Whether it is a husband who finds a forbidden lover's note tucked in his wife's purse, or a wife who discovers her husband has been paying another woman's rent, it is a gut-wrenching, life-shattering experience to suddenly discover that a spouse has been -- or is being -- unfaithful. It is equally devastating to hear a spouse confess to infidelity, even if the confession was done out of guilt and a sincere attempt to repair the marriage.
Living in suspicion -- Is my spouse having an affair? -- can be just as emotionally exhausting. Unfortunately, many spouses who suspect their partner of cheating are correct. Classic signs of a cheating spouse include spending more time at work, financial spending that cannot be accounted for, sudden self-improvement efforts (i.e. joining a gym, dressing better, wearing cologne), secretive and defensive behavior and even an increased sexual interest in the other spouse. More often than not, the signs are there in some form.
Today, the signs are often lying on your nightstand in the form of a smartphone. Technology -- particularly social networking sites and texting -- provide easy opportunity to carry on secret extra-marital friendships that can quickly turn into affairs. Before such technology, affairs were more difficult to start and continue.
A married person who wanted to have an affair with another married person would have to call his or her home and risk an angry spouse answering the phone. Nowadays, that same illicit couple can text or even "sext" each other while they sit at their respective dinner tables, their oblivious spouses and children only an arm's length away.
Some spouses -- often those who are having an affair -- will grow indignant when their partner asks to whom they are texting. They might say, "That's none of your business!" or "It's private!"
Asserting this kind of privacy within the context of marriage is not only antithetical to the very concept of marriage, it facilitates infidelity and often creates a profound sense of insecurity in the other spouse. After all, those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.
Dating and social networking sites provide low-risk, high-excitement ways to connect with strangers and/or reconnect with past friends or lovers. The payoff -- a rush of adrenaline and arousal -- is instantaneous and people often mistakenly believe that they have made an authentic, meaningful connection with someone they have either never met or barely know.
Worse, "innocent" texting between opposite-sex friends can quickly escalate into an overt sexual dialogue due to the false sense of safety this medium provides. Many people have no problem texting graphically sexual content to a person with whom, if they were standing face-to-face, they could barely shakes hands. The relationship is an empty shell, although it gives the illusion of being a virtual cornucopia of connection, attraction and even true love.
Love vs. Lust
While it is true that some affairs turn into long-term relationships, most end in disaster. The lust hormones of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin wear off and the reality -- betrayal, guilt, family breakdown, regret, humiliation, alienation from one's children and so on -- kicks in. Until that happens, however, a cheating spouse may believe that he or she is "in love" with their extramarital bedmate, and may demonstrate the judgment of a love-struck teenager rather than a mature adult with responsibilities.
Until a cheating spouse can tell the difference between love and lust, it is virtually impossible to move ahead and repair the marriage. Here are a few thoughts to ponder on the matter. The more a person answers "No," the more likely it is that he or she is in lust, not love.
● Do you regularly spend extended periods of time with this person, and have you done so for at least one year?
● Do you perform routine or mundane domestic duties with this person (ie. yardwork, shopping, home repairs, financial planning, co-parenting, getting insurance quotes, etc.)?
● Do you have the same circle of friends?
● Do you have biological children together?
● Have you made large purchases together and do you own shared property?
● Do you know and interact with this person's parents, siblings, extended family and close friends?
● Do you spend holidays together?
● If you suddenly became bankrupt, would this person support you financially?
● Has this person seen you at your very worst (ie. sick, anxious, angry, grief-stricken, etc.) and supported you through a number of such episodes?
● Do you have a shared history that includes a range of diverse experiences (ie. travel, accomplishments, funerals, weddings, business ventures, etc.)?
● If you could not have sex with this person, would you still put as much effort into seeing her or him?
● Would you be proud to introduce this person to your children, parents, family and friends?
● If you became incapacitated, would you give this person Power of Attorney over your assets, minor children and personal health decisions?
The Gory Details
When a spouse discovers a partner's affair, he or she often wants to know all of the details. Who? Where? What did you do? How many times did you do it? Was he or she better than me? How long has this been going on? Do you love this person? Do you fantasize about him or her while we are making love?
The answers to some questions may be more valuable than the answers to others. For example, a spouse is fully entitled to know the identity of the extramarital girlfriend or boyfriend, whether there was sexual activity (ie. intercourse, oral sex), if the partner feels he or she is "in love" with the other person, how long the affair lasted and whether it is still going on. Moving past an affair is practically impossible without these kinds of answers.
Other questions that a betrayed spouse might ask -- although perfectly understandable and natural to ask -- may be less helpful. What kinds of sex acts did you perform? In what positions? How many orgasms did you have? How did you touch him or her? How big was his penis? How large were her breasts? Did you use any sex toys? These are the gory details. When deciding how many details you want or need, you may wish to ask yourself the following question, and use it as a guideline:
How much information do I require from my spouse to reassure me that he or she:
a) has ended the affair
b) loves me and only me, and
c) will work to save our marriage?
Be realistic but honest with yourself about the information and details you need to know. Remember that once you hear an answer, you can't unhear it. It may be helpful to write down your questions and sit on them for a few days. Even if you don't change your mind about needing to know the answers, at least you will have had time to collect yourself before asking them.
A betrayed spouse should avoid the tendency to constantly attack a partner with a slew of never-ending questions. An ongoing assault of gut-wrenching, explicit questions about the affair can be exhausting and embarrassing, and can cause even a well-intentioned spouse to shut down.
Agreeing upon a specific time (ie. one hour every Monday night at 8 pm) when the affair and its necessary details can be discussed at length may be helpful. This reassures the betrayed spouse that his or her questions will be answered while allowing marriage and family life to continue with a degree of normality.
Next week's blog: Ending an Affair & Rules to Rebuild Trust
Visit Debra Macleod at www.MarriageSOS.com
SEE: Signs that he or she may be cheating, according to the Twitterverse.
Follow Debra Macleod on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraMacleod