledge progress. It is easy for the hurt spouse to allow negative emotions to overpower any and all positive movements forward. The hurt spouse will have a tendency to avoid praise for fear of seeming to act like the affair wasn't that bad. However, if an unfaithful spouse never receives acknowledgment for what he's done right, he can become disheartened over time and give up. Don't hand out false praise, but acknowledging his successes in rebuilding not only encourage him to keep moving forward, but encourage you as well.

3) Focus on healing the marriage as well as the affair. This one is critical. Sometimes, due to an uncooperative unfaithful spouse, healing the marriage gets put on the back burner. But with a cooperative unfaithful spouse, while not accepting that the affair was caused by marital problems, you will want to take this opportunity to deal with those issues. You have more motivation now to make major changes in the way you relate to each other in marriage than ever before.

Aside from the obvious benefit to the relationship itself, there is an affair related reason to focus on this when you have a cooperative unfaithful spouse. It significantly increases the chances of rebuilding succeeding. Willard F. Harley reports in his book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, that in his practice of working with couples who have experienced infidelity, using the traditional methods of therapy, he had about a 40% success rate of them staying together, which is average. Some of those not happily staying together. But when he started focusing on helping them to rekindle the romantic fires in their relationships and working on the marriage itself, his success rate rose above 60%.

When you think about it logically, it makes sense. The stronger your marital bonds emotionally, spiritually, and physically are going into an affair, the more stability you have to weather the storms that an affair brings to the marriage. Marital problems may not be the cause of an affair, but focusing on them is part of the solution.

One of the key events that needs to happen for successful rebuilding is for the couple to "fall in love" again. Renew the fires of romance. Because there is no better healing for the hurt spouse than to feel his spouse is excited about him once again and wants him exclusively, and no better antidote to the unfaithful spouse yearning for the excitement of the affair partner and missing them than a burning love for his spouse. Several of the following suggestions will be toward that goal.

4) Spend around 15 hours a week together, minimum. Think about it. When you both first started your relationship, when you dated and became engaged, what did you do, primarily? One, you spent every bit of free time together, and two, you thought about each other all the time.

For the unfaithful spouse, this should be obvious, because that is exactly what he was doing with his affair partner. The reason that seemed so new and exciting was because he probably spent minimal time with his spouse, and when he did, it was often dealing with unpleasant things. "Honey, take out the trash. Honey, pay the bills. Honey, when is dinner going to be ready? Honey, do you have the money for Johnny's band trip?" Often the time is not spent gazing into each other's eyes over a romantic dinner, but dealing with the day to day stuff, and otherwise focused in your own worlds.

When you and he first met, naturally you focused on each other. You wanted to talk about your issues, thought the world of him and he of you, and he became the focus of your world. That was exciting. So what did you do? You spent as much time as possible with him. On the phone. Texting. In person. Emails. Facebook. Wherever you could fit it in. I can bet that you didn't talk about bills, trash, kids, or other such responsibilities for any length of time, if any.

"What are we going to do?" You'll need to figure that out, but in reality, it doesn't matter. If you can find an activity you both like, great. If not, let her pick one that the man will do with her, and the man pick one that she'll do. The point being, begin treating him as important, worth spending your time with. He should be the most important person in your life. How you spend your free time should reflect that priority. Then when the other person picks up that they are important to you, it will translate into the same excitement, and return that importance back to you.

What you'll find, whether it is just sitting at a Sonic sipping a coke, or working out together at the gym, or shopping together, or participating in a sport together, or having sex, is that it will engender those same romantic fires that originally got things rolling when you started dating. And please, don't focus mostly on the day to day stuff or once past the first month or two, on the affairs. Focus on your relationship, your future together, what you want to do, what your goals are, share your dreams.

At first, the affair will likely dominate your discussions, but at some point, you'll want to move beyond that. Bring up issues when needed, but remember, the goal is to rekindle romantic fires here and draw you both closer together, not always focusing on the hard and painful things. But if you spend that kind of time together, you'll find it easier to talk about the things that need talking about, and reestablishing the emotional bonds of marriage that will be a reward, making stronger bond to deal with the more painful parts of the rebuilding process.

5) Go to marriage counseling. If you want to discover from a more objective view where your marriage is weak, a great place to start is a marriage counselor in addition to seeing a counselor for individual help. They can help you spot weaknesses, and offer ways to improve them. The affair will likely play into it at first as far as issues to deal with, and the vulnerabilities in the marriage can highlight why the unfaithful spouse was tempted to allow an affair to happen. But it should move onto focusing on the marriage itself. The marriage counselor can also give you good books to read and other helps.

