By “getting over” I don’t mean forgetting about it, or somehow making it okay. But I am writing to you if you find yourself consumed by pain and anger and obsessive thoughts that feel unrelenting over a long period of time, and if you don’t have a sense that these experiences are part of a healing process. I am writing to you if you feel that your marriage is somehow still worth saving even though an affair has occurred and even though you feel so stuck and can’t imagine eventually being able to heal.
For the vast majority of individuals who discover their partner has had an affair, the reaction has many features similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; in particular, shock, and perhaps a sense that life as you have known it, as well as who you understood yourself and your partner to be have been shattered. The intensity of pain and rage can feel unbearable. Your whole body/mind system is compromised and you might find it hard to sleep and eat adequately. Your ability to work, parent and fulfill other important obligations can become impaired. You can swing between insisting on a divorce and desperately clinging to your partner. You are triggered easily by the slightest reminder of what has happened. You can’t stop thinking about it. For more on this you might want to read, “I Just Found Out My Partner is Having an Affair!”
It may be hard to believe, but healing is frequently possible. After a number of months you will notice that the intensity and duration of the experiences I described are decreasing. Along with this “emotional smoothing out,” you start to feel a bit of hope. Here and there you start to feel more affection for your partner, more understanding and the seeds of returning trust. You notice you can laugh again. This is not accompanied by a feeling of resignation, but rather a sense that something important is happening between the two of you, a kind of emotional intimacy that feels new. You may also want to read “Why Being Good Won’t Heal Your Affair.”
If you have a sense that healing isn’t happening it could be because of one, or a combination of things that you or your spouse are experiencing or doing that is getting in the way. Here are some questions that may help you to get clearer on where the problem lies.
- Do you feel that he or she hasn’t really accepted full responsibility for the affair (i.e., “it just happened,” “she pursued me, etc.)
- Do you try to talk about your feelings but get met with defensiveness or anger? Has this made you give up? (“Things are going well, why do you have to bring this up again?”, “Why are you focusing on the past?” “Well, there are things that you have done that I’m upset about as well.”)
- Do you have the sense that your partner is not truly remorseful? When he apologizes do you feel that there is an emotional connection between the two of you? Have you only gotten sort of an apology? (“I regret what I did,” “I’m sorry you are so hurt.”)
- Do you feel afraid to ask for reassurance that you are truly loved and the most important person in the world to your partner? And that it won’t happen again? Are you afraid you have asked too many times or that you won’t get the answer you need, or that you will make your partner angry?
- When you attempt to get your partner to help you understand what has happened, do things keep not adding up? Does your partner get defensive or evasive when you try to pursue the issue?
- Does your partner continue to not keep agreements and not show up when they are supposed to, thus preventing you from reestablishing trust?
- Do you have the sense that your partner believes that you should have already gotten over it?
- Does your partner continue to insist on maintaining some form of contact with the affair partner?
- Do you not feel completely clear that the affair is completely over?
- Are you afraid to let your partner off the hook? Are you feeling that if you do, you will lose a kind of control that will allow the same thing to happen again?
- Have unresolved issues from childhood been triggered by the affair? For example, did one or both of your own parents have an affair or affairs? Were you abandoned, either physically or emotionally by one or both parents growing up? Did your parents divorce while you were a child? Did you feel like the less favored child? Were either or both parents untrustworthy? Did you feel locked out of relationships that siblings had with each other? Sometimes the issues are more subtle. If childhood issues have emotionally erupted as a result of discovering the affair, then the roots of your distress are deep and require attention in and of themselves. And this is true for your partner as well. He or she may be unable to be present emotionally with you during this difficult time because of unresolved issues from his or her own past. It appears that all of your suffering is because of what your partner has done, but the reality can be that you have been overcome by an age old emotional watershed that intensifies everything enormously. It may be hard to identify this and you can be left going around in circles with your partner, expecting that somehow they can do something that they really can’t, because you may not be addressing the deepest aspect of your emotional injuries.
If this sounds complicated, it can be. Marriage Counseling and Psychotherapy can help to identify and work through the emotional blocks to complete healing for you and your spouse.