There are so many questions that come up after one partner has an affair, and the main question that I hear when working with couples struggling to move forward is, why? This is usually one of the main questions asked by the injured partner, however it is typically something that the participating partner has the most difficulty answering.
There are various ways in which couples deal with affairs, they either 1) ignore the problem and hope to push past it without truly delving into discussing it explicitly 2) spend even more time together, and try to “love it out” in a sense, or 3) they separate in an attempt to stop fighting about it.
Wanting to know why your partner did this to you seems as though it will unlock so much, and help you to move forward. But in my opinion, and in the work that I do with couples I’ve found that there isn’t always one definitive answer that’s really good enough for the injured partner, and it typically takes a great amount of time for the participating partner to truly understand why they decided to look stray.
This can be extremely frustrating for the injured partner, and difficult to understand, however I suggest more important things to focus on while getting to the “why?”:
1. What about us? In the initial phase of healing from infidelity it is important to set boundaries for daily living and talk about how you will continue to be in the same household during this emotional time.
2. Have you considered leaving the relationship? Although it isn’t vital to have a definitive answer at this point, it is helpful to find understanding in your partner’s feeling about staying in the relationship and working through the infidelity.
3. What level of intimacy feels ok right now? Considering what normal activities feel right at the time and discussing them with your partner are essential in creating healthy boundaries in the initial phase of recovery. Deciding to do things like have coffee together in the mornings, hug, kiss, hold hands, and sleep in the same bed, and being vocal about what feels right will help keep everyone on the same page. I also suggest that you talk about what happens if you begin to feel uncomfortable with anything that you’ve agreed to try.
4. What are we committed to doing in the short term? Creatinga short term plan to work towards healing and moving past the affair may be all you can commit to, and that’s ok. While there isn’t a definite time frame for this, it should be something both partners agree to and feel comfortable with. Within this commitment should be parameters about how you will work to improve the relationship and might sound something like, “I propose we work intensely on our relationship for the next 3 months and then reassess. That means attending weekly counseling, completing all homework set forth by our therapist, and continuing to stay in the home together, and making our relationship our top priority to see if we can indeed get past this.”
5. Are you committed to a process of learning about how we each contributed to this affair happening? If so, are you willing to take responsibility? Are you committed to learning more about us individually and as a couple? I know this is a three-part question, but in order to move forward you must have all three components. This should also be something that each partner will commit to doing in small increments of time. While the larger question is always whether or not you should stay together, it is a process that occurs in order to find the answer.
Secrecy plays a huge role in an affair and is what the injured partner typically has the most difficulty dealing with and so if the participating partner is willing to be honest about their feelings and their commitment to move forward, this will help greatly in creating a new normal and in rebuilding trust.
Communicating after infidelity can be incredibly challenging. I see many individuals and couples struggle to find the appropriate way to move forward after their partner has been unfaithful, and so I’ve created a FREE guide titled, “My husband cheated: Communicating with your partner in the wake of Infidelity” and you can get it by signing up here. Whether you are the injured or participating partner, there is great info for both in learning to communicate after infidelity, so I hope you’ll get your copy!
If you could use more support and want to talk about the possibility of couples counseling, please give me a call at (909) 226-6124. I’m happy to chat with you about the benefits of counseling and how you can begin to move forward.