Affairs can create a very real trauma in the mind of the person who has discovered the affair – so how can they ever trust again?
It’s a trauma because it’s so shocking for the brain.
In a single moment, the person’s future will disappear and the past will now have to be rewritten which is exhausting and with no clear answers.
This is jarring for the brain and is going to impact what their mind is going to do next.
Their initial responces are usually a reflex so they won’t have control over them.
They can end up very confused because one part of their brain is reacting to the dramatic loss of trust and the other part is still in love, but was that love true?
After the anger comes the questions: Was sex better? Did you sleep in our bed? How many times did you have sex? Did you ever think of me? I want all the receipts, all the bank statements, phone bills, your phone…
Why did you do it? Why?
In many cases, the answer will be I don’t know, or it meant nothing which is going to further ignite the situation.
What are the questions for?
Everything now is in question and the question will start and for many couples, they won’t stop and in some cases the same questions will repeat and so do the same answers with no solution in sight.
This can stress both people for different reasons.
The need for answers is obvious, but without help can put the relationship into crisis again.
I remember one lady who was asking constant questions, she usually started at bedtime.
In her session with me I asked her what she was trying to achieve?
“The truth” she replied.
I said, “You know that his version of the truth and yours even if you were experiencing the same event would always be different so we need to be clear about the truths you are after.”
“You need clarity as the rest of your life is at stake, but I can’t imagine there is anything he could say that would make any of this okay in your mind?”
“Is there anything he could say or do? Can you design the words or actions he could use that would help you right now?”
“No!” she replied.
“So what are the questions for?” I asked.
Knowing the answer to this question can redirect the couple to a different way to approach all the concerns.
Is it the end of the road?
In some cases, the affair is the end of the road, but what if the couple wants to see if they can continue their marriage how do they battle these emotions.
Every situation requires a very different strategy because there can be complexities.
- Someone may be the victim of an affair and is not sure if they want the relationship back or not.
- What if the couple wants to rebuild their relationship and the person that had the affair feels the affair was justified?
- What if the affair has ended with a child?
- What if the person won’t leave the affair partner until they are convinced the marriage will or won’t work.
- What if the affair partner works at the same place?
- The person who had the affair may not know if they want the marriage back or not or confused about why they did it and what does it all mean?
The list could go on of course and I’ve pretty much seen it all.
Rebuilding trust after an affair
Today I’m only looking at affair couples who in essence love each other but are lost, struggling to reconnect, and need activities to rebuild trust in a relationship.
The focus needs to be on 4 areas each area contain work the couple must complete if they are going to succeed.
- Infidelity trauma – the impact of discovering the affair
- FOCUS ON NOW! – Proving one day at a time the relationship matters
- How we got to the point an affair was a good idea for you
- How we affair-proof the future so the fear of another affair is no longer the focus
1. Infidelity trauma – the impact of discovering the affair
The biggest challenge in helping couples through rebuilding the relationship after an affair is the trauma the person is going to naturally experience as described above.
It’s imperative that the traumatized person who is left with the emotional rollercoaster is cared for, understood, and supported by their partner – lots of honesty and patience are required as this is a process, not a switch.
The reason this part is so important is that it’s highly likely the affair was due to a relationship problem that has not been dealt with.
The affair and its trauma can take over the whole process so making the trauma important helps the person suffering feel their suffering matters.
Many people see the solution to an affair is about the victim no longer complaining – this has potentially dangerous consequences down the road because resentment can build and this leads to detachment and then separation.
The solution to an affair is about two people understanding that rebuilding the relationship correctly is where the real solution sits.
The relationship must be rebuilt in a way that corrects that historic problem but…
The problem they face will be this, any person who is protecting themselves from a spouse they feel they cannot trust will never successfully rebuild the marriage.
So unless the trust can be rebuilt they cannot rebuild their marriage, many couples end up stuck due to this part, if the self-protection stays so does the problem.
They can stay in the marriage, but they will always be on guard for the next problem or the next infidelity.
Relationship building is also about accepting vulnerability and this is the last place an emotionally traumatized person wants to go.
So helping the person out of the trauma and putting them back in the driving seat is a critical step to rebuilding trust.
So this step is about caring for and respecting the trauma so we can start rebuilding the relationship.
2. FOCUS ON NOW! – Proving one day at a time the relationship matters
I know many people especially the person who had the affair are looking for an infidelity recovery timeline they know they love their partner they just want the upset to stop.
How long do I have to pay for my mistake?
