Obsessing over a partner's infidelity is a natural response to the trauma of discovery. Most individuals find themselves unable, at times, to stop turning over in their minds the lies,…
“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…)
The revelation of an affair is frequently a shocking experience.
In long-term relationships the fidelity of one’s partner is, more often than not, taken for granted, providing an emotional foundation for the couple. Trust and a sense of security rest on this foundation. Strength is derived from this secure bond. This strength enables each partner to function relatively smoothly in the world, and to be open to new and growthful experiences that life offers.
If either partner has a history of having been at the effect of infidelity, betrayal, deceit or abandonment, either by previous partners or during childhood, things can be more complicated. The sense of security with a partner takes longer to develop, or may only partially develop. For these individuals the revelation of an affair can be their worst nightmare come true. In order to protect themselves they might caution… “if you ever have an affair, it’s over.” In these cases, (more…)
In order to help yourself when you can’t stop thinking about the affair, it is important to understand the different functions obsessing can serve in your healing process.
My first and most important piece of advice is to try to stop beating yourself up for those times when you can’t stop going over the details, questions, lies, or things that just don’t add up, over and over again. (For more about lying click here.) It is important to understand that this is a completely natural and normal response to trauma, something that almost everyone in your situation experiences and that it is also (more…)
You might be surprised at how upset your partner is about your affair. The amount of rage directed at you can be overwhelming. Your spouse’s depression and withdrawal may be highly anxiety provoking. Although you both might want to work it out, you can find yourselves tossed about in a turbulent sea of emotions. You may feel desperate for a way to fix things, (more…)
It can be completely crazy-making to feel like you cannot get at the truth. Something doesn’t feel right between the two of you, he’s not around as much as he used to be, not as interested in you. You suspect he might be seeing someone else. You demand he look you straight in the eye and tell you this isn’t so. He does. Can you be certain you now know?
Not according to (more…)
During the traumatic throes of the discovery of an affair, finding the right label, and therefore, singular explanation may feel like a life preserver.
As you read through books and web sites, you’ve probably noticed that almost everyone who writes about affairs has some way of categorizing them. Here are some common examples:
“intimacy avoiding”, “anger avoiding”, “romantic”, “exit,” “split self” “availability,” “alcoholic,” “retaliation, “revenge,” “sexual,” “culturally enabled,” “emotional,” “sex addiction,” proving you’re still attractive,” “can’t say no,””….
However, in my experience, this is only a good start, rather than the final word. Most affairs do not have a singular motive, or cause, but are multi-determined, frequently one piece in a complex puzzle. Understanding this enables couples to be more interested in the whole picture, and lessens the need for blame/shame dynamics.
Let’s use John as an example. (This story is not representative of any particular client that I have seen. Rather it is a composite based on my experience with hundreds of individuals and couples.)
John’s affair started months after his wedding and continued for years.
John had secretly been (more…)
“Men weren’t really the enemy – – they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill” Betty Friedan, Christian Science Monitor, April 1974
“Mad Men” portrays this “mystique” … women as subordinate and submissive, housewives, maybe secretaries, always standing behind their men, and only able to derive status from their husbands’ positions. The women who dared to deviate from this arrangement paid dearly (as did the women who submitted to it).
It appeared that men had it all… power, control, status, in general..superiority.
But Don Draper (more…)
It might seem like the questions will never stop, or that there are no answers that can satisfy. However, there is a kind of “healing intelligence” behind these questions, and they usually occur in roughly the following sequence. Although there can be more than one motivation for asking a question, a bit of introspection will reveal the core of what you are searching for.
Shock: “How could you do this!?” “How could this have happened!?” “Do you have any idea what you have done to me?” These first questions frequently are the emotional equivalent of shaking your partner by the shoulders as (more…)