A Guide to Dealing with Infidelity, Part 2
In this two-part series, we provide you with a short guide to deal with infidelity in your relationship. The first article focused on the definition, types and reasons behind infidelity. We also explored what to do (or not do) when you first discover infidelity in your relationship.
This article discusses the consequences of infidelity, including common stages of grief after the discovery of an affair. We then explore the 3 possible outcomes of infidelity: 1/ the affair is ignored; 2/ the relationship ends; or 3/ the relationship is reassessed and resumed.
With infidelity come consequences. Many people are impacted. If we were to step outside and look in for a moment, we may be able to see just how many people are affected.
Firstly there is the betrayer. He/she has learnt to be an actor in order to not be suspected. After being found out, feelings of shame, guilt, despair and confusion are evident. In most cases, the betrayer is forced into making a quick decision between two relationships. With that choice come huge impacts for the betrayer, including many of the losses described by the person betrayed. Sometimes the power and control is immediately reversed in the relationship and the betrayer is denied choices. He/she finds themselves being punished by sleeping on the couch or not having access to the children.
The lover sometimes wins and sometimes loses. 50% of romantic affairs end in divorce or separation with 25% of romantic affairs resulting in marriage to the lover. 75% of these marriages end in divorce. This means that quite often, the lover often loses out, and quite often suffers in silence because the relationship was hidden or undisclosed in the first place.
If there are children involved, their young lives are instantly changed resulting in emotional and behavioural reactions. It is rare for the children not to become involved either indirectly or directly and in the case of subsequent separation, it is the beginning of a totally new lifestyle and environment for the child to encounter.
Lastly, there is the person who has been betrayed. The betrayed usually experiences several stages, which are called the stages of grieving. The process can take anything from several weeks to several years. Let’s look at these stages to determine where you are at, but remember they do not have to come in any particular order and if any stage is unfamiliar, that’s quite okay.
Stages of Grief
Denial: On discovery of the affair, there is an initial period of shock and maybe denial. This may include making excuses for the betrayer or believing only what you want to hear. This is a perfectly normal reaction except where the denial extends beyond a feasible time. In cases where denial extends years and years, the betrayed person most likely has inwardly experienced all stages of grief silently and reached acceptance, but chosen to live a lie.
Anger: When the full impact of infidelity hits home, pure rage sets in. Anger can be directed to the betrayer or displaced incorrectly to others including the children, work colleagues or even God. This stage is a difficult one to pass through, and often violence becomes evident in what was a non-violent relationship.
Bargaining: Bargaining is the beginning of the decision making process where one or both parties look at offering negotiations. These bargains can be made with each other, with self or with a higher being and may include statements like “if she takes me back, I will never do that again” or “if you tell me where you are going, I might be able to trust you again”.
Depression: With the reality of the affair comes the knowledge of problems within the relationship that either can or can’t be worked out. Either way, one grieves for the relationship that once was less complicated and affair free. Depression has been described as a heavy cloud over your head which makes it difficult to function, enjoy life and even get up in the morning. Depression should be carefully monitored and addressed by professionals if needed.
Acceptance: The final stage is that of acceptance. True acceptance comes when functioning has returned and having acknowledged the incident in its entirety. Many people reach acceptance by being able to forgive all parties including self. Forgiveness is like freeing oneself from all the negative feelings associated with the infidelity and being able to move forward either within the relationship or external to the relationship. Forgiving is a difficult challenge for some and acceptance is not dependent on the ability to forgive.
Getting Through It
Let’s look at some ways to help you get through infidelity. You will notice that some days are better than others and you may even recognise that you have passed through or are “stuck” in one of the stages referred to previously. This may or may not be obvious, but if you are able to identify where you are at, it can be helpful to gauge where you are now compared to where you want to be.
Below are some helpful suggestions and techniques for alleviating the stress associated with the shock of infidelity. Please be reminded that if your bad days outnumber the good ones, your best option would be to seek professional assistance.
Journal Writing: First, we are going to learn to “journal”. Writing our feelings does not always come easy however; once you start you will soon learn the benefits of getting words down and completely out of your system. Practice writing about the stages you have experienced, and if useful, allow it to be the start of your journal of feelings throughout this time in your life. Every time you identify feelings such as anger, fear or sadness, go to your journal and write. After each entry, your feelings will have a lesser impact on your daily life.
Thought stopping: Thought stopping is a process of interrupting obsessive thoughts as a means of blocking them from one’s consciousness. It works much like when a child puts their hands over their ears and sings loudly to block out what they do not want to hear. It can also act as a way of deliberately turning negatives cues into positive ones. Below are three thought stopping techniques for you to practice.
1. Thought replacement. When an unwanted thought enters, immediately replace the thought with a healthy, rational one.
2. Yelling “stop”. When the unwanted thought enters, immediately yell “STOP”. The yell can either be out loud or in the mind. Continue yelling STOP until the unwanted thought goes away.
3. Visual image. If you tend to visualise negative images, replace that image with something positive and healthy.
Now let’s see if this technique works for you. You no doubt are repeatedly thinking about the affair, your partner’s lover, or other details which upset you. Depending on whether this thought occurs visually or cognitively (thinking only), consciously replace it with an image or thought that automatically brings a smile to your face.
For example, if you were to think repeatedly about the other person and their face often comes to mind, learn to automatically replace it with a “snap-shot” of your children at their happiest.
Relaxation: It is extremely difficult to be “relaxed” after the discovery of your partner’s affair; however it is equally important to get adequate sleep and rest in order to function well. There are numerous relaxation techniques readily available from bookstores and internet sites but we will go through an easy to remember technique useful for people finding it hard to get to sleep.
1. Make sure your clothing is comfortable and lie in a straight position.
2. Tighten the muscles in your toes, and hold for a count of 10.
3. Relax your toes and enjoy the sensation of releasing the tension from them.
4. Flex the muscles in your feet, and hold for a count of 10.
5. Relax your feet.
6. Continue to flex and relax each muscle group as you move slowly up through your entire body, e.g. your legs, abdomen, back, arms, neck and face.
7. Breathe slowly and deeply, and sleep will come.
Making a Decision
As discussed earlier, one of three events occur after the discovery of an affair. For some, nothing changes in the relationship and the affair is either ignored, denied, repeated, or continued. The affair can unfortunately also end a relationship depending on the intensity and length of the affair and the values of the parties involved.
For others, the occurrence of an affair can signal a reassessment of the existing relationship and provides an opportunity for change, growth and a more improved relationship. Let’s take a closer look at these options before going any further.
Option 1 – Ignore the Affair
For many, an affair can simply rock the world we live in. To contemplate leaving the family home and/or one’s partner would be inconceivable and it is simply easier to put the affair at the back of your mind and lock it away.
The decision to do nothing quite often happens in older couples and couples with children, who decide to stay in a marriage for the children only. Unfortunately, the action of “no action” or doing nothing doesn’t promote self growth much less assist the relationship. The betrayer sometimes has repeated affairs to satisfy his/her needs for closeness and intimacy, and other times boxes him/herself within an unsatisfying relationship filled with guilt and shame.
The betrayed deals with the affair privately but can overtly or covertly ‘punish’ the betrayer for the duration of the relationship. Quite often in these cases, there is a shift in who controls the relationship, where the betrayed now holds the power.
The people who chose to do nothing after the discovery of their partner’s affair will most likely not be reading this or looking for assistance. Fortunately though there are other choices and the discovery of an affair usually is a catalyst for change.
Option 2 – The Relationship Ends
One third of relationships end after the discovery of an affair. Sometimes the decision is owned entirely by the betrayer, when he/she decides to end the existing relationship and progress the relationship with his/her lover. The affair was simply a means to leave the relationship which leaves the betrayed with no choice but to grieve and go on with life. On other occasions, the person who has been betrayed ends the relationship based on his/her beliefs and values.
Our beliefs and values are a set of guidelines or rules by which we live. They are ingrained in us by things we learnt from our family of origin and special people like teachers and neighbours. Our values can include beliefs in things like marriage, fidelity, sexuality, religion and even dress code. For example, some people would never get a tattoo anywhere on their body at any given time of their life. However, others proudly display numerous tattoos; hence values are different from person to person. It is for this reason that some people are more accepting and forgiving of infidelity and others are not.
Your decision whether to end a relationship after an affair may require some examination of your values and beliefs. Below is a short exercise to help you look closely at where your feelings about infidelity originated. Take some time to think carefully before answering these questions because it is most likely that your values have been formed unconsciously based on situations you have experienced in your life.
