Sometimes infidelity CAN BE a very powerful turning point in a struggling relationship. Note, I’m not suggesting infidelity as a solution for relationship issues – there are certainly more effective paths to healing your connection! However, if you have been affected byinfidelity it doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship – especially if it’s the first and only time it has happened.
Infidelity is a lot like a car accident. When you enter a relationship you do so with known risks. Just as there are known risks when we travel the public streets. We can not guarantee our safety because we are not the only one’s on the road (or in the relationship).
I’m talking about the kind of car accident that happens rather unexpectedly, while driving about. Then, with or without notice, something very dangerous happens that feels life-threatening. (Not the kind where you hit a tree in the middle of the night while backing out of your driveway because you are recklessly fleeing your home to escape your enraged wife who is chasing you with a golf club because she just learned about your multiple indiscretions.)
Like a car accident, with infidelity you don’t always see the crash coming. Maybe you’re not paying attention. Maybe you are distracted (by work, by friends, by hobbies, by life). Sometimes you do see it coming but you think, oh, I’ve got time to make it through this light, or over these tracks. You falsely reassure yourself that it will be okay. And then it isn’t. When the impact occurs everything feels out of control.
Infidelity creates chaos. Both partners struggle for different reasons. Both hurt. And depending on the feelings developed for the other one, the unfaithful partner may experience intensely conflicted emotions which creates confusion, and mixed messages to everyone involved. She wonders, “Do I stay and risk that she will resent me forever?” Or, “Do I leave and risk that I’ve thrown away a good thing, for something that may not last, or may not be as good?” The betrayed fears, “Can I ever forgive her?” And, “Will I ever trust her again?”
Deciding whether or not to work on repairing your relationship is the first step toward healing. As you contemplate this, it may be helpful to consider what needs to happen once you commit to doing the work:
- Before healing can begin, the affair and all contact must end – completely and entirely.
- Both partners need to identify and accept responsibility for his or her part. This requires that you rewind until you find the point at which things started to go wrong. Typically the tracks for infidelity are laid long before it occurs. There are issues in all relationships, and when these issues are unaddressed (avoided) or attempts to fix them fail, your relationship begins to deteriorate over time. Once the destruction reaches monumental proportions (like the discovery of an affair) you are suddenly faced with what you chose to avoid in the beginning. Infidelity is a team sport. Both partners participate (usually long before the infidelity begins) when there is unfaithfulness. Blame is the glue that attaches you to your pain. When you release blame, you release pain. No blame, no pain.
- Each partner needs to develop an understanding for their respective behaviors. The unfaithful partner needs to identify why she behaved the way she did, needs to get honest with herself and her partner about her feelings and her actions (though NOT ALL OF THE DETAILS – those don’t help much) and express remorse and corrective action (NO CONTACT WHATSOEVER WITH THE OTHER PERSON) for her indiscretions in order to regain/rebuild trust.
- Over time, the betrayed partner must forgive or get out. To stay in the relationship and hold resentment is not good for either partner. The betrayed partner must exercise emotional control – no berating, or raging at your unfaithful partner. Remember, while she handled it poorly, she was unfaithful because she was hurting too.
- It must never happen again. Those who are unfaithful tend to fall into one of two categories… those who are unfaithful once, and learn from the pain that it’s not a good option. And those who are repeat offenders. It’s sort of like those people you hear about on TV who killed their wife or husband in the heat of the moment – a crime of passion they say – a fight gone bad and there’s deep remorse and sadness. There’s some credibility in the notion that it was self-defense once, but when a second spouse shows up dead – well, you’ve got trouble on your hands.