Therapy in Chester, NJ and Florham Park, NJ
Joe, a 52-year-old business executive has been coming home late from work the past couple of weeks, sometimes forgetting to tell his 50-year-old wife Jodi that he won't be home for dinner. He told her that he has new clients in town and that he needs to entertain them. What he didn't tell her was that his "client" Sue is a 35-year-old blonde bombshell. Jodi never suspected anything because there was no reason to. He has always been faithful to her and she never had a doubt in her mind that he would cheat until last night. Joe was exhausted when he came home and went right to bed. About an hour later as Jodi walked upstairs she found her husband's phone on the stairs. She figured it must have fallen out of his pocket and so she picked it up. But when she did she saw a message which said, "Hi beautiful, had a great time tonight " with a heart emoji. Jodi was in complete shock and almost passed out on the staircase.
Does this story hit home with you? Has your husband or wife being unfaithful? Whether it was an emotional affair or a physical one the effects are devastating not only for the one who was cheated on but for the person who engaged in the affair as well. Research has shown that approximately 37% of married men and 20% of married women have cheated on their spouses. Some of you may not agree but affairs are generally not the reason a marriage ends.
Affairs are a result of the underlying problems in the marriage that are either never discussed, never resolved or never taken seriously by one or both partners. Both partners need to be accountable for the problems in the marriage however; the unfaithful partner needs to take full responsibility for the affair. The unfaithful partner chose to cope with the relationship problems by going outside the marriage to satisfy his/her physical or emotional needs and that is never the faithful partner's fault.
The effects of an affair can be traumatizing for both parties involved. So much can be written about the aftermath of an affair but for the purpose of this blog, I have to keep it brief. Here are some of the most common effects of an affair:
1. Guilt and shame
A person who engaged in the affair: This person may feel guilty for betraying their partner's trust. They may feel ashamed of the choices that they made and wish they could "take it back." This person may even become angry at their partner when they want to talk about it because they cannot tolerate their guilt or shameful feelings. This may come across to their partner as not having empathy or remorse.
Partner: This person may feel "not being good enough" for their partner who had an affair. They may blame themselves. They may feel unworthy and their self-esteem is in the toilet. Although this person may feel this way, feelings are not facts. While there is a part of you that wants to reach out and tell the world that you have been violated; there's another part that feels ashamed and embarrassed and therefore you want to remain silent and alone.
A person who engaged in the affair: It is possible that one of the reasons this person felt they needed to be intimate with someone other than their partner was because they felt insecure in their relationship and didn't feel they could trust their partner in the first place. But, instead of speaking to their partner directly about their feelings, they decided to act on their feelings of mistrust which may or may not have been valid.
Partner: This person may feel as though they can never trust the person who cheated on them again. They may be afraid that their partner will always cheat on them. They also may not trust themselves and their perception of reality. They may start doubting all their thoughts and feelings about everyone and everything. They may become hypervigilant in an attempt to alleviate their fear and save the relationship.
3. Loss of Intimacy
A person who engaged in the affair: This person might have felt a loss of intimacy in the marital relationship, leading them to engage in an affair. They may also distance themselves from their partner out of guilt.
Partner: This person may feel betrayed and unsafe physically and emotionally engaging intimately with their partner after an affair. They may have daunting images of their partner being with that other person.
There are 5 stages of grief which include 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
A person who engaged in the affair: This person may feel grief due to their choices and their changing relationship with their spouse. They may wish that things could be different or that they could go back in time. If this person decides to end the affair and work on the marriage they may also grieve the loss of the affair partner. This is something the faithful partner has difficulty with and the person who engaged in the affair should never rely on their spouse for support.
Partner: This person will grieve their "old" relationship and their thoughts and feelings about who they thought their partner was. No one expects to be cheated on. This person will have to grieve for the relationship they envisioned for themselves and their partner.
Although affairs put marriage in crisis there can actually be a silver lining. Affairs can serve as a "wake up call" and help to remake your relationship with your spouse even better than it was. An affair is often a "symptom" of a relationship that isn't working. It is not easy and will take time and effort on the part of both partners. Even if the person who had the affair is truly remorseful and transparent it still will take quite some time for their partner to trust and forgive them. It is a process and it doesn't happen overnight but it is necessary for your marriage to thrive. In order to repair an affair a few steps must be taken:
1. Creating space for open dialogue:
If a couple wants to continue their relationship with one another, an affair can force them to talk and practice good communication with one another. In order to repair a relationship after an affair, one of the most important elements is transparency from the partner who had the affair. While the underlying problems in a marriage are the responsibility of both partners, it is vital that the person who cheated take full responsibility for their decision to have an affair and show remorse. Good communication is vital to a healthy relationship and in order to bring health back into a relationship, it must be prioritized.
2. Reigniting Intimacy:
An affair can give a couple the chance to re-evaluate their desires and needs in terms of affection and intimacy. They can look at what worked in the past and what didn't work and they can set the stage going forward for a more fulfilling relationship.
3. Re-evaluating goals for the future:
An affair offers the opportunity to stop and take stock of the relationship and the life goals of both people involved. Are both partners going in the same direction? Do they want the same things in life? What would they like to see change? What do they hope for the future?
4. A chance to rebuild:
Although it may seem like a catastrophe, an affair can be a chance to rebuild a relationship into something stronger. You can't undo the past but you can certainly learn from it. You can continue to do what worked and change the things that didn't so that you can build a more satisfying relationship. Again, trust and forgiveness are vital steps in rebuilding a relationship.
Unresolved marital issues which result in an affair has the potential to destroy a marriage but it doesn't have to be a "death sentence" for the relationship. As mentioned before, healing the pain and rebuilding trust is possible. There is hope for a "new normal" which can be even better!
It is important to note that it can take a lot of work to heal after an affair, and very often it requires the help of a highly trained marriage counselor. And, as always, we are here to help!
Call us at Modern Family Counseling at 732-742-0329 for more information about our services or to schedule an appointment with our therapists!