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Rebuilding your marriage after an affair
By Andrew Rusbatch
Today's newsletter is a consultation that centers around the issue of affairs, and what couples need to do to rebuild marriages following the wreckage of an affair.
This is a time of high feelings in the relationship, and in addition to anger and hurt there is guilt and mistrust, fear that it may happen again or that the marriage will fail, and despair at the emotional investment required to revisit the pain and begin the healing process.
The client who wrote to me has been married for a long time and has children. The wife had been having an affair, and only ceased the affair after her lover left the city. She apologized, but assured her fidelity only when she was threatened with a divorce.
The issue here was that the wife did not finish the affair because she wanted to, and has shown little remorse, choosing instead to be defensive and arrogant when confronted with the reality of what she has done.
As a result there is no sexual contact in the relationship, and there is an atmosphere of mistrust and hurt due to the issues not being dealt with. Without confronting the hurt of the affair and speaking the truth, forgiveness is hard to seek. In the husband's mind, without remorse, the affair is still not over.
Is there any hope for this relationship?
I have removed any references that may identify the client, but felt that the response to this client is worthy of sharing with so many other couples out there healing the hurt of infidelity.
Here is my response:
Thanks for your email, and the detail and thought you have put into explaining your situation and your marital history. Affairs often cause a variety of different types of chaos, and for many couples it is an explosion of the myth of marital happiness, and for many more, it is a final result of many destructive forces and factors that have been at work.
Healing in a relationship requires a commitment by both people involved in the marriage. There is often the misconception that the guilty partner is the one that has all the work to do, but you need to consider that the outcome is one that you both share.
Another factor is that both people share responsibility for what happened and therefore should share responsibility for the outcome. I'm not saying that you are responsible for the affair, but the marital context in which it was able to happen was something you did contribute to.
Poor communication, an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, and allowing your wife's moods to dictate your marriage have all contributed on some level to the stage you are at.
In regard to your questions:
Your wife is reluctant to own responsibility because you let her get away with it. If your wife can never say sorry and becomes aggressive and you allow her to do this, the behavior becomes entrenched.
When she becomes loud and aggressive, you need to tell her that communication is broken, and that you will cease communication until she is able to control herself. Unacceptable behavior needs to be met with a calm and structured approach, and a temporary separation may be necessary until she is able to make a commitment to healing the hurt in your relationship.
Your need to feel safe and loved is your stuff to deal with. If you don't feel safe and loved in your relationship it is your responsibility to communicate this to her and find ways to achieve it. That is a fundamental part of relationships, regardless of the circumstances.
Healing and reconciliation is not possible without revisiting the wounds and hurt, healing it, and making a commitment to changing the negative patterns of behavior. To believe you can have reconciliation without the truth is kidding yourself and your partner.
Making her make you feel safe... How about going on a holiday together as a couple, allowing you the opportunity to escape your responsibilities to the children and others and reconnecting as a couple?
This would allow you both the chance to identify what the purpose of each other's love is, and what you each hope to get out of a relationship. Identify what you need to have in your relationship to make it perfect. It should also give you a good indication if there is a marriage worth saving.
The affair is over, but the hurt is not healed. Without healing, your marriage is over, and if your wife is unwilling to make a commitment to heal then you may need to make arrangements for a separation.
It could be arrogance, or it could be a deeply entrenched wound in her past that prevents her from saying sorry or admitting guilt. I believe she needs some counseling or therapy to workshop this hurt and repressed anger out, so that she is able to heal herself before focusing on your marriage.
You need to communicate your feelings to her more clearly, and follow up your concerns with opportunities for review to assess your progress. Your decision to stay in the marriage has to be met with a commitment from her to work towards reconciliation and healing, preferably through individual counseling, followed by couples counseling.
A failure to do so should result in you choosing
whether or not you stay in the relationship.
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