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    Affair Recovery

    Understanding Affair Recovery

    The betrayal one feels in a marriage when one, or both, partners have been unfaithful (physically, online, or emotionally) is very real. But recovery is possible. Unfortunately the way I see couples attempt to recover often causes more damage.

    The partner who has the affair has needs (rarely sexual in nature) that are often unexpressed and taken outside the relationship. They may try to hide these needs because they feel dismissed and guilty for doing something so hurtful. They make promises they hope will make it all “go away” rather than express themselves. They struggle to see why their partner can’t “get past it” when they are tacitly giving up so much to be back with their partner.  They may struggle with guilt and shame that prevents them from being the emotional support the betrayed partner needs at this difficult time in a relationship.  They may feel like they will never get back that admiration they once had and worried about trying to “dig themselves out of the hole” for the rest of the relationship.

    The partner who has been betrayed understandably feels the need be assured that it will never happen again. It makes sense they would pursue trust and safety they so desperately are looking for with “investigative” or policing behaviors. These seem like they are “reasonable”  given the betrayal that has occurred.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, more information (GPS locations, email passwords, reading affair texts / emails) rarely helps the betrayed partner make a decision to work on the relationship or leave.  Deciding to stay means getting back to feeling wanted, not policing your partner’s phone.  Transparency is certainly part of the recovery process, but it isn’t ultimately satisfying. On the path back to feeling wanted, the betrayed partner often assumes that they are “not enough” for their partner. This is rarely the case and it takes time to learn to be confident again, both in their relationship and in themselves.

    Recovery from an affair requires that both people are able to find a way back to fulfilling their partners needs with compassion.  I work with couples to learn to connect emotionally, around the conflict so that neither feels alone or unworthy.  I help create real safety through feeling chosen and desired as a person.  I develop a meaningful plan to identify what put the marriage at risk and develop an observable plan to strengthen the marriage. I also work with couples to recapture the feeling that their relationship is alive and fulfilling. We look at how love is expressed and received in the relationship and help couples work smarter, not harder at making their partner feel loved.  I help the couple with communication to stop damaging the relationship with harmful patterns of communication and replace it with invitations to deeper clearer understanding.

    Sometimes individual therapy is needed before couples are able to get past the resentment and  grief that comes with an affair. Helping each person prepare for the energy and commitment that couples counseling requires is an important step.  Too often couples counseling falls apart when one or the other partner isn’t ready to commit to the relationship because of hurt feelings, hopelessness, or problems trusting.  In these cases I start with some individual therapy and may refer to another therapist, depending on the needs of the couple and their stated goals.

    Three Kinds of Affairs

    All affairs include a feeling of betrayal and distrust.  This is painful, confusing and angering all at once. Determining what kind of affair is occurring is helpful when it comes to recovery.  Research shows that affairs are fairly evenly split between men and women.  The kind of affairs that men and women have are often very different.

    The first kind of affair is a sexual affair.  These are the most common and often include multiple methods (online matching sites, sexting, “hook-ups,” and serial one-night stands).  These kinds of affairs are usually short lived but repeated often with new partners. It often starts with “seeing what’s out there” and moves to emails, sexting, exchanging pictures and possibly (but not always) meeting for sexual contact. These affairs can last days to weeks but often lose their luster pretty quickly. Depending on how long and how fast the cycle turns over, this may feel out of control, like an addiction. Sex addiction is a controversial subject, but on a subjective level, it can feel very much like an addiction.

    Sexual affairs are usually not about sex but the excitement of being pursued or accepted.  The ultimate proof of acceptance becomes sex.  Sexual affairs are most often about self esteem and seeking the thrill of someone responding to them.  These kinds of affairs create a fantasy of being desirable and boosting self esteem. When the fantasy is met – it rarely feels fulfilling and the cycle of pursuit starts again.

    The persons chosen for this kind of affair are chosen for for their willingness to respond, not their desirability as a life partner. The affair partner often keeps emotional distance from potential targets (avoiding intimacy) so that a fantasy of being strongly desirable can be maintained. In short, they only want to show only their “good side.”  Addressing these kinds of affairs are often the easiest and clearest to manage when both partners are motivated at putting a stop to it.

    The second kind of affair is an emotional affair. The emotional affair often starts as a platonic relationship and develops over time.  This kind of affair cycles as well with periods of closeness that are justified with being “just friends.” This is followed by emotional sharing – often with complaints about their respective marriages / partners.  Finally the emotional connection is followed by sexual boundary crossings – sometimes even “just” a kiss. The affair can then can go through a “cooling off” where each person recognizes that the affair is actually an affair and not just a “friendship.” The cycle then starts all over again.

    These affairs are rarely about sex; sometimes sex never even happens.  These individuals have no intention of ever leaving their spouse. They report confusion at being able to love two very different people at once.  These affairs are harder to recover from as they are often close to home (or work).  The affair may be with a co-worker, church member, neighbor, etc.  Setting boundaries is much harder when the person is in one or more social circles with the couple.  The emotional affair is often more painful as the affair partner can also be a friend to the betrayed spouse. Grief is part of the recovery process as the affair partner is giving up a support and a friend. The betrayed partner may also be losing a friend while realizing they’ve also been betrayed by their spouse.  Embarrassment is also an issue as these affairs are rarely a well kept secret, and the spouse is often the last to know.

    The third kind of affair is an exit affair. This kind of affair focuses on plans to leave the relationship. The goal of the affair partner is to look for another relationship to jump into.  These are the least common, but most difficult to recover from.  These individuals are minimally motivated to work on the relationship – often because their attempts to fix things have been rebuffed in the past. The betrayed partner is not only feeling the sting of the affair, but also the indifference and rejection of their spouse. These marriages are certainly on the rocks and sinking fast.  In order to make progress with the “exit affair” big changes and high levels of motivation are needed.  Time is usually of the essence as one or the other partner is ready to leave. Recovery in these situations most often requires a lot of individual work first to build motivation for couples therapy.

    Regardless of which kind of affair may have happened, the important thing to remember is that it is the motivation of the couple to move forward and improve the relationship that matters the most.  Couples who are able to talk freely about the affair and what needs to happen recover the best.  I teach communication skills to be able to talk about needs in the marriage (that often are not well understood) to bring the relationship alive again. I work to help couples learn to trust and connect intimately again.  I create demonstrable plans to halt affairs and hold partners accountable for their behavior not just to stop problem behavior but to take responsibility to invest in their relationships again.

    If you’re struggling to recover from an affair, contact me today.