When most people imagine a scenario involving a "cheating spouse" being caught having an emotional or sexual affair, they assume said cheating spouse will react apologetically. "I'm so sorry! It meant nothing, you're the one I love and want to be with! I'll do whatever it takes to fix this!"
There is also an assumption that the unfaithful spouse will immediately end the affair and break off contact with the other woman or other man. "I promise I'll never see her/him again!"
Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Too often, an unfaithful spouse whose affair has been discovered will continue to see and/or contact their affair partner. Sometimes this is done in secret. They may assure their spouse that they've ended the affair; however, their lack of transparency and untrustworthy behaviour indicates otherwise.
There are all kinds of reasons why a married person may cling to an affair.
This is the spouse who continues to guard or lock their phone, who deletes their text history, who refuses to share passwords to their electronic devices, who won't account for their whereabouts when they're MIA, and who barks out things like, "I said I ended it, you have to trust me!"
Of course, this person doesn't have to be trusted. And if he or she is acting like this, he or she probably shouldn't be trusted. Those who have nothing to hide hide nothing. Sure, it's a simple philosophy. But it's often very true.
Yet ongoing contact with an affair partner doesn't just happen on the sly. Some unfaithful spouses will openly and outright refuse to end an affair. They may make no efforts whatsoever to conceal their ongoing affair from their spouse. They may say they "don't know" who they want to be with or that they "need space" to figure out their feelings.
Why? Perhaps the marriage has deeper, long-standing problems and the unfaithful spouse feels ignored or unloved. Perhaps the unfaithful spouse believes they are truly "in love" with their affair partner. Perhaps the unfaithful spouse enjoys the sexual or emotional excitement they get from the affair, and likes having their "pick" of two people. There are all kinds of reasons why a married person may cling to an affair.
How to handle this situation largely depends on why it's happening. That's why it's impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice in terms of managing it. Yet some counselors and coaches will recommend that a betrayed spouse delay taking action and instead let the affair run its course. They will suggest that the betrayed spouse continue to tell the unfaithful partner how hurtful the behaviour is, hoping that at some point their partner will "get it" and end the affair.
Few spouses do well when pressured to "compete" with their spouse's affair partner.
Why do they recommend this? Again, there may be multiple reasons; however, one reason may be because they simply don't know how to manage such an intractable situation or what else to tell a distraught client. As a result, they just buy time. Not all counsellors or coaches are trained or experienced in this area. They may not know how to handle a resistant or belligerent spouse who defiantly refuses to end an affair. These kinds of clients can be very intimidating and this can be an incredibly difficult problem to manage.
Yet as a practitioner with extensive experience handling this kind of high-conflict marital issue, I strongly suggest that spouses in this situation think twice about "waiting it out" or, worse, begging their spouse to leave the affair partner or competing with the affair partner to win back their spouse. Not only can this strip you of dignity, it can backfire and can damage both your marriage and your own emotional and physical well-being.
"Where is my husband/wife? Are they with the other person? Are they having sex right now? Are they talking about me? What are they saying? Is my partner falling in love with the other person? Is my marriage over? How can I win my spouse back? How can I be better or sexier than the affair partner? What's happening?"
Few people are equipped to live with this kind of uncertainty, anxiety, and loss of power and dignity. Few spouses do well when pressured to "compete" with their spouse's affair partner. In fact, living in this state is the exact opposite of everything marriage should be.
Plus, allowing an unfaithful spouse to continue in an affair -- an allowance almost always made from a position of powerlessness and desperation -- sets a dangerous precedent in the marriage, one that can lead to all kinds of unforeseen consequences down the road. That's why I offer my clients strategies to take back their power while at the same time saving their marriage.
Again, this is a complicated issue and it's impossible to give one-size-fits-all advice in a short article. Suffice it to say, if you're dealing with this situation, please know you're not crazy, you're not worthless and you're not nearly as powerless as you may feel. If you're being advised to "wait it out" but you just can't live like that, there are options to explore. And though you may feel like you're the only one going through this kind of thing, you're not alone. Many spouses have been where you are, and have managed to save not just their marriage, but also their dignity.
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The wedding may be over and done with, but this doesn't mean the excitement shouldn't continue. Take turns devising a trip or planning a special occasion like an anniversary. "Remember, you don’t have to wait for a special event to have some excitement. Try taking a last-minute overnight road trip or simply try a new restaurant," says divorce attorney Bruce Provda.
Don’t believe you’ll be able to change a person or even get them to act more like you just because you’re married, Provda says. "Accept the fact that your spouse’s background and life choices have created them to be a different person from you even if your belief systems are in sync." Instead of trying to mould someone into your idea of the “perfect” person, remind yourself about his or her differences.
Your love for your spouse shouldn’t be a mystery, so make sure to get in some public displays of affection when you can. Hold hands if you're walking through the mall or exchange a casual kiss after dinner. "Showing affection affirms the connection between you and your partner," Provda says.
Avoiding conflict won’t help build the relationship, in fact it will just add stress, Provda says. "While you can’t be scared to express tension or face confrontation, never say anything intentionally mean or intended to hurt the other person."
Being aloof can imply a level of deceit. "If you believe you have to shield part of yourself from your partner in order to be appealing, you’re actually creating low-level tensions that only work to erode the bond and your attraction for each other," Provda says. And yes, it may sound cliché, but honesty is the best policy.
Make sure you share the important things, Provda says. "Marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100-100 deal that brings a true depth of relationship through a depth of knowledge." If you're having a bad day, talk it out, and if something is bothering you about finances, the children or extended family members, make sure both of you can talk it out. "Doing so consistently will help build a connection that gets more complex and deeper as you go through life."
After the surge of romance and honeymoon phase wears off, it’s time to understand reality will set in. "It may be time to reassess where you, as a couple are, and what you are willing to do to make the marriage work. Then you have the choice to readjust the relationship or walk away." Staying in a unhappy and unhealthy marriage is never beneficial to either person, but giving up is just taking the easy way out.
Sure, it sounds old school, but marriage really is about understanding your partner’s needs, Provda says. "You have to be willing to offer what the other person in the relationship needs in order to get their needs fulfilled," he says — and this should work both ways!
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