Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The discovery of marital infidelity is a devastating experience. Marital infidelity can be: sexual involvement with another person, secret cybersex, secret Internet relationships, secret and sneaky exchange of emails, instant messaging and phone calls with a "bosom buddy", so-called platonic affairs that are sworn to secrecy where details and problems in your marriage are discussed. Extra-marital infidelity and cheating runs the gamut from passionate sexual affairs to platonic pen-pal affairs done in secrecy that betray your spouse and undermine your marriage. Even though a marriage can often recover, sometimes the damage done is simply too great to overcome. The speed and degree of recovery is usually dictated by the behavior and actions of the adulterous spouse, in essence because they are the one that brought an outsider into the marital union. Often, however, the adulterous spouse has no idea what to do, or how to behave, in order to help rebuild trust in the relationship. Therefore, I have composed this guide to assist the adulterous spouse in helping to rebuild their marriage.
If you are the cheating party, you'll need to print this list out and put it in your pocket. If you are the victim of a cheater, you might want to tape this list to the refrigerator, as a reference for your spouse.
Read this whole thing. Don't skim, flip, or scan. Don't tell yourself you're going to read it later. Read it now; you owe your spouse that much. This guide has been written by people who have been through this before, either as victim or perpetrator, and the advice here is sound, carefully thought-out, and anecdotal. If you are really interested in regaining your spouse's trust, the very least you owe them is the time to fully understand what they need. If you cannot take the twenty minutes or so to read this, you are probably not prepared as a person to make this or any relationship work.
Stop lying. If the victim spouse presents evidence of the affair, own up to it. You need to understand that the worse thing that could happen has already occurred…you were dishonest and unfaithful. Therefore, continuing to lie, twist, or deny is simply adding insult to injury. If you are looking your spouse in the eye and claiming to want the marriage to work then you cannot continue to lie about various odds and ends. You have been lying to your spouse for the entire duration of the affair, therefore, if you continue to lie now, it sets the reconciliation process waaaay back. The victim spouse likely knows the answers to the questions they are asking, or can usually find out, so if you are interested in rebuilding trust in the relationship, simply STOP LYING. If your spouse discovers later - either on purpose or on accident - that you have lied about or left out salient details, they will likely never trust you again. Your only hope of regaining their trust is to give them the truth wholesale, and thus demonstrate your commitment to being honest with them, even about things that might hurt them.
Be around. While emotional availability in the days and even weeks following the discovery of your affair is of the upmost importance, keep in mind that you can only be emotionally available when you're around. Understand that, left alone, your spouse's thoughts will begin to eat away at them - they will have questions you are not there to answer, torment themselves with images you cannot dispel, and invent suspicions your absence will only worsen. Paranoia is natural during this time; in fact, it can hardly be called paranoia, as they are right to mistrust you - you have betrayed them deeply. Being around to answer their questions and soothe their thoughts will keep them from building up and causing future explosions down the road. If it is possible, this may be a good time to take some time away from your normal "alone" activities to spend with your spouse. If you can't be with them physically, keep your phone on whenever possible to answer their calls, and allow them as much access to you as they need. Depending on your spouse's temperament, you may need to respect their desire for time alone, but you need to keep yourself available to them.
Do not get defensive or assign blame. This is not the time to employ the old adage of “the best defense is a good offense.” This is the time to be contrite, remorseful, empathetic, compassionate, honest, and emotionally available. Do not say anything which will give the impression that the victim spouse drove you to cheat, or in any way contributed to your behavior. There will be plenty of time to pass the blame around later on during counseling sessions, or during times of productive conversation with your mate. Additionally, do not waste time blaming the affair on anyone or anything else. Do not point the finger toward temptation, being under the influence, or falling prey to a stalker. The victim spouse will see right through these excuses and will view this as another attempt to keep them in the dark while you continue playing them for a fool. The best way to effectively deal with your spouse's anger, and start the process of rebuilding trust, is to take complete and full ownership of your selfishness, immaturity, or basic destructive marital behavior. Remind yourself that it is quite possible that the victim spouse was enduring similar feelings of unhappiness or frustration, but made a conscious decision not to betray you.
Treat your spouse as if they were the very center of your world. While you should do this anyway, it is of monumental importance that focus on this immediately following discovery of the affair. This is a critical time in the recovery of your relationship; dedicate yourself to it. Being cheated on will make your spouse feel rejected, unimportant, and decidedly less than "special." Regardless of your reasons or given situation, your spouse will be under the rightful impression that you have chosen someone over them, which is a difficult thing for them to face after years of thinking they were the most important person in your life. Giving your spouse your full attention during this time will help them to regain the feelings of importance in your life, and will go a long way towards convincing them that you are unlikely to choose somebody over them again.