Going to a marriage counselor can also give opportunity to discuss some of the harder things in a more controlled environment. If communication often turns into fights and storming off, leaving the issues unresolved, a counselor can help to establish helpful patterns of conflict resolution that will enable you to talk to each other constructively rather than destructively.

A good idea is to commit to go to at least a month or two of weekly meetings. Too often, because one partner didn't like the initial visit or two, he doesn't want to keep going, especially if he is having trouble facing his responsibility for the affair. If a particular marriage counselor isn't really doing the job for you, find a different one. Don't use that as an excuse to not do it. But commit to giving it time to work.

6) Read some good books together. In addition to the book listed in the last chapter, here is an additional reading list you'll find helpful.

Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley P. Glass. This book has a lot of good info on how to deal with the aftermath of an affair, but the strength of this classic treatment is assessing the motivations and experiences both hurt and unfaithful spouses go through. An excellent book for a couple to read together in evaluating each other's strengths and weaknesses in dealing with an affair, and what to do about them.

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Jr. Harley. You may not be ready for this book immediately after discovery day. You will probably need to wait until you have more emotional stability, until you're out of the emotional ICU. But the earlier you can read and process what is in this book, the quicker and smoother rebuilding will happen.

This book doesn't focus so much on dealing directly with the affair, but on expressing a passionate love to one's spouse in a way they can "hear" it, in order to heal the marriage. As mentioned earlier, this book had a profound impact on how Lenita and I interacted with one another. I learned what I had done that failed to tell her she was important to me, and how she failed to do the same to me. We both made some major adjustments, not just to fill the needs she unconsciously sought out during the affair because I wasn't doing so, but because I did love her but wasn't communicating that truth effectively for years. Instead, I'd often told her by my actions and decisions, "You're not that important to me." She did the same to me. This is no longer the case.

Without that sense of "he loves me and I'm important to him" communicated through actions, rebuilding is much less likely to succeed. It is the oil that provides the motivation to struggle through the painful process of rebuilding and offers hope that there is the reward of a happy future at the end. Ideally you'll want to read and discuss this book together.

How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful by Linda MacDonald. This book is the first book recommended for the unfaithful spouse to read because it will give him a fuller understanding of what the hurt spouse is dealing with, establish empathy, and the needed steps to help her heal, not to mention himself. I'm listing it here for the hurt spouse, however, because it is good to have a clear picture of what the unfaithful spouse should be doing. Not only to evaluate when your spouse is being cooperative or not, but also in evaluating what you are responsible for to make their efforts productive.

I would suggest if at all possible, you read these together. One reads while the other listens. It opens up times of discussion and is one way you can spend some of that together-time profitably. But if that is not at all possible, an alternate way is for one spouse to read the first chapter, and the other to then read the same chapter. Alternate each chapter that way. Then when you are together, have a discussion time over what you've read. What helped you, perhaps what you didn't agree with and why, etc. In other words, make this as interactive as you possibly can. Don't one of you read it through, then the other and not really dig into the book or interact with each other over what insights and questions the book revealed.

7) Be willing to give "trust on loan" to the unfaithful spouse. This is a concept I came up with shortly after discovery day. Here's what it is, what it isn't, and why I think it is important.

Trust on loan simply means that I am granting a certain level of trust to the unfaithful spouse. It doesn't mean I trust the unfaithful spouse. It only means if rebuilding is going to succeed, I'll have to trust him to some degree or another. Because no matter how much checking I do, spying, or other activities the hurt spouses tend to do to verify that his unfaithful spouse is staying true, if the unfaithful spouse wants to, he can get back with the affair partner and learn to hide it that much better. If you caught him by using a key logger on his computer, he'll stop using his computer for any type of contact. If you spotted problems in the phone bill, he may get a secret second phone. If you caught him in a certain location, he'll make sure they only are together in a more secluded area. In most cases, the hurt spouse will not be able to eliminate all opportunities and monitor the unfaithful spouse day in and day out enough to ensure he has absolutely no chance to cheat. One spouse reported her husband cheated on her by having lunch-break fun with a co-worker at his job in the parking lot. How would you know about that short of hiring a private detective to follow him around all day?

But what it doesn't mean is you're giving the unfaithful spouse trust like he had prior to the affair. The key is it is "on loan," which means it has to be repaid. He repays it by doing the things that rebuild trust. But he will default on that loan if he violates that trust again. So the trust is not blind trust. It doesn't mean the hurt spouse isn't going to verify. Rather, it is like President Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify." If the verification shows a default on that loan, then the borrower is in deep, hot water, and is certainly not shown to be cooperative.

But giving them this loan is also a level of hope for the unfaithful spouse. It means there's an end to this somewhere down the road. A point at which the hurt spouse will feel the loan is paid back. Don't think that will mean you'll feel the same type of trust you had prior to the affair. That trust level is forever lost. You cannot and should never return to that type of trust. Rather, it will be a cautious trust. A trust born out of respect for the temptations and human weaknesses we all bear. When red flags pop up, they will be given stronger attention and concern than they ever did prior to the affair.

For the hurt spouse, it really is what you'll have to do anyway simply by matter of necessity. However, stating it up front with the unfaithful spouse like this will do two things. One, it will make it clear with the unfaithful spouse that while you're giving them room, if they are not diligent, it could end up being room enough to hang themselves. They are rebuilding on borrowed trust. Not free trust. They blew that with the affairs, and now they have to earn it back, loan or no loan.

Two, it will provide some sense of the hurt spouse letting go by handing them some level of trust. You'll check on them, but maybe you won't obsess over it as much. If they are truly being a cooperative unfaithful spouse, they will take this opportunity to pay back that loan because they want that trust back.

When my unfaithful spouse was given this loan, she stated earning it back. One of the primary ways she earned it back was twofold. One, she's been totally transparent. Two, she's told me things she could have easily hidden from me and I'd never known. Mostly about times her affair partner has tried to contact her. Even yesterday in writing this, she reported to me an incident when the affair partner pulled up beside her and waved at her. She could have said nothing to me and I'd never known the difference. If they were getting back together, she would have never told me this information. But she told me as soon as she returned home. By doing this, she pays off the loan each time it happens, because it is evidence she's being honest.

8) Pray together. If you are spiritually oriented, participate together in your religion's spiritual disciplines. For a long time, I would go to Saturday night services by myself. It is a 45 minute trip there and another 45 back. She always felt it more important to not miss TV shows, or just too much to get dinner ready and go to church. But after discovery day, she goes to church with me nearly every time I go. Not just Sunday mornings like it used to be. Not only does she get the spiritual time with me, we can also talk and read our books on the way there and back.

If you've been lax in your faith, but you do have faith, now is a good time to refocus on that together. It can not only help develop closer spiritual bonds with each other, but provide more time together and can be a social outlet with other people as well. Don't forget, a good marriage has a strong bond spiritually as well as emotionally and physically. For the same reasons focusing on strengthening your marriage will help rebuilding to succeed, so will strengthening your spiritual bonds.

Some of the same principles listed above for strengthen the marriage apply toward strengthening the spiritual bonds. Talk to your pastor/priest/spiritual leader as it concerns your faith. If you fear the ostracizing of the unfaithful spouse, go to a neighboring spiritual leader you trust. Get some spiritual counseling in dealing with the affair constructively. Likewise, reading good spiritually enriching books together can be helpful as well.

9) Show thankfulness. A cooperative unfaithful spouse is a blessing for a hurt spouse. Too often the unfaithful spouse wants to hide from his responsibility, or sweep everything under the rug and not talk about it. Or he becomes so busy, he finds it easier to avoid dealing with the issues by not giving them or you time to focus on it. To have an unfaithful spouse who fully cooperates means healing can happen easier and faster for both of you. The more the unfaithful spouse feels you are appreciative of his efforts and struggles, the easier it will be for him to face the more difficult aspects of what he is dealing with.

10) Don't forget to focus on yourself. If the unfaithful spouse is fully cooperative, it means nothing if you get stuck in a bad place. Often hurt spouses get stuck because something has been swept under the rug and not dealt with. Frequently it is the unfaithful spouse that does this, but sometimes the unfaithful spouse can do everything right, but the hurt spouse can't get past a stage of grieving and fails to heal. Go back to the general steps and make sure you are doing them, and working through the stages of grief so that you can arrive at acceptance. Once that takes place, you are in sync with the unfaithful spouse and can take what they are doing in a more constructive manner. But if due to not guarding your thoughts, or remaining angry because you've been wronged, and unable to forgive enough to let go of the righteous indignation, rebuilding will be greatly hindered.

As mentioned previously, if you're going to rebuild, commit yourself to it. You'll have to trust that the unfaithful spouse is working on his end. What you don't want to happen is to get lax in your own efforts so that he heals and you don't. Then the marriage is still in danger and all the work of rebuilding will have been for naught.

Other steps could be added, but these should cover most of the bases on dealing with a cooperative unfaithful spouse so that you give both of you the best chance to succeed in the rebuilding efforts. Next up will be the steps in dealing with an uncooperative unfaithful spouse.

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