I don’t know why she can’t get over this. I ended the affair, have been spending much more time at home, doing more around the house, paying more attention to her, being more affectionate. I’ve told her I’m sorry and reassured her over and over that it was a mistake, that I love her and it will never happen again. I’m being so good! I don’t see why she won’t let it go!
I’ve heard these bewildered voices countless times. It can seem incomprehensible that despite one’s best efforts
at becoming a different kind of partner it seems to make little difference. Or you think it maybe is finally starting to make a difference and then things get bad again…you are shut out, find yourself in a shouting match and/or helplessly watching your partner continue to be an emotional wreck.
So let me say right away that if you are doing these things, that’s great! These are changes that usually need to happen if a couple is going to really heal from an affair. But, and this may be hard to hear, it is only a start. It places the two of you in a kind of holding pattern. Things don’t get worse, but they don’t really get better either. This holding pattern has the potential to function as a foundation for the real and deeper healing to occur.
The truth is, an affair can’t be completely healed by only “doing,” no matter how good those doings are.
A well-known marriage counselor, Esther Perel, tells her affair couples, “Your old marriage is dead. You now have a chance to create a new one.” That can be a shocking thing to hear and a hard pill to swallow. The need to regain a sense of security can lead to a mad dash to the past, to when things were “normal.”
The core of healing from an affair lies in a process of deeply connecting, or reconnecting, with each other. In a sense this requires a willingness to stop being so good. I don’t mean to say that one should stop doing the things quoted above. But when doing these things are thought of as “being good,” there can be an implicit expectation of reward. Being good and getting approval and love are deeply ingrained in us from childhood. It is understandable that when one keeps being good and not being rewarded there can be resentment and anger. It doesn’t feel fair. Arguments ensue.
Establishing a deep emotional connection occurs on a different level. It’s not about being good, it’s about being honest and vulnerable. It’s about opening up, telling each other who you really are, and what you really feel. It’s about reconstructing a narrative of your relationship that is more true than the story you have been living. It’s about the “good” AND the “bad” and about giving up the control that you imagine you have by just being good.
When this happens things start to feel real between the two of you. True emotional healing can only happen when things feel real. That’s what’s missing in relying exclusively on the ‘being good” approach. Even though it can be painful at times, once a couple becomes engaged in this process things start to feel very different between them… more spacious, more hopeful, because now it becomes apparent that there is a way. As the process unfolds It begins to feel like different state of being and of discovering each other anew.
In my work with affair couples I find that it is frequently anxiety-provoking to think about opening up in this way. I am there to help make it safe enough to do so. This can happen in many ways. We might discuss agreements that make things feel safer. We might talk about the anxieties that arise around the idea of being vulnerable with each other. I am there so that each of you have support understanding and expressing what is true for you and your partner’s reactions to what you share. Clients have remarked that my being present in this way feels like a weight is lifted, allowing the dialog, and so the healing, to progress.