Every couple is different and so the key is to take the pressure off looking for a date that says we are fixed because some days will be good and some not good at all and that’s normal.
What we are really looking for is the gap between the upsets to become wider apart.
IMPORTANT!!!! – This DOES NOT mean the upsets are wider apart because the victim of the affair is NOW suppressing their feelings.
The job is NOT to shut them up!
The upsets are wider apart because they are starting to feel in control of themselves and the relationship’s direction – in essence, the feeling is of clarity and ability to influence and grow the marriage.
In the early stages of affair discovery, the affair is all-consuming. It’s all the person who discovered the affair can think about and it leads them to their worst fears.
- Will it happen again?
- How do I trust again after this?
- My partner wants to move on from the affair but I can’t.
- Everything reminds me of their affair
- Was I not enough and if that’s true why would I be enough now?
The person who had the affair could feel:-
- Will, I ever be trusted again if I go back
- My partner keeps going over and over what happened they won’t let it go.
- Why did I do something so stupid what’s wrong with me and what does the affair mean?
In fact, many couples, in the end, can see the affair actually woke the relationship up to the problems that were making them unhappy before the affair started and this understanding ironically saved their marriage.
Focus only on now and looking after the relationship one day at a time.
Here we are looking for care, kindness, and clear proof that each day can end in more security and more love and connection.
3. How we got to the point an affair was a good idea for you.
How did we get here?
I’m not a huge fan of sitting in the past and looking at all the couples’ problems, but in this case, having an understanding of why someone would choose an affair and as soon as they are found out they instantly want the marriage back.
It’s confusing, potentially on both sides.
One gentleman told me when his wife discovered his affair it was like waking up holding a hot coal.
To be crystal clear it’s important the victim of the affair is not made responsible for the affair.
The people having their affair are responsible for that decision.
What I’m interested in is the journey the husband and wife took to the point where an affair became a possibility.
What happened? What went wrong? Understanding these problems has the power to shift the relationship.
Understanding the past problems helps them both take responsibility for the relationship and their part in it.
This moment is empowering because it puts both people back in control this time to take new actions to support each other and the marriage.
Rebuilding through real understanding is critical although couples may need help to achieve this.
This part is about both people taking responsibility for their part in the relationship’s history.
It’s important because it’s helps both people take back control once they can see how the problems grew.
Now they can both start guard at the gates of their relationships future.
4. How we affair-proof the future so the fear of another affair is no longer the focus
The next part is to secure the future and it’s almost the most important part.
The reason this is critical is because this part is about using the affair as a wake-up call to acknowledge the problem(s) and work as a team to rebuild the connection this time the right way.
If this step is missing the chances of historic problems repeating themselves is much higher.
Both people must learn how to protect the relationship and each other.
The vicim of an affair is wanting to know are they safe today and will they be safe in the future, as I said earlier that is a process.
In the first parts of today’s post, the couples are starting to understanding the process of rebuilding trust and taking responsibility through understanding the affair and their journey to it.
The next part is about how to grow together and deepen their connection so it’s bulletproof.
How do we know trust is being rebuilt?
Proof that trust is starting to be rebuilt is when the vicim of the affair becomes interested in meeting their spouses needs.
People who don’t trust their partners are only interested in self-protection not contribution.
Side note: If the victim of the affair has a pleasing pattern that should be corrected as they can start pleasing at the cost of themselves and their own integrity and further damage the relationship.
A healthy contribution is a sign of self-connection which is critical for that person to want to stay in the marriage.
Of course, this only happens through really understanding the relationship they are in and each other differently.
The foundation of this work can look at understanding:-
- Their differences as strengths
- Their core values
- Critical needs
- Primary drivers that make a change for that person possible
- How they communicate, listen, and interpret each other.
- How they deal with conflict so they don’t lose security and love.
- How they plan/design their marriage.
The couple must also plan their relationship for success so they can be a team leading the marriage to a place they are both excited about.
This vision of course is different for every couple.
In essence, they are making their connection so deep and so unique that neither person could ever be replaced.
Both people must feel they are enough for each other and they will be loved!
Today I’ve offered a very brief insight into the world of repairing and rebuilding relationships and marriages so the couple can trust themselves to trust each other again despite the affair.
This is AFFAIR week don’t miss tomorrows post…
Tuesday: What counts as cheating?
Wednesday: Why affairs that end in marriage rarely work
Thursday: Why do people have affairs?
Friday: Affair addiction