Were your parents faithful to each other during their marital life? Yes/No
Have you ever been close to anyone who has experienced infidelity? Yes/No
If you answered “yes” to either of the above two questions,
Write a few lines about how the people involved reacted to the infidelity.
Write a few lines about how you were affected by what happened in this relationship.
If you answered “no” to both of the above questions, there is a good chance that the knowledge of your partner’s affair has shocked you, as the situation is unfamiliar to anything you have ever experienced before. It is more than likely you would like to replicate the relationships of family and friends and you have firm values about infidelity.
If you answered “yes” to either of the above questions, your values concerning infidelity may or may not be flexible. Witnessing the repercussions of an affair would have a direct influence on your values and would depend entirely on whether the experience and outcome was negative or positive.
Of course other things other than our family and friends and their experiences will influence our values. By reflecting on these questions, you may now have an understanding about where your values have originated. It may now be useful to answer the questions again on your partner’s behalf to try to gain an understanding of his / her values. Now, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If you know the answers for your partner, it could be useful to compare the two sets of answers.
Deciding to end or stay in a relationship after infidelity has been present, is a huge decision. Values play a big part as discussed above, but there are also other factors. Choosing to stay will be discussed in option 3. For now we will look at what happens when the relationship ends. Regardless of who makes the decision to end the relationship, a person’s life is generally turned upside-down at this point. We will now look at some common problems after the termination of a relationship.
1. How do you “turn off” your love?
Right now, after finding out about the affair, you most likely think you hate your partner. But look closely at the reasons for feeling angry, betrayed, lonely and scared. You are shattered because your partner, the one you love, has looked to another for comfort, intimacy and all the other things you once shared. The easy way to stop loving them is to hate them, but this is destructive and soul crushing.
Understand that it is their behaviour you dislike, and right now everything they are doing and saying is inconsistent with the person you love. If the affair is continued, then it is likely that behaviours and actions which you do not agree with will also continue, and day by day, you will notice that the person you once loved no longer exists in the same human being. He or she has changed because of some internal drives or desires that are unfamiliar to you.
Learning to fall out of love with your partner is probably more difficult when you chose to go your separate ways, without a third party. This is because the unexplainable and bad behaviours have ceased and he or she has resumed being the person they once were. Putting some distance between you both may make life easier, and perhaps a good friendship may be the outcome.
2. Sole parenting
Hopefully the incidence of an affair will not end the relationship between the children and either of their parents. Remember that all children deserve to know both parents, despite their mistakes, and denying kids that privilege is extremely harmful.
Once things settle down a little, there will be huge changes in lifestyle for all concerned and the kids must learn to adjust to two homes, two sets of rules and two individual parents. For the residential parent (who lives with the kids), it is a difficult task to cope with not only their own emotions but those of the children. Understandably, children feel the effects of separation which in turn can result in behavioural problems.
The last thing a sole parent needs when coming to terms with a separation, is the burden of naughty children. Some sole parents describe the period of separation as operating on “auto pilot” where they just function on a day to day basis, going from here to there as best as possible. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes and miss appointments.
If you were to remember one important thing, try not to involve your children too much in the separation, and only give them enough information for them to understand that both parents still love them and will continue to love them forever. Understand that their behavioural problems are temporary and are a reaction to the changes in their young lives.
As difficult as it may seem, the ideal outcome for a child, would be to continue having loving parents, despite the relationship ending. This can be achieved by being sensible adults and putting the needs of the children first. If at all possible, continue to be parents and share roles and responsibilities equally.
Sometimes, the other parent is negligent in his/her duties which make sole parenting even more difficult. To best deal with this scenario is to reframe this situation by turning the negative into a positive. For example the fact that the other parent has little time with the children, means that you are the more fortunate one who will witness the wonderful milestones that raising children brings with it.
Many community agencies offer support for sole parents in areas such as group workshops, child minding, counselling for the children and household / gardening assistance.
3. Changing roles
When a relationship ends, we sometimes find that our role changes. This usually happens because a separation forces the equity from the relationship to be divided, and when one property has to be shared into two parts; both parties end up with heavier financial burdens. This usually results in both parties needing to be employed. Where children are involved, women can be forced back into the workforce, and the role of mother is stretched to include a “provider” role as well. When dads are sharing in the caring role of the children, their role is one which includes a “nurturing” component.
Despite recent trends for both parties to work, many individuals must adjust to the extra demands of wearing several hats, loss of dual incomes, and having no help around the home.