Cut any and all possible ties with the other man/woman. Keeping a person in your life with whom you have had an affair is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. Not only is this a confusing message to the other person, it is extremely disrespectful to your spouse. It does not matter if you have known this other man/woman since kindergarten, it is time to break those ties. Once you have allowed another individual to permeate or undermine your marital union, there is no place for this person in your life. You simply cannot expect your victim spouse to move past the affair as long as you continue communicating with, seeing, or having any type of relationship with this other man/woman. It is in fact an insult to the intelligence of your current spouse for you to purport that you can maintain a professional, platonic, or otherwise innocent relationship with this destructive individual. Furthermore, because this person had an affair with a married man/woman, your current spouse knows they have absolutely no respect for your marriage. Continuing to work with, hang out with, email or chat with this person is probably the single worse possible thing to do if you are wanting to repair your marriage. This is the time to figure out which relationship is the most important to you, either your marriage or the relationship with the other man/woman, and behave accordingly. You simply cannot drive in two lanes at once.
Your life must be an open book. You no longer have the luxury of coming and going as you please. Once you have abused that privilege, it takes a while to get it back. Therefore, if you will be late coming home from work, or have had a change in plans, inform your spouse. Every time you leave the house your spouse is now wondering if you are going where you say you are going. The best way to ease their insecurities is to check in throughout the day. Invite your spouse places you usually go alone like to the game, the gym or the mall. Let your spouse know that you have nothing to hide. Additionally, do not hide your cell phone or set the ringer on silent. If your spouse requests, give them your email and voicemail pass codes. In fact, if you have nothing to hide then offer your spouse the codes without them having to ask. Don’t lock your cell phone, call log or address book, and keep the credit card statement in plain view on the kitchen table. Although your spouse may never choose to check these things, the simple fact that you made them available for his/her perusal will be a huge step in regaining their trust. Although you may feel as though this is a violation of your privacy, you need to know that these steps are absolutely necessary if you are trying to rebuild trust. Saying that you are on the straight and narrow, while continuing to hide your cell phone is counterproductive to your stated goal of wanting to rebuild your marriage.
Be prepared to answer any and all questions about information that your spouse has a legitimate right to know. Your spouse is going to want lots of details and ask questions about things you may not want to answer, but too bad. Your spouse is going to cross reference your prior stories and ask you to confirm if “this” or “that” was a lie. You simply need to fess up. The worse thing you can do is to conceal information because you don’t want to hurt your spouse. Remember, they have already been hurt beyond belief, so continuing to withhold additional information gives the appearance of an attempt to continue the deception. No, your spouse does not need to know the exact places, times, and positions in which you were intimate with the other man/woman, but they do need to get a general understanding of how intense the relationship was, and how long it lasted. Although this may be one of the most difficult steps in the process, it is one of the most important. It is extremely difficult for a betrayed spouse to know that there is another man/woman in the world who has more information about their marriage then themselves. Therefore, asking multiple questions helps the betrayed spouse get up to speed, thus obtaining necessary information to deal with feelings of being in the dark while their spouse was gallivanting around with their lover.
Do not attempt to dictate the length of time the victim spouses recovery should take. You are the one who brought the outsider into the marriage, and therefore, are in no position to dictate when the victim spouse should be “over it”. The truth of the matter is, the victim spouse will never fully be “over it”, but may simply learn how to mentally move past the affair. When a person is hurting, they typically share their pain with the closest person to them. As their spouse, you are the one they will vent to, even though it is you that caused the pain. Additionally, you may feel as though since you’ve confessed, apologized and vowed to remain faithful, things should now return to normal. That is simply not the case. One of the worse things that can happen is for the adulterous spouse to begin acting as though it’s “business as usual”. Deciding to remain in a relationship after your spouse has cheated is a major decision and one which can be both humiliating and stressful. Do not downplay the magnitude of that decision by behaving as though nothing happened two weeks after getting caught cheating. FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS, the adulterous spouse needs to periodically wrap their arms around their mate, kiss them, and thank them for another chance. Additionally, acknowledge how much you hurt your spouse, how difficult it must be for them to get over the pain, and vow to do whatever necessary to make things better…forever. Although it may seem as though such actions will revive the pain, that is simply not the case. Acknowledging the degree of pain you put your spouse through, and expressing appreciation for another chance, gives the victim spouse the impression that you not only are mindful of their pain, but that as long as you are aware of their struggle to overcome the ordeal, you will be less likely to make such choices in the future.
