Ask Dr. V, Making It Work After an Affair

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: making it work after an affair

Dear Dr. V,

My husband and I have been married for more than fifteen years. We really love each other and have a wonderful relationship and marriage (I can’t believe I’m saying this, given my next sentence): A few weeks ago, he confessed to me that he was having an affair but that the affair is over. He expressed his undying love for me, sincerely apologized and said it would never happen again. Clearly, there are issues within the marriage. While I feel as though I can forgive him, I can’t seem to bring myself to discuss “the issues”– I sort of don’t know what to do. I feel very tangled up in my emotions. For some women, a husband cheating might be a deal breaker, but it just isn’t for me. In discussing and researching my issue, I’m finding it hard to get any other response than, “leave him.” I don’t want to leave him, we don’t want to leave each other and I do feel we can navigate our way through this. I just need a little guidance.

Thank you,

Casey from New York

Dear Casey,

I am in total agreement with you; not all marriages are destined for divorce because of one affair. As you said, the affair is a symptom of a deeper issue within the relationship. I used the word “one” because if a man or woman is consistently cheating within a marriage, that is an entirely different situation and I would address consistent cheating much differently than the situation you describe above. This said, we’re on the same page. Below is some guidance.

The first thing to do when you find out that your partner has been cheating is to allow your emotions to flow out of your body. Holding your feelings in will only make you feel worse and cause a tremendous amount of stress both physically and mentally. Once you have expressed your instant reaction, you can start thinking more slowly and rationally. You will start examining your relationship, wondering where it went wrong and if it was ever as wonderful as you claimed it to be. You will create a chain of questions that have not yet been answered and will start feeling further and further away from getting any of them answered. Everything will be sorted out in time, but first thing is first, and this is getting your emotions sorted out.

Once your emotions have been expressed and sorted out, it is important to remember to not give the affair more power over your life than it deserves, even though at the time, it feels like the end of the world. The fact of the matter is, it is not the end of the world, but has changed your world and the way you look at it, which is understandable. Know that your partner’s affair has nothing to do with his love for you, nor does it make you a failure in relationships. What the affair does tell you though, is that there are essential issues that need to be addressed. It is normal to be angry and unable to calmly discuss this with your partner, so let him know (without getting violent or throwing them out of course). Let him know you are deeply hurt and angry that he chose an affair as a way to deal with the issues in your relationship and you are not ready to talk about it just yet.

When you are ready, where do you start? It will be difficult to focus on the discussion if you are torturing yourself with visual thoughts of the cheating act. Make an effort to be strong and avoid the unnecessary painful thoughts that will in no way make you feel better or get your relationship back on track. You know what goes on when two people are intimate, so save yourself the details and spare yourself the hurt. The focus is to find and establish the reasons for the affair and ways you can move on with your lives together, with a new and improved affair proof relationship. Good communication will be the key to your road to recovery, so be sure to ask the right questions, listen with undivided attention and understanding, as well as answering the questions you are asked and finding suitable solutions on how to prevent the same event in the future.

Anger, as well as other emotions, will arise while you and your partner attempt to make things right and better. You may blow up during discussions because your mind may re-fresh your memory of how your partner had the guts to betray you and how stupid, hurt and disrespected it made you feel. Your partner (the afairee) may also become upset because of your non-stop attacks on him, especially if he confessed and genuinely apologized. Before attempting any conversations regarding the affair, be sure that you and your partner agree to disagree and express anger. You both need to have patience for each other’s feelings, for it will take time to get past the emotional outbursts. If things start getting out of control and you find yourselves no longer talking, but only yelling and blaming instead, end the conversation and give each other some space. You may need to do this several times until you can talk without such interruptions. Take it one step at a time. After all, if you and your partner have made a decision to make things work, then there is no need to rush and panic.

After you and your partner get everything out in the open and understand the roots of the affair, you can then concentrate on re-building the trust and forgiving once and for all. Forgiving your partner does not mean you will forget what happened, but it will mean that you have accepted what transpired and are ready to move forward without bringing the past into your future as a couple. It will be difficult for you to blindly trust your partner again, but you must make an effort, as well as your partner. Your trust will strengthen as time goes by and through the convincing actions of your partner. You cannot put your partner on a leash and monitor him 24 hours a day and you shouldn’t want to. Do not expect things to magically improve, because you will be disappointed. Re-building the trust, passion and strength in your relationship will take a reasonable amount of time and could even require counseling if you feel you cannot make it on your own.

Re-building your self-esteem will help you forgive the affair as well. Being betrayed can do great damage to the way you feel about and look at yourself. You may feel less attractive physically and not worthy enough both mentally and spiritually. Get in touch with yourself and terminate your insecurities by finding ways to replenish the perspective you have on your being. Continue to tell yourself that an affair does not change the wonderful person you are and you are just as beautiful, desirable, intelligent and respectable as ever.

To avoid getting pulled back into the past, set your mind and heart on creating new memories together. Exploring new happiness will help your relationship mend and move on greatly. Go on dates, get romantic and become better friends than before! Make a permanent note in your mind that nobody is perfect but everyone deserve forgiveness for their mistakes. Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and think about the pain and regret they are going through and how much they love you. He knew it was wrong to do before he did it, but probably felt it was his only way to cope with his troubles at the time. If you have been genuinely apologized to and promised that it will never happen again, then open your heart and give him a chance. You obviously love your partner and he loves you, which is why you have decided to forgive and move on. So work as a team and be each other’s strength in putting the past behind you, looking at it as a learning experience in which will assist you in making your love affair-proof from this point on.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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