POST 6: AFTER THE AFFAIR…

Image result for quotes on pain in love

(The above with thanks to quotesfrenzy.com)

Healing After an Affair

Healing after an affair takes a long time, and not many couples are capable to create a satisfying, healthy and happy relationship. This contradicts the information of some bloggers. It might be that they focus on the couples who stay together who sought counseling.

Many sites ad nausea bore us with stats (based on what?) that show how common affairs are. These are not very reliable stats. Rather than writing about h0w common adultery is, it might be better to focus on how much pain it causes. Talking about how common it is, might be used to justify the behavior by some. One fact however, is that the most common reason of divorce is the infidelity of a partner. Considering the rate of divorce…go figure! This tells us that infidelity is very painful and that many cannot get over the pain of the affair. It is true that there might have been many other factors leading to a disconnect in the marriage…an affair however, is the ultimate deal breaker and has NEVER solved anything.

An interesting fact to add to this is to ask people to read romance and adventure/romance novels (the entire genre) and report how often the hero is a cheater….I tell you….It is NEVER. Cheating and betrayal is even in the most gory genre of vampires and demons seen as the most despicable act of all. Murder (for a good cause) is OK, cheating is not. Those vampires and weres  have a code!

My experience in working with couples (so this is stats based on a relatively small sample size) is that after an affair roughly half of the couples separate and half of them stay together. From those who stay together, only an estimated half are capable of making the relationship successful. I see a lot of unhappy couples, a lot of bitter people and a lot of partners whose needs are not met in the relationship. I see people suffering from guilt feelings and others who have developed chronic anxiety and depression. Right after the affair, some couples seem to be able to work through it, but this phase is commonly followed by more long-term bitterness and chronic sadness.

I have seen people who lost their “sparkle” and who have problems trusting others. Quite a lot of former spouses live together as room mates only. It is not uncommon to meet a couple in counseling, who have not been intimate for over 7 years (since the affair came out, aka D-day).

When I ask them what is the hardest to deal with they unanimously state : the deception, the lying and the cruelty of the deception. Couple counseling does work when both are motivated. For some couples, intimacy  after an affair is difficult and needs guidance of a counselor trained in this area.

Is it worth to work on the relationship? It depends, when healing does not take place after a few years, it is obviously not going to work. If you keep on being bitter, angry, self-destructive and vindictive, you need to get help and/or get out. I often listen to both spouses and observe the same deep sadness in both. I hope that the betrayed spouse understands that the pain is a shared pain and this can help with healing.

Healing after an affair is very similar to doing grief work involving dealing with complicated grief. To many the betrayal is experienced as TRAUMA. That explains the length of time needed. Dennis Ortman, PhD.,  is not the only mental health professional who has identified the similarities between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms people experience after they are betrayed by their partner. He mentions the term Post Infidelity Stress Disorder (PISD), or maybe it sounds nicer to refer to this as Post Adultery Stress Disorder (PASD), and I fully agree as I work with people with PTSD and clearly see the similarities (the list below speaks for itself).

What the betrayed spouse very often experiences is the following:

  1. Shock and numbness
  2. Extreme Anger
  3. Anxiety with Panic Attacks
  4. Uncontrollable sadness and crying
  5. Self-Harming behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse, and physically injuring oneself
  6. Lack of sleep and nightmares
  7. Lack of appetite or uncontrollable over eating out of hatred for their own body
  8. Memory problems
  9. Inability to accomplish daily routines
  10. Violent thoughts
  11. Violent behaviors such as destroying own or partner’s property.
  12. Thoughts of suicide
  13. Vivid visualizations
  14. Never ending thoughts about the “third person” being intimate with their spouse.
  15. Shame, Guilt
  16. Humiliation
  17. Feeling assaulted/violated
  18. Feeling used
  19. Feeling ridiculed
  20. Severe Mood swings
  21. Seeing triggers everywhere, observations that are reminders of the affair
  22. Music, movies, books, all one used to adore…get another meaning
  23. Inability to have satisfying sex with partner or with self
  24. Wanting to be intimate followed by a reaction of disgust or anger

As you see, the above are similar reactions people have after experiencing trauma. The symptoms described are overlapping with “Acute Stress Disorder” and when the symptoms last, they are overlapping with what people experience who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although we have to be cautious when using labels, I did mention them here to stress the severity of the reactions and the intensity of the feelings experienced by someone who feels betrayed by the person who is supposed to love and protect them.

