Before we start…
As discussed in my previous blog about affairs, yes there is always hope, however there are factors that make it more or less difficult to recover. For example;
- How personal was the affair (a friend/relative, the parent of a kid at school, or having sex with the 3rd party in the conjugal bed)
- What one did beyond the affair (ridiculed their spouse, called them names, shared photos of them to make fun of etc.)
- How long the affair went on for
- What needs were unmet between the spouses (no sex? poor support? lack of emotional intimacy?)
- How remorseful the person having the affair might be
- How strong the relationship was to begin with
- Whether the couple seeks support to repair
There are three main steps in affair recovery (though again it’s not an exact science and depends on the factors above). Let’s explore them in more depth.
1- Seeking true forgiveness (not just a “sorry, but now can you move on already?”)
At times, in my office, it’s not hard to discern the people who are genuinely sorry VS the ones who are only sorry they got caught. The ones who start their session with ‘that’s all she talks about’ are failing to understand the level of trauma their spouse is going through. However, how do we truly show remorse and more to the point, how do you validate your spouse’s feelings, insecurities, and at times irrational obsessive thoughts?
Trauma of any kind will leave scars. In a relationship that is supposed to be strong, this trauma can completely bulldoze one’s life as they know it and part of being sorry is to take the time to nurture the person who needs it the most. Don’t be too quick to expect your partner to forgive and forget. The reality is they most likely will never forget, but having said that, perhaps we shouldn’t want them to.
Some easy ways to show true remorse;
- Be patient
- Listen to his or her needs/fears/questions
- Tell them that you value/love them and that you will do what it takes to protect your relationship (and accept they may be a little cynical for a while)
- Watch your tone and body language. Any signs that you’re angry/frustrated/defensive will lead him or her to shut down
- Be ten steps ahead. If you know something will trigger your partner (ie a specific date or event), tell them you know it must be hard for them, that your couple will continue to be strong, that you are sorry, and anything that shows your partner you aren’t brushing their pain off.
- Be accountable (none of this ‘yes, I cheated but…’)
- Sit with the uncomfortable feelings, holding the space for each other
- Answer your partner’s questions (and no, that does not mean graphic details)
- Discuss the signs, steps, or needs that were present at the time so your partner feels a sense of safety of recognising risks
- Be fully transparent with your dealings (from access to devices to late night meetings)
- Be patient if your partner struggles with physical intimacy
2- Learning or revisiting foundation skills
- Be willing to discover, discuss, and address the need that was unmet in the relationship (sex, emotional connection, lack of shared responsibilities etc)
- Be kind and patient when your partner
- Love languages (find out what yours are and how you can meet your partner’s)
- Communication skills in general and through arguments
- Learn strategies to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner
- Take time out (aka ‘me time’)
- Develop common goals/hobbies/activities
- Ensure you have time as a couple (without kids or friends tagging along)
- Redefine agreed boundaries
- Recreate happy memories and laugh together when you can
- Be willing to understand your partner’s inner world
3- Connecting on a much higher level. That is where the couple is stronger than ever, having learnt from the experience and survived it.
- Time- The more time a couple has to show commitment and trust, the more they recover from the betrayal
- Re-discover each other physically (hand holding, cuddles, kisses)
- Open up about your sexual likes and dislikes (with no pressure to have sex)
- Ask curious questions about what makes your partner tick physically
- Make the topic of sex a non-threatening one (before you even try to be sexually intimate)
- Progressively become physically romantic with starting small and gradually, as you feel more comfortable,
- Practice thought diffusion and other techniques to manage obsessive thoughts (common with ptsd)
- Make your relationship a priority
- Show compassion if your partner is triggered, knowing that actions speak louder than words. Only once you have showed your commitment and love to them, they will believe your words
From the expert in rethinking infidelity
How does Couple Counselling help?
A lot has to be processed to heal from an affair, from renegotiating boundaries to learning to solve conflicts, and from practicing love languages to connecting sexually. It generally leads to difficult and emotionally charged conversations and having a professional guiding you through it is often very helpful.
As a couple therapist and sexologist, I would work both on emotional and sexual repair work, areas that need support after a betrayal. I wrote more on how to prepare for a therapy appointment here as well as a bit of background on affairs and why people may have them here.
Whether you decide to meet with me or you don’t, make sure to self care. Affairs do mean that your current relationship is over, but it also mean that you are able, if willing, to create a happy, healthy second one with your spouse.