This is part two of a three-part series on Infidelity. Visit last week's blog for part one.
Ending an Affair
Sometimes a spouse wishes to end an affair and rebuild the marriage, but finds it difficult to tell his or her extra-marital bedmate that it is over. The spouse may feel guilty about ending it, and may worry how the end of the affair will affect the other person. This type of inaction, flip-flopping or hesitation to end the affair, once and for all, is misplaced loyalty in the extreme. It can do irreparable harm to the marriage, as the betrayed spouse begins to see his or her partner as even more unfaithful, uncommitted and unreliable.
It is impossible to move past infidelity and rebuild a marriage while one spouse is emotionally or physically involved with another person. Moreover, the other person -- the marital interloper -- does not require, and is not entitled to, time or effort when it comes to ending the affair. He or she should not have had a presence in the first place. There is no need for private meetings to "find closure" or continued communication. An unfaithful spouse who claims differently is adding to both the insult and injury he or she has already caused his or her spouse. A dramatic shift in priorities and loyalties is required if the marriage is to survive and thrive.
The Spouse vs. The Other Woman or Other Man
Although it is impossible to move past infidelity while a spouse is still involved with his or her girlfriend or boyfriend, it sometimes happens that a betrayed spouse will allow a cheating partner to carry on the affair. A hopeful, fearful or misguided spouse will often say something like, "You have to choose between the two of us." This approach is doomed to failure, either sooner or later. This is for a number of reasons:
First, the longer a spouse is involved with another person, the deeper his or feelings for that person may become. Second, a cheating spouse may be drawn to the romanticism of an unattainable paramour. When a betrayed spouse walks away from the situation, she or he says, "I am now the unattainable one. You can have your girlfriend or boyfriend, but not me." This can turn the tables and make a cheating spouse wake up to reality.
When a betrayed spouse gives his or her partner time to choose between the marriage and an extramarital lover, he or she sets up an unwinnable situation. If the cheating spouse chooses to stay in the marriage, the spouse may always wonder if he or she secretly regrets the decision or fantasizes about being with the other person. The betrayed spouse may eventually grow resentful of how long it took the cheating spouse to decide, and may even feel like a "second choice."
If the cheating spouse chooses to leave the marriage, the betrayed spouse may feel even worse. Not only did they put themselves through hell, they lost their dignity along with their marriage.
Despite the panic, desperation and profound sadness that attend the discovery of an affair, betrayed spouses must nonetheless rationally weigh the pros and cons of allowing a cheating spouse to continue the affair.
Of course, if you feel that you need to give your spouse the opportunity to decide between you and another person then you must use your own discretion. Just keep in mind that fear, desperation or a desire to "win" your spouse back from the Other Woman or Other Man are unhealthy reasons to put yourself through this kind of hell.
There are two steps to rebuilding trust after infidelity. These are:
a) Time & Transparency
b) Repeated Positive Experiences
Time heals all wounds, right? Wrong. If a couple who has suffered through infidelity does not properly recover and heal from it, time only makes the scar more visible. The wound may even re-open now and then. But if a couple uses time smartly, it can soothe the pain and the scar can begin to fade.
For that reason, a spouse who has cheated on his or her partner must be fully transparent in the days, weeks and months after infidelity. Transparency, in terms of behaviour, implies complete honesty, openness and accessibility. There can be no unexplained absences from the home, no private passwords for computers or smartphones, no whispered phone calls, no texting in the next room, no significant expenditures that cannot be accounted for.
Of course, the degree of transparency will depend on the betrayed spouse's comfort level. Some spouses may be okay with private passwords, others may not. Some may wish to randomly check up on a partner, others may not. The spouse's comfort level may change as times goes on.
When a betrayed spouse is trying to regain trust in a partner, it is essential for the partner who cheated to have patience and humility. Unfortunately, some partners quickly lose their patience and may say something like, "It's been two months! You need to get over it and stop snooping through my phone!" This sends the message that this partner is not willing to do what it takes to regain his or her spouse's trust. It also feels as though he or she is shifting the problem onto the betrayed spouse, while too quickly absolving himself or herself of blame.
When deciding on the terms of transparency -- that is, how open must a spouse be? -- couples must make sure that they have the same expectations. A betrayed spouse should put some thought into this, so that his or her expectations are realistic and workable, yet comprehensive enough to provide the reassurance that he or she needs from the other spouse.
But time and transparency aren't enough to rebuild trust. It is also essential that the negative feelings, memories and experiences that surround the infidelity be replaced with positive feelings, memories and experiences. Rebuilding trust is an active, collaborative process.
A commitment to work on the marriage is certainly a positive step. Endeavoring to learn what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is important, as is a desire to create a marriage that is happier and healthier than ever before. But the little things count, too. Small or spontaneous romantic gestures -- whether flowers, a gift or a weekend getaway -- may be welcome. Unexpected texts, phone calls or love notes might help, as may an increase in family time, affection, sincere compliments and sharing of chores.
Sometimes, a spouse who wishes to regain a partner's trust doesn't know what kinds of gestures he or she should do. It seems that no matter what he or she tries, it falls on deaf ears or -- even worse -- comes across as insincere and provokes, rather than pleases, the spouse. In such cases, it may be helpful if the betrayed spouse can suggest some positive gestures that his or her partner might perform. These should be acts that the spouse feels are meaningful, sincere and demonstrative of the partner's commitment to remain faithful. This approach eliminates guesswork on the part of the other partner, and can avoid unnecessary conflict.
Next week: Infidelity, Part 3: The Reasons for Infidelity & Affair-Proofing Your Marriage
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