What the spouse who betrayed their partner and who has experienced it as a “wake-up call”, might experience is the following:

  1. Relief that all is in the open now
  2. Intense guilt
  3. Intense shame
  4. Desperation
  5. Fear of losing everything
  6. Remorse! (genuine remorse is crucial as without it, there is no healing)
  7. Feeling of powerlessness over the grief and anger of their spouse
  8. Lack of sleep
  9. Lack of appetite
  10. Problems concentrating
  11. Violent thoughts (directed to self)
  12. Self harm (physical self-harm)
  13. Music, movies, books they used to love get a different meaning
  14. A very slow…but gradual realization of the impact of their selfish behavior on partner and children.
  15. A very gradual realization that the person “they fell for” was no good
  16. Disgust about own behavior and for the person they had the affair with

Needless to state that both might need help if they cannot take time to get over the initial phase by themselves without hurting themselves or each other. A very good and trustworthy mentor/friend might be a good choice, but when not available, a therapist can help.

How to find a good therapist?

  1. You might know someone, but make sure the person is trained and experienced in working with couples
  2. Check academic qualifications and experience on the Internet
  3. Ask by calling or through email what the fees are and the availability
  4. If not sure call or email the therapist and ask about their approach to couple counseling and affairs
  5. Ask if the therapist can make more time for you as a couple
  6. A good therapist is not someone with a set agenda and a routine approach. What you need is someone open to the experiences and pain of both of you. Someone who let you both experience the pain and the anger and who provides tools on how to communicate.
  7. A good therapist checks whether both of you are safe.
  8. A good therapist is someone who takes into account each of your personalities and needs.
  9. A good therapist can feel your pain, without taking it on.
  10. As clients, please do not ever feel “guilty” if it does not work out. Your therapist needs to be a good fit and after the second or third session, you will know. A good fit means that you feel respected, safe, heard and understood and that both of you feel that your goals and expectations of the session are met.
  11. A good therapist asks you for your feedback. Be open and honest. This is for you!

A need to know!

Most betrayed spouses want to know what happened, when it started, where the affair took place, who it was, how often they met, where they met, what they did in bed and many more details. The partner NEEDS to answer those. It is of crucial importance when you want to rebuild trust, that you as the partner who betrayed your spouse is absolutely and fully honest and transparent. Perceive this phase as an important part of HEALING for both of you. ACCEPTANCE of what has happened is very important. It will take a long time. It will take longer for the betrayed spouse, as they were left in the dark, while you were part of the entire saga. The betrayed spouse might want to know how the “third person” looks and may want a detailed description. Some therapists state that this is not healthy. I feel that if a partner wants to know, they need an answer and an honest one. If their questions are not answered, they will keep on thinking about it. This is way more torture for them than knowing the truth.

Not all betrayed spouses want to know all, but most do. This means that if a spouse asks the questions, you need to answer and you might have to answer the same question a few times. You need to remain calm and very gentle when answering the questions. To become defensive is an indicator to your spouse that you are lying (again).

To prevent that these talks take an entire night, set a time frame before you start talking and agree on taking a break when the emotions are too strong. Do not interrupt or cut off your spouse in the middle of the talk, as they will perceive it as another insult. Your spouse might get emotional and angry. If you really want to be helpful…take it and remain honest and open and do not get defensive or become emotionally closed off. You have done that enough…now it is time to show that you can be the person your spouse deserves.

A spouse who betrayed their partner and who is serious about wanting to do everything to heal the relationship and their spouse UNPROVOKED (this is without being asked first) OPENS UP AND DISCLOSES INFORMATION…If a betrayed spouse only gets an answer when the “right” question is asked…the responsibility is placed on the betrayed spouse! It means that a betrayed spouse feels they have to ask the right questions, and again and again (never ending) and…it drives a spouse insane!!! This is not helpful. It is CRUEL!

Many talks are needed…patience on the side of the spouse who betrayed is required. This “phase” is only over, when the betrayed spouse decides it is.

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