Choose your battles wisely. While it is important that you not establish a pattern of allowing your partner undue dominance (you will resent them later if they grow accustomed to this), keep in mind that now is not necessarily the time to pick fights over certain topics, particularly those related to privacy and possessiveness. Your spouse is feeling betrayed and frightened; it is natural for them in this state to project those fears onto situations that bear (in their mind) any resemblance to your affair. If a random stranger flirts with you, or buys you a drink at a bar, and your spouse becomes agitated, remember that your spouse has an understandable right to this possessiveness; you have shaken their feelings of security in the relationship, and it is openness and understanding that will gain this back, not combativeness and arguments. Rather than angrily asserting your rights, you will do much better to gain their trust by assuring them of their importance to you and soothing their bruised ego with compliments and understanding.
Be prepared to get rid of items that may serve to remind your spouse of the affair. Some items - such as certain pictures, gifts bought around the time of the affair, clothing items your spouse may be aware you wore with the other man/woman, even (God forbid) pieces of furniture you may have committed adultery on may serve as triggers that remind your spouse on a daily basis. Be sensitive and aware of your spouse's distraction by/attention to these items; you never know what seemingly harmless objects may be causing them to brood on the subject. If your spouse indicates that they would like to get rid of something because of its connection with your betrayal, don't argue, and take care of the offending item at once: prolonging the disposal of such items may convince your spouse that a) you are not taking their feelings seriously, or b) you have an emotional attachment to that item because of the affair. Your favorite pair of shoes is simply not worth the constant reminder they may serve your spouse, even if you do not understand why these items are of such significance to them.
Do not behave inappropriately or create future problems. Don’t put yourself in situations which will cause your victim spouse undue stress. Spending time or flirting with attractive, available singles, or forming relationships which could take focus away from your marriage or family commitments, is certainly not wise.
12. Additionally, make your spouse aware when you anticipate coming into contact with the other man/woman. If you suspect the
other man/woman might be at the holiday party, let your spouse know in advance.
Also, if you run into, or have contact with, the other man/woman unexpectedly, let your spouse know as soon as possible.
Nothing is worse than finding out about contact
with the other man/woman that the victim spouse did not know about. It gives the impression of further secrecy and deception. Trust me, it won’t hurt your spouse to know the other man/woman is contacting you as much as it will hurt them to discover you hid that information. Believe me, during this time of broken trust, full disclosure is always the best route.
Use this opportunity to create a new relationship with your spouse. Be open to opportunities to bring each other closer together. Remember that your spouse now views your relationship as broken, and they're right to think so. The key, then, is to forge a new relationship in as many ways as possible. Finding new sexual habits, places to spend time, and activities together will help this. This may even be an opportunity, in the fullness of time and once the recovery process is very well on its way, to renew your wedding vows. Help your partner to see that you have created something new, stronger, and therefore not threatened by the sins of your past or the likelihood of future infidelities.
Remember that the days and weeks immediately following the discovery of the affair are of vital importance, and your actions during this time will greatly determine the speed of your recovery. If your spouse feels supported, loved, respected, and safe discussing his/her feelings during this time, your chances of recovery will be greatly improved. If, on the other hand, your spouse feels alone, ignored, and in the dark, it will be much more difficult to reestablish their trust later.
If your spouse asks you to do something for them to help them recover from the affair (such as read this article, if they have indeed posted it on the fridge), do it right away. Do NOT make them ask twice. Putting off such things only communicates to your spouse that their feelings are unimportant to you, and that you lack the proper remorse for what you've done. Nothing should be more important to you right now than helping your spouse recover from this.
One important factor to keep in mind is that, even though your spouse will ask you to compare them to the other man/woman (was she prettier/sexier, etc), they are also interested in knowing how they are better than the other person, even if they don’t directly ask. In fact, many of these questions are disguised opportunities for you to tell them so. In other words, balance something good about the other person with something you liked better about your spouse.
Pay close attention to your spouse. Your spouse has (probably) never been through this before, and may be too distraught to articulate what s/he needs. It is, in part, your responsibility to try to predict/account for these needs. Whenever possible, avoid making your spouse ask you for things they need from you during this time; doing so puts them in a weak position, and they're already weak enough. Remember: just because they're not bringing it up, doesn't mean it's not on their mind. Be as proactive as possible.
