Twelve Steps to Facilitate Affair Recovery

affair-recovery-300x200You’ve decided to salvage your marriage after an affair. It’s not going to be easy to sift through the wreckage and there will be no quick fixes. Re-establishing trust after a monumental transgression is grueling, but with grit and determination you can rebuild. The saying, “What you have done, you will do again,” in the context of infidelity means: once a cheater always a cheater. I reject that belief, having one affair is not the same as being a serial cheater.

Of course you don’t have a guarantee that your partner will never cheat again, but you never had a guarantee to begin with. No human is above falling. If you were the faithful spouse, it is crucial you understand the infidelity wasn’t your fault. You are not responsible for your spouse’s actions and poor decisions. There is no magic recipe for healing, but these twelve steps can be instrumental in the process of rebuilding.

  1. Forgiveness– There is nothing fair about forgiveness; it is a costly gift the betrayed spouse offers to the unfaithful one. Healing will take time and you will most likely need the assistance of a counselor. Therapy can help you flesh out the affair narrative and get you the answers you need to move forward in order to forgive.
  2. Recommitment– Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship. The higher the commitment level, the more likely you will be to stay together when the storm winds blow. Trust can be re-established, love can be revived, but once you throw in the commitment towel, the relationship is essentially dead.
  3. Affair Termination– If the primary relationship is to survive, the affair must be terminated abruptly. No explanation is needed. If you work closely with the affair partner, transfer to another department or change jobs altogether. Block rather than delete phone numbers and email addresses.
  4. Disclosure– As a therapist, I advocate for full disclosure of the affair so the faithful partner can make informed decisions, such as seeing a doctor for STD testing. A word of caution however, you will need to balance your partner’s full disclosure with your ability to cope once the specifics come out. Any communication from the affair partner should be divulged to your spouse immediately.
  5. Secrets– Affairs thrive in secrets and marriages thrive in transparency. When all secrets are on the table, you know who and what you are up against and you are better able to move forward in the healing process. Sharing social media accounts and passcodes for phones, iPads and bank accounts assists in recovering trust. Agree to never change the passwords without consulting with the other partner.
  6. Remembrance– Emerson Eggerichs introduces the 80:20 ratio in his book Love and Respect. This concept says that 80 percent of the marriage can be categorized as good or great while 20 percent is troubling. Many times (pre-affair) couples are focused on everything wrong with each other. As you pursue healing, make a conscious decision to remember the good, get the derailed back on track, forgive the flaws and make new memories.
  7. Romance– You can sabotage your marriage by spending more time on the things that annoy you. In doing so, you water the weeds and strangle the romance. If you want your reconstruction efforts to be fruitful you will have to make a deliberate choice to revive the passion through flirting, laughing, kissing, and when going on dates- staying off the cell phones.
  8. Counseling– Attending weekly sessions will provide you both with the support you need in order to re-launch a better than ever marriage. It also provides a safe place to voice your opinions and concerns about the affair while examining the causes of the unfaithfulness.
  9. Partnership– Marriage is a partnership, which means one person does not hold too much or all of the power. Both parties should contribute meaningfully to the relationship while respecting each other’s contributions.
  10. Grief– One of the best gifts you can give to yourself is permission to grieve the death of your marriage as it was. Set up a support system of friends who will allow you to lament freely. Journaling can provide the outlet to express intense emotions so you do not grow bitter. Whatever you do, stay with your grief work for as long as it takes. There are simply no short cuts.
  11. Boundaries– Trust can be re-established, but getting there will take time, patience and boundaries. Explore those boundaries together so both of you are clear on what you are expecting. If you were the unfaithful spouse, engage a friend or pastor as an accountability partner; your spouse cannot police all of your actions. Finally, commit to a new and higher standard of sexual conduct.
  12. Bonding Time– Initiate a nightly routine of “pillow talk” before going to sleep. This is a good opportunity to strengthen your emotional bond as you recount the day, talk about future plans, pray, or read a devotional together.

Six Things to Let Go of Post Affair

imagesLearning you have been betrayed by the very person who vowed to love, honor and cherish you until parted by death is devastating. Most betrayed partners remember with vivid clarity, every detail of the day they discovered the affair. Not one moment passes by where there is not an acute awareness of their spouse’s decision to stray from the marriage covenant. The knowledge of the infidelity is always present, in every context of life.

Survivors of adultery say you are healed when you can recall the affair and it no longer causes deep emotional anguish. Until that point, every remembrance of the affair threatens to take your breath away, but you do not have to be a hostage to depression or enslaved by fear. With consistent and focused therapy, you can recover and relinquish the toxic waste that has been weighing you down. These six things are healthy to let go of post affair:

  1. Unforgiveness– Forgiving your husband/wife may seem reasonable, especially if you’re trying to reconcile the relationship, but the affair partner? You may not even want to forgive them or perhaps it feels like an impossible task considering their blatant disregard for your marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Talk to God, process your feelings in therapy, but choose forgiveness. I know it isn’t easy and it may take a while to get there, but unforgiveness will fester and spread like cancer. Forgiveness is making the difficult choice to radically accