Friday, October 31, 2014

Key to Rebuilding: Love

The driving force behind most marital relationships is love. It is the most often stated reason given why two people commit themselves to one another in marriage.

It shouldn't be too surprising, then, to realize it is also the driving force of a successful rebuilding of a marriage after infidelity. The inability to love one another and communicate that to one another may be the single determining factor of whether a couple successfully rebuilds.

Let's back up a minute and unpack that concept.

We know there are several things that need to happen for rebuilding to be successful. On the unfaithful spouse's side, they need to be transparent, maintaining no contact with the affair partner(s), working to correct their vulnerabilities to temptations that led them down this path, and their part in any marital difficulties that increased those vulnerabilities. For the hurt spouse, they must successfully deal with the emotions and fear created by the betrayal, and work though the stages of grief to reach acceptance.

So why is love a key?

We make decisions based primarily on emotion. Yes, reason is not absent in the process. When it comes down to a battle between emotion and reason, however, emotion wins out 99% of the time. No, humans are not Vulcans.

This is why affairs happen in the first place. In most all affairs, the love of a particular feeling drives them to ignore all reason not to do it. The consequences of losing their marriage, lives with their children, job, the respect of others, hurting those they say they love, doesn't even factor into the decision.

Often that love for a feeling an unfaithful spouse has is transfered to the one who is giving them that feeling. So they believe they love their affair partner, when the truth is they love how their affair partner makes them feel.

Doing the things mentioned above that a couple has to do in order to rebuild is not fun work. It is usually a struggle for both spouses to accomplish those tasks. If you don't feel passionate love for your spouse, you will have little motivation to do the things you need to do to rebuild. You'll ask yourself, "What am I rebuilding to? Is it worth it?" Without the love, the answer is usually no.

With a strong sense of love for each other communicated and felt, however, you'll have motivation to face the hard task of rebuilding. You'll feel the struggle is worth it and both spouses will find the motivation to not only rebuild, but to invest 100% of themselves into the relationship.

Love is a key because without it, a couple is unlikely to deal with, do, and to move beyond the devastation of the affair.

Unfortunately, this is often overlooked for several reasons.

1. Obviously the presence of the affair is a big hit to the love balance.

Willard Hartley in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, discusses the idea of the love bank. In short, feelings of love for another person come from them meeting important needs that say "I love you" to a person. When that happens, it makes a deposit into your love bank. Likewise, actions or words that say "I don't love you" make withdraws. Feelings of love for someone comes when their deposits exceed withdrawals and the balance builds up to a point causing you to think, "I love him."

An affair is most certainly a huge withdrawal in a hurt spouses love balance. No matter the reasons for the affair or intentions of the unfaithful spouse, such an act says to the hurt spouse, "I don't love you." No spouse in their right mind is going to feel warm fuzzy love when they learn their spouse has had an affair.

Some couples have a huge balance, and the hit, while large, doesn't reduce the balance to zero. Other couples where the love has waned over the years might see their balance go to near zero. Others with a low balance, the affair may send the it into the negative, and they may feel no love whatsoever.

Fact is, after discovering an affair, the hurt spouse certainly won't be feeling much love from or for the unfaithful spouse. Likewise, even if an unfaithful spouse doesn't want to lose their marriage, they often can't flip a switch about how they feel concerning the affair partner.

2. The hurt spouse starts in the emotional ICU, and all marital issues tend to take a back seat.

In the first weeks of discovering an affair, the hurt spouse will be in emotional trauma. All thoughts, resources, and activities are consumed with the fallout of what has happened. The issues surrounding the affair tend to take front and center stage to the exclusion of all else, including what may seem as unrelated marital issues, like love.

I've heard hurt spouses say something along the lines of, "Until the affair issues have been addressed, I won't work on the marriage."

There is a reason for that. As long as their is doubt about the future of the relationship, a person isn't likely to invest in it. Asking a hurt spouse to address love at this point is akin to telling them, "Go ahead. Stick your hand back in the fire. I promise it won't hurt this time."

While a hurt spouse will need some time to recover from the shock and initial fallout upon discovering an affair, it is also true they cannot wait for all the issues surrounding an affair to be dealt with before they address the lack of love resulting from the affair. It will take years to fully deal with the affair issues. If the hurt spouse waits that long, it is not likely they'll have a marriage to save by that point. To go through years of rebuilding requires a sense of love to motivate that rebuilding.

3. The myth that love is an uncontrollable feeling.

Romance novels foster the idea that love just randomly happens, and we don't have a say in whether it shows up to the party or not. It is either present or it isn't, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Indeed, this idea is often the fuel for the fire of an affair. When "chemistry" kicks in between two people, they feel a draw to each other that seems to come from nowhere. An unfaithful spouse, looking for a justification for what they want, will often take such feelings of love as evidence they don't love their spouse any longer, because they may not have felt like they do with the affair partner for a long time. So obviously the winds of love have picked a new "life-long" partner.

Because of that, either spouse or both may dismiss the idea that they can somehow generate feelings of love for their spouse. It sounds silly to them, like suggesting we could adjust Earth's orbit around the Sun.

As I talk about in my article on love, however, the passionate, romantic feelings of love are based upon someone meeting your love needs, whatever those might be. They are usually different for men and women. In a new romantic relationship, the "chemistry" seems to just happen when two people simultaneously meet each other's love needs. The synergy created when two people stumble upon this event with another creates the illusion of "falling in love" as if Cupid shot his arrows randomly.

Truth is, the same thing can be created purposefully by intentionally meeting each other's love needs. First you have to find out what they are, then invest time with each other in order to meet them. As deposits into the love bank exceed withdrawals, the balance will grow to the point you both feel in love.

Likewise, for the unfaithful spouse, "falling" out of love with the affair partner happens intentionally by reversing that process. Actively shut down thoughts about them. Don't spend time with them in your head recalling what you miss or fantasizing about seeing them again. Triggers happen and thoughts will pop in, but you don't have to think on them or focus on them. By not spending time in person or in your head, the love balance with the affair partner will be whittled away, especially once you begin to see the damage their relationship with you has caused.

More info than I can share here is in Willard Hartley's book, His Needs, Her Needs. You can also find a more involved discussion in my article on love.

In the end, how well a couple is able to renew the feelings of love for one another after an affair will determine the likelihood of their success in rebuilding. A couple who wants to rebuild their marriage cannot afford to overlook this important factor. It can make or break the relationship.

Where is your love balance at? Are you willing to address its lack?

No comments:

Post a Comment