Getting help in the aftermath of an affair

There is no question an affair rocks your world.  It completely turns upside down all that you thought was relevant, and all you thought was real.  This person whom you’ve married is suddenly appraised based on a whole new set of criteria, and there is no doubt that it brings into question whether you really know/knew the person you married.  “Who is this monster that claimed to love me, and yet simultaneously systematically deceived me?”.  How could the person who I have devoted the last 14 years to deliberately lie to me and seek out a relationship with someone else?  My husband and I had discussed infidelity at length, and each voiced our opinions about it.  Our values on the subject were the same – it is wrong, and if you are so upset in your relationship that you are seeking something elsewhere, you need to get help or get out.  In our case, no one was unhappy in the relationship, and an affair still happened – that’s the terrifying thing.  I thought affairs only happened in unhappy marriages….I was wrong.

One of the first things I did, once I realized that I was on my own, was to mobilize my greatest resource – my brain.  I have always been resourceful, and research and knowledge is power and builds my confidence, so I set out to learn everything I could about infidelity, affairs, relationships, and mistresses.  Who was this woman who felt entitled to walk into my marriage and claim my husband as hers?  Who was this man who allowed himself to get wrapped up in her charms?  Where did I fit in all of this, and what did it mean when he said “I never stopped loving you”?

One of the first things I did in the wake of the discovery of his affair was to seek out a marital therapist.  I knew 24 hours after his confession that I wasn’t prepared to throw out our marriage – not without a fight. We have always been close, we have always been in love, and we have always considered ourselves so very lucky to be with one another.   After the childhood I had, I used to confess to him that he was my reward, and that I would go through it all again if it meant I found him in the end.  He felt the same way.  How does a couple like that find themselves in a situation like that?  Therapy was soon going to explain everything and help us to see where our pitfalls were so that we could patch the holes and affair-proof our marriage.

As a formerly trained psychotherapist myself, I’ve spent my share of hours on the other side of the couch in the role of therapist. I know from my experience that men feel outnumbered and ganged up upon when the therapist is a woman.  In this situation especially, when my husband was actually guilty of a marital offence, I imagined his defenses might be high, so I set out to find a male therapist – someone who could show him that he relates, something which would make him feel more comfortable, and apt to want to continue the therapy.  For me, it was important that the man be sensitive and soft spoken.  Within an hour, I’d located a local therapist whose website caught my eye, and later my heart.  I read his description of an affair, and how it feels in the aftermath, and he was RIGHT ON.  He described my feelings perfectly, and I immediately summoned my husband to come and check out his website.  He too felt very much understood in the therapist’s profile of the betrayer and how they are feeling.  That was it – someone who understood BOTH positions and who expressed our feelings with care and compassion.  I made an appointment request that evening through his website, and within a week, we found ourselves in his office.

I think the process was much easier for me in the beginning.  After all, I’d done nothing wrong and therapy was, in my view, a way to make ME feel better in the wake of this devastation. No one was going to point the finger at me, or blame me for what had transpired – I was the innocent party.  It was simply a soothing meeting for me, where I would be understood and validated.  This was not the case for my husband.  He had to sit there across from me and watch me reduced to tears, a weakened version of my original self, desperate for love, and an empty shell – and all because of what HE had done.  He was entirely responsible, and the process of sitting through an hour-long session was tormenting for him.  We would compare notes after our sessions, and he would tell me how hard it was for him, but that he was committed, and was going to see it through – for us.   In those early days, it is safe to say that he was attending our sessions “for my benefit”, and I would wager a guess that he no longer feels that way.  We now attend for US, and both get so much out of our meetings together.  Therapy has been transformative and wonderful.  I wish we’d sought it out sooner because it has pointed out some vulnerabilities in our marriage that are a consequence of the ways in which we communicate, which are an immediate consequence to the ways that we were raised as children in our families of origin.

I think therapy in the wake of an affair is crucial.  You need someone to set the rules of engagement on the battle ground, and assist you in communicating effectively during this horrible time.

An affair causes you to suddenly step into a role for which you are completely unfamiliar.  Both you and your betraying spouse are in unfamiliar waters, and trying to see the viewpoint of the other is hard.  Having someone there to guide you on what to say, how to say it, and how to get what you need from the other is imperative.  In fact, I don’t know how couples going through this do it without this additional support system.  Friends and family are one thing, but they are completely biased (despite their claims that they aren’t), and they will take sides.  They will also allow their own biases to colour their opinions, and what you really need is a blank wall to bounce your thoughts and feelings off of, not one with a soft spot for you – balls don’t bounce well in soft spots 😉

Speaking of friends and family, it is important to know that their reactions will be varied, and you may want to only tell those that are absolutely necessary.  As a betrayed wife, it is tempting to want to shout it from the rooftops and hang him on public for the pig that he is, but resist if you can.  Tell only those who can SUPPORT you and who are FRIENDS OF THE MARRIAGE.  Shirley Glass, in her book “Not Just Friends” defines a friend of the marriage as someone who despite all negative circumstances wishes the best for your union, and supports you both in doing whatever is right to restore your marriage.  If a person says to you: “You can do better than him, he is a bastard”, you are not speaking with someone who is a friend of the marriage, but rather someone who is going to allow their biases to colour their words when you need them to be as neutral as possible.   Friends can have an opinion, but a true friend of the marriage won’t try and sway you in one direction or another – they will just listen and support, knowing that what YOU decide is what is right for YOU, regardless of whether they approve or would do the same.

Go online and seek out a marital therapist in your area who specializes in affair recovery.  Remember though that your therapist will most likely concentrate most of the sessions on the relationship itself, NOT the affair.  The affair, in the grand scheme of things was merely a clue to a larger problem under the surface, and therapy will be focused on digging deep underneath to see what could have been stronger, and what you can learn to make your bond better than it was before.  It can be done, and according to Dr. Judith Hill, receiving marital therapy in the immediate aftermath of an affair is the single best predictor of success.



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