Be on the lookout for seemingly unrelated discussions that may be projections of this issue. Keep in mind that although you may be arguing passionately about who last did the dishes, you may actually be arguing about the affair in some tangential way (i.e. how much time you dedicated to the relationship outside of your marriage). It is sometimes difficult to tell what factors will trigger your spouse's thoughts about the affair - in fact, your spouse may not even realize that they are projecting these issues onto seemingly day-to-day arguments. A good rule of thumb is to assume that any argument in which your spouse seems unduly angry about a seemingly small thing may fall into this category. If this happens, it's unwise to simply back down, as doing so may establish a submissive pattern you will regret later. However, keep in mind that your partner is in an unpredictable and tumultuous emotional state, and be as understanding as you can.
Remember that the paranoia, anger, and distrust that follow the discovery of an affair are natural, and may take a while to fully heal. Your relationship with your spouse during this time is not necessarily an indicator of how it will be from now on; in time, with full honesty and emotional openness, you will (hopefully) begin to recover your relationship's equilibrium. At some point, of course, you may be forced to rethink your stance on whether or not your relationship is terminally damaged; however, avoid making these decisions rashly, as many victim spouses have been known to unexpectedly reach a kind of peace with the affair and move forward just when things seemed at their worst.
It is a mistake to think that just because things are not getting better daily that your relationship will not recover. This is a slow and unpredictable process, and will be different from spouse to spouse. You may find that your relationship improves steadily in the days following the discovery of the affair, or you may notice that some days are worse than others. The important thing is that, on the whole, the process is moving forward; it is only when the process stalls entirely for a prolonged period that you should begin to worry about your spouse's ability to recover.
Be grateful. Your spouse is taking a huge risk in deciding to remain with you after your betrayal. No matter how angry, petty, or unpredictable they get, they have shown a great love for you and, in many cases, a great strength of character in choosing to try to trust you again. Give this decision, and your partner, the deserved respect and gratitude.
Make sure you are truly ready to be faithful and committed to your marriage before attempting to rebuild trust. Nothing is more devastating to a victim spouse then learning to trust a person only to be betrayed again.
If you have decided to rebuild the relationship, stick to this decision. Avoid language that indicates that you are uncertain about your ability to continue the relationship in this state; doing so may only cause your spouse to shut down and keep their emotions to themselves out of fear that they will lose you or you will seek greener pastures again. Nothing can be more dangerous to the recovery process during this period, as bottled-up feelings will eventually burst forth and perpetuate these problems. Create a safe environment in which your spouse feels free to express their feelings without fear that doing so will cause you to leave.
Do not, do not, DO NOT allow yourself to appear irritated with your spouse when they bring up their feelings or questions about the affair. This irritation is natural; people do not like to be constantly reminded of things they are ashamed of, and it is easy to turn this shame into annoyance at your partner. The victim spouse, however, has a clear right to these feelings: you are most certainly in the wrong, no matter what your reasons, for undermining the sanctity of your marriage, and holding yourself accountable for your mistake is a necessary part of reconciliation. Irritation will not only anger your partner, but will depict a lack of remorse and ultimately convince your partner that you are not "with them" and are likely to cheat again.
Playing off your affair as "it meant nothing" is not the best course of action. Be truthful about your reasons, even if you think those reasons may hurt your spouse. A spouse who cheats for no good reason is a spouse that has absolutely no respect for the marriage, and it sends a message to the victim spouse that they have no reason to trust you again, ever. Explaining to your spouse that you have cheated because of emotional trauma - such as being in love with somebody else or out of fear and self-destructive tendency - gives your spouse a handle on which to understand your affair and regain their trust in you.
NEVER tell your spouse that "you don't feel like talking about it right now." In all honesty, you gave up your right to discuss things on your schedule when you betrayed your spouse. Putting off discussions that are important to them only ensures that these concerns will grow like cancer in the meantime, and "later" may be too late.
Do not allow your own feelings to eclipse those of your spouse. In all likelihood, you are dealing with emotional trauma of your own - your guilt for having the affair, your shame at what has been discovered about you, even the loss of the lover if you have decided to choose your marriage instead. It is important that you deal with these feelings, and even share them with your spouse. However, do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of ignoring your spouse's cries for help because you are too preoccupied with your own struggles. If you have decided to make your marriage work, it is important that you dedicate the necessary time and attention to your spouse.