The journey of Affair Recovery can be painful.
Once you have found your footing after the initial shock of an affair and are able to tap into helpful coping skills you will want to understand what has happened in your marriage. You will know you are ready for this phase when you are both able to have a conversation and manage emotions effectively during the conversation.
There are sure to be a lot of emotions, but being able to keep them at a level that doesn’t hijack the discussion is key to be able to truly understand what has happened. For many couples this is a tall order and therapy may be a safe place to tackle these discussions.
The how-did-this-happen-to-us phase can be very challenging.
This is where everyone starts getting real. Real about what happened. Real about who you both are. Real about your marriage. It is important to get real about the state of the marriage – now and how the relationship evolved over time. It is not about blame, it is about seeking to truly understand so that as a couple you can make informed decisions about how to best more forward.
When seeking to understand how an affair happened, it is important to consider Individual Factors, Relationship Factors and Outside Stressors. There are difficult questions to sit with, but understanding how this happened is key to recovering.
Some important factors to consider are:
- Conflict – Over the lifespan of your relationship what role has conflict played? Does the relationship run hot or cold? What are conflicts generally about? How effective are you as a couple at resolving conflicts?
- Emotional Connection – How close are you as a couple? What have been the primary factors that impact your emotional connection?
- Physical Intimacy – How satisfied are both partners with the physical intimacy in the relationship? What have you done as a couple to improve intimacy? How big of a factor was physical intimacy in the affair?
- Outside Stressors – What other life challenges have you faced, or are you facing as a couple? How has this contributed?
- Personal Growth & Fulfillment – Do both partners feel fulfilled in life? Do each of you have goals or dreams that you feel supported in pursuing?
Once you have gotten past the initial crisis phase and have a deeper understanding of what contributed to the affair you can consider how you will move forward as a couple.
If you decide to move forward together it is important that you create clear agreements for your relationship. Think of this almost as your new wedding vows – what each of you are agreeing to in this next phase of your life together.
In particular, be sure to spell out your monogamy agreement. How will interactions with members of the opposite sex be handled? What are boundaries with co-workers, friends? What are boundaries for social media? Access to devices?
Do not assume anything moving forward; create agreements as a couple, and revisit them often to make sure they still work for everyone. The goal here is to create safety in the relationship. It takes safety to trust, it takes safety for us to be vulnerable and open our hearts again.
Once safety is established, a healthy goal is to move towards forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about wiping the slate clean, but rather putting the old slate aside and beginning with a fresh slate. We don’t trust blindly, we actively work towards trusting based on all that we know and have been through.
I won’t sugar coat it, this is a long and challenging journey. It is tempting to want to go back to the way things were (or what we thought they were) before the discovery of the affair. However, there is a tremendous opportunity here to transform your marriage relationship.
With a deeper understanding of yourself, your partner and your relationship dynamics you can create a deeper connection – a new emotional and physical intimacy that you never imagined possible.