7 Ways To Start Healing Your Relationship After an Affair (Part 2 tips 4-7)
#4–Rebuild goodwill while working to repair the relationship.
Lots of things need to be looked at in the marriage and a key issue is how partners are treating each other and what positive experiences are or are not happening. This is something that can be worked on and can build a sense of hope that things can get better. Try to establish a weekly date night if you don’t have one already. If your partner is having trouble with this then offer to go to a movie or the theatre. This way you can do something together without a lot of conversation if that feels too unsafe at first. Or start building a list of things you would like to in the future or places you would like to go. Has your partner nagged for years about you playing on the phone while you’re together? Now is a great time to start addressing those concerns–not in an effort to get acknowledgement, just a show of faith that you are doing things differently. Be prepared that these attempts may be met with skepticism or anger. Which brings me to point #5.
#5–If you’re committed to staying for the long haul, adopt the long haul approach and be patient.
This is not going to go away quickly or on your time frame. If it goes away too quickly be very suspicious. Sometimes spouses are frightened to lose you and so they try to suppress their hurt and anger and just move forward but this is the short view. Take the long view and encourage your partner to work through their feelings even if they’re uncomfortable. It’s possible to make progress and then to feel like you are right back when it first happened if your partner gets triggered by something. Hopefully you’ll learn how to deal with these moments better in therapy or by reading the book but expect them to happen for awhile. Author of Not Just Friends Shirley Glass says you can expect it to take 1-2 years to heal the relationship after an affair. So remind yourself of that and be patient. Betrayed partners also need to remind themselves to be patient. Don’t think it is time to give up anytime you feel the intense hurt and anger. Are you seeing some positive signs from your partner like some of the ones I described earlier? If so this may be a bad bump in the road. If they aren’t doing the work I mentioned then it may be appropriate to lose patience.
#6–Learn to communicate feelings safely.
This one really applies to both partners. What I tell my clients is that any feelings you may have are fine but you have a responsibility to work on communicating them in a safe way to your partner. Sometimes the betrayed party feels very righteous in their anger and spews all sorts of venom. This may be hard to contain at first but if the relationship is to heal then communicating respectfully needs to start happening sooner than later. Two things I will hear are, “Oh, I’m not supposed to be mad I should just not have feelings,” or, “Well I can’t control myself”. All feelings are OK for both partners to have but there is a world of difference between, “I’m just furious with you for doing this and I don’t know how I can ever trust you again,” and, “You’re a scumbag and I should have expected that you’d go screw someone else.” Some words are not forgotten and can’t be taken back. And yes we can all control ourselves if we work on it. You probably don’t tell your boss everything you always think about her, do you? Hopefully if your child disappoints you you don’t tell him what a loser he is. We control ourselves all the time. But sometimes we have to take ownership for our behavior and work to sooth ourselves before speaking.
#7–Work on forgiveness.
This also applies to both partners. The betrayer has to oftentimes forgive him or herself for the hurt they caused and for acting in a way that goes against their values or their vision of themselves. And the betrayed partner sometimes needs to work on forgiving themselves for staying and to forgive their partner for the pain they’ve caused. Some people don’t work on forgiveness and then the wound is always right under the surface only to leak out during a fight about loading the dishwasher. This is no way to live. Sometimes people can’t forgive or move forward and in these cases it may be best to think about leaving. Many times people don’t know how they’ll forgive but they eventually find a way to do so. A great book on forgiveness is called Forgive for Good and it makes a good case for doing what we have to do to take ownership for our own feelings and giving ourselves peace.
The bottom line is there hope for relationships where there has been betrayal. Couples counseling can be very helpful in moving forward but it’s important to find a therapist who has experience and training in couples therapy. Lots of therapists do couples therapy but not all have had experience or training in it specifically. Ask what kind of couples therapy a therapist does and if they’ve worked with issues involving affairs before. I myself find that there is no better work being done in the area of couples than the work of John Gottman. I also find TIR or Traumatic Incident Reduction a useful way of addressing the sense of trauma and its roots that so many betrayed partners struggle with. Let me know if you would like more information about TIR or would like to make an appointment.
Click here for more information on Couples Counseling.