When one, or both partners in a relationship have an affair, it can be devastating for all involved. Healing from can be possible, if both partners are willing to do the work.
Dealing with the obsession of the faithful spouse
Once an affair has been uncovered, the faithful spouse will begin to obsess about the affair. Dealing with these obsessive thoughts is a vital first step in repair. Usually the spouse who has been betrayed will go through a phase of wanting to know details of the affair, and often minute details. They want to understand what happened, to make sense of why. This sort of questioning has to be endured up to a point. However excessive obsessing prevents moving to the next phase of working out what to do next. Rarely does obsessing have a therapeutic outcome and often does not provide the answers to whatever the underlying issues may be.
Managing the Fallout
Although it may be difficult to believe if you are the partner who has been faithful, both partners have contributed to an affair occurring. Defining the problems in the relationship, creates a shared definition of the relational problems and a better understanding of how the couple allowed room for a third person. This is when a couple have a contract for therapy.
Different Types of Problems in Relationships
Couples who habitually avoid conflict will usually start with divorce talk, even if they really want to rebuild. This is a defence as a way of protecting against the impact of the betrayal. Often other options cannot be seen as the conflict avoider is not prepared to be vulnerable at this time. Only by building a firm foundation can the possibility of rebuilding be entertained by the conflict avoider. Keeping the options open in this early phase will enable the couple to make a clearer decision once they have had the opportunity to see if they are able to develop skills necessary to build a healthy relationship. Conflict avoiding couples are usually serious and careful and so they need to learn to be able to play and must choose to be honest.
Couples who avoid intimacy are likely to be emotionally dishonest and not to communicate openly, often using anger as a defence. The development of open, honest communication is essential as this provides the ground for trust. Nurturing, caring and kindness are essential to enable vulnerability and a healthy relationship. When fear of being vulnerable exists the qualities of nurturing, caring and kindness are compromised by suspicion and doubt of being able to show up in vulnerability. Intimacy avoiders may well not know how to undertake an intimate courtship, and this will need to be learnt and implemented into the relationship, to be continued throughout the relationship.
Couples where one partner requires a much higher level of sexual activity often face problems around infidelity. The sexually compulsive partner is very likely to have been exposed to emotional abuse as children and will have discovered that sex gives them temporary escape from emptiness and loneliness. The problem increases in the increased desire to experience the escape from inner emptiness. Treatment requires both partners understanding and acknowledging the problem so that other means can be learned to getting these needs met. Making amends to the people who have been hurt is also an important part of the repair.
Split Self Affairs
Split self affairs often last for many years and can prolong marriages as the split partner is getting their emotional needs met with the affair and their fantasy needs for a “good” family life met with the partner at home providing the image of a good marriage. In order for a couple to recover from this type of affair, a great amount of work is required and so these types of affair are usually the most difficult to repair as the split is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the relationship. Both partners in this relationship will need to explore their own personal issues and only then can work begin on the partner relationship.
Exit affairs are designed to end relationships and attempts to repair these will fail, as a decision has already been made by the partner having the affair.
Every adult will have experienced betrayal of some sort. How they deal with that will influence their ability to deal with obsession and other issues related to an affair. Once obsession is not consuming the faithful partner, the exploration of the core issues underlying the problems in the relationship can begin. Once obsession decreases more energy will be available to rebuild trust and discover there are other options apart from ending the relationship. Therapy enables exploration to discover what problems underlie the affair and once identified, work can begin to build a healthier relationship or to decide separation is the best option. If separation is opted for, before re-partnering, individual therapy to explore personal issues will enable each person to seek a partner based more on want than need.
Main sources of information taken from Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment
by Emily Brown, and After the Affair Janis A Spring.
If you would like more information about what to do after the discovery/disclosure of an affair please contact Fiona Owen (0409995411).