“We have the same conversations over and over. She gets triggered and tells me about it. She’s in a great deal of pain. I listen and tell her I’m sorry. I am sympathetic. Sometimes she even lets me hold her. But we just keep going through the same events, the same emotions, just as intense, again and again. This feels like hell. Will it never end? Why isn’t she getting over it?”
This is where many couples who are attempting to heal from infidelity find themselves at the beginning of marriage counseling, after trying to heal on their own. They realize, that despite their best efforts, there is little sense of being in a process that feels like it is going anywhere.
There are many ways to think about why couples get stuck. Today I want to focus on one part of it… the quality of presence that the person who has had the affair brings to his or her partner when they are triggered into intense pain and emotional turmoil over what has happened. Healing conversations do take two, and the discoverer of the affair’s work is to develop a willingness and ability, despite being traumatized, to share their experience with their partner in a way that they are most likely to get a response that feels supportive. In a nutshell, the more one attacks, the less likely this is to happen.
But let’s say, for the moment, that the discoverer of the affair is sharing their experience directly, earnestly trying to convey what is happening emotionally when reminded of what has happened… the reminder perhaps triggered by a song, a place, a new email that surfaces…. What can the person who had the affair offer at these times? (more…)