The longer the relationship, the potential for loneliness is greater. It doesn’t matter how positive you are, how amicable the split may be, or how many friends you have, you will have periods of loneliness. Sometimes it is helpful to sit in the dark, listen to sad music and cry your eyes out.
Forgive yourself for the occasional gloomy day, but there is a big beautiful world out there, and believe it or not, other fish in the sea. Don’t go fishing too soon though! There is no magical cure for loneliness except to surround yourself with friends, keep busy, join clubs and get fit. Be determined to learn and grow from this experience.
Option 3 – The Relationship is Reassessed and Resumed
Infidelity doesn’t have to end the relationship. But it is a big wake up call that something is seriously wrong. If the couple can identify the problems in the relationship and develop skills to deal with these problems, they have a good chance of surviving the ordeal.
Both parties have a lot of work to do in order to restore trust, and to begin it is imperative that both parties are committed to work on the relationship. This means that the romantic affair is ended, talked about, changes made within the relationship and dealt with.
Healing the relationship initially involves both parties working individually on themselves. The betrayer needs to examine the motivations for having had the affair in the first place. By this, he/she needs to look for answers to emotional issues happening within him/herself and not external circumstances like intoxication, close friendships, business trips etc.
The same goes for the person who has been betrayed, who needs to look at his/her emotional needs, also being mindful of what part they played. For example, be really honest about whether you were too busy with work, too tired to talk or too disinterested in what was going on. While this process appears to be seeking who is to blame, it is more like both people being honest enough to acknowledge their shortcomings and forthright enough to ask to have their needs met.
Many people do not have the skills necessary to work through the aftermath of infidelity without getting sucked into negative discussion and destroying any positive groundwork they have built. It is vitally important to develop healthy conversation in the relationship, and learn to see things from the other person’s perspective. The best way to do this is to set aside time regularly to talk and listen. Remember that to be committed, you need to talk and listen. What is also important is to decide when you should talk about the affair and how to develop ways to protect your relationship from further harm.
Once communication is flowing, a renewed relationship should be negotiated. This involves setting in place some relationship rules like keeping each other informed of each other’s movements and allowing each other permission to remind the other if things get forgotten. Of course, your rules may include the time you spend with each other and can stipulate weekly outings and annual holidays as well.
Below is a checklist of the process:
Acknowledge the infidelity – no matter how much you want to ignore it, forget it and get on with life, it happened and must be dealt with.
End the affair – in order to rebuild the relationship, the unfaithful partner must end the relationship once and for all. Any contact with the former lover will cause further unnecessary pain. This may even involve relocating the family or changing jobs.
Talk about each other’s emotional needs – it’s obvious that the offending party’s emotional needs were not getting met, and in order for affairs not to be repeated, these needs have to be identified. Of course the person who has been betrayed will have unmet emotional needs, together with the need for assurance that the affair will not be repeated.
Give of yourself – having identified each other’s’ needs, work hard at actioning behaviour changes. Be creative in showing each other that they are valued and respected.
Restore trust – in order to restore trust, be mindful of letting your partner know where you are, if you will be late, and of future business meetings and trips ahead of time.
Make some changes – it’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of life which is probably one of the reasons for the affair in the first place. Let go of obligations which burden you and take up more pleasurable hobbies together.
Reconnect – talk, talk and talk some more. Reminisce about your first meeting, the birth of the children, old friends. Make plans for future holidays and build a wonderful exciting future together.
Forgive – It is unhealthy to hold onto resentment. Forgiveness requires generosity but is merely a decision. A decision which can free you from the burden of the resentment you have been carrying and help you to move ahead in your life.
The last item above mentions forgiveness. We all know that when we don’t forgive someone, it can “eat us up”. If you have read this far in this series and your relationship stands a chance at surviving after infidelity, then you need to consider forgiveness to not only maintain your relationship, but to sustain it and have a better relationship than before.
We all agree that the impact of infidelity is huge, and takes us on an unfamiliar journey through many losses, painful feelings, stages of grief and making difficult decisions. We have talked about the types and prevalence of affairs and the consequences on all involved with the hope of gaining meaning and understanding of why the event occurred in the first place.
We have identified strategies for alleviating the stresses associated with the aftermath and looked at who can support us through this journey. It is a journey we would not wish on our worst enemy, but the good news is that we can recover. Below is a list of recommended readings which may be useful as you embark on becoming everything you want to be.
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