What do you do when you find out your spouse has been having an affair? Shock, anger, confusion, sadness and all sorts of emotions start to flood in. Infidelity can be painful and toxic, but it also can open the door to a more fulfilling and satisfying marriage. Affairs do not occur in a vacuum. By this I mean that there are underlying issues – both individually and within the marriage itself – that fuel the cheating. Therapy is a beneficial process that helps couples examine the causes of their behavior and ways in which they can start to heal from such a breach of trust.
Sometimes, the cheating partner thinks that admitting to the affair and expressing remorse are enough to “move forward.” He or she wonders, “What else do I have to do? I keep saying I’m sorry.” Recognition and remorse are necessary, but they are just the beginning. We can’t fast forward to repair and recovery until we also discover the communication styles and personal patterns that have stood in the way of effectively resolving relationship problems.
There is great value in exploring our role in the marital problems that most likely existed before the infidelity even occurred. For example:
· How am I present in my marriage? Many times, couples think that by watching TV together, they are connecting. Sitting on the couch for hours at a time isn’t the same as offering support, building intimacy or breathing vitality into a marriage through shared goals and activities.
· How am I absent from my marriage? Often, couples focus so much on their careers that they can become roommates. Ask yourself, “Do I show up for my marriage with the same regularity with which I show up for work? Do I give the same or more attention to details and areas of concern, or do I take my marriage for granted?” Parenting is another way we drift away from our spouses even if we don’t mean to lose that bond. Child-rearing can be stressful and time consuming. In an effort to be the best parents we can be, it’s easy to forget that children need to see (and will feel more secure if) their parents are true, loving partners who value the marital relationship. It’s important to set aside time to still be a couple instead of just “mom” and “dad” by planning things like date nights.
· What isn’t being talked about? The word “conflict’ has a negative connotation, but it is neither good nor bad. The way we address -- or avoid – issues is where things become problematic. There’s an old adage in therapy that what isn’t talked about, gets acted out. Interestingly, some people use infidelity as a way of ending a relationship. So called “affair exiters” are unable to effectively verbalize what they want, so cheating serves a hidden agenda.
· Am I replaying old emotional wounds that have never been addressed? The relationships we’ve had, determine how we “do” relationships. If we grew up witnessing a loveless marriage, abuse or felt emotionally unsafe in any way these issues may be showing themselves in our marriage. We all act in ways that are familiar and can unintentionally re-create patterns because that’s what we know. We may avoid intimacy because we’ve learned that being close to others is a painful experience.
· What needs to change? Perhaps there are power struggles, extended family issues, depression or addiction playing a part in this unhealthy dynamic.
· What am I willing to do to bring about positive changes? Relationships need time and attention. Ironically, we keep track of maintenance issues with our homes or cars, but can take our relationships for granted. Are you willing to devote the necessary time to safeguarding your marriage?
There are many different types of affairs and reasons for them. It has been said that sex is the boxing ring of marital relationships. Instead of hurting ourselves and our spouses, counseling can provide an opportunity to rebuild trust, heal and develop communication skills which produce more fulfilling ways of getting our needs met.
Editor's Note: Lisa Lauer is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Lisa practices with the Banyan Group and can be reached by calling 561-967-2566. Lisa's StayMarriedFlorida.com profile can be viewed by clicking here.