By Stacey Rose, PhD, LCSW
“If he ever cheated, I’d file for divorce in a heartbeat.” Susan said to her friend Jamie over lunch. She went on to say, “I just couldn’t live with him knowing that he’d been with another woman.” What Susan didn’t know was that Jamie recently discovered her husband of fourteen years had been having an affair. But Jamie wasn’t leaving and had no intention of doing so. Instead, Jamie and her husband, Scott, were working on their marriage. They were investing their time and energy on repairing the wounds from the affair and reinventing their marriage. They even had plans to renew their vows. Jamie wasn’t so sure she could share this with Susan. She feared Susan would judge her and try to influence her to leave. Jamie was so committed to making this marriage work, even as hurt and betrayed as she felt, that she didn’t want anyone to sway her thinking.
One year later, Jamie was able to share this experience with Susan. She told her this; “Susan, I hate the fact that my husband cheated on me but I am also grateful that he did too. If he hadn’t had the affair, we would have have grown as close and appreciative of who we are today. Believe it or not, our marriage is better now than it ever was!”
This experience is more common than people may realize. Couples don’t have to go directly to divorce court just because there has been an affair. The affair is a symptom of other problems in the marriage. Although it is a problem in and of itself, it is critical that couples understand the issues in the marriage that allowed the affair to happen. The affair itself does not determine whether or not a couple will survive together. Instead, it is how they handle the affair and their emotions that will determine their marital prognosis.
Some betrayed spouses find themselves stuck in their obsessive thoughts. These may include thoughts about the third party and the details of the affair. None of these details are helpful in healing from the affair. It is critical for both the betrayed spouse and the betrayer to remember the affair is not and was not about the third party. It is about a marriage that was lacking in one of these areas (or a combination of some or all of them): connection, love, appreciation, sex, intimacy, empathy, understanding, respect and friendship. The challenge in recovering from the affair is to stay focused on what the real issues are and to repair those accordingly.
Here are some questions to ask your partner and yourself if you are wondering how to get back from betrayal:
- Is the betraying spouse willing to end the affair?
- Are you both willing to try to work on repairing the marriage? (Before you answer this, consider the history you have together and especially if there are children, you owe it to them to try to make it work!)
- Is the betrayed spouse willing to take responsibility for his or her role in the marital breakdown? (This does not mean s/he is responsible for the betraying mate’s affair but instead responsible for his/her role in the marriage that led to the affair. Two people create a marriage and the quality for the marriage is up to both partners. Each is responsible for his/her behavior and choices but the marriage is the responsibility of both people.)
- If any addiction is involved, is that person willing to get treatment for it?
- Why did the affair happen? Both people need to know the answer to this.
Once you can both begin to answer these questions, you have more information on where you stand in the relationship. Willingness is a key factor to recovery. One has to be willing to work on the relationship in order for healing to occur. Another key factor to recovery is commitment.
I recommend to the couples I counsel to commit to each other and the process of healing for at least six months. (One year is ideal.) After that time, you can each re-evaluate how you feel about each other and the marriage. Do not make any decisions about leaving or staying when you first discover the affair. Emotional decisions are often wrong decisions.
Affairs signify an end. They are the end of the marriage as you knew it. Maybe, that is a good thing! Affairs don’t have to be the end of your marriage. Let it instead be the beginning of a closer, more loving and appreciative couple who know the depths of pain and work hard together to heal. Start all over. Start dating again. Do the things you did when you first met. You and your spouse will feel better and your kids will see ‘new’ parents. Each day you practice these steps, you will find yourself getting closer to forgiveness.
Good-bye to the old marriage. Keep what worked and leave the rest behind. Start new rituals and traditions and be a ‘new’ couple. Let the affair be a learning and teaching experience, not the end of what was probably a pretty good marriage that just needed some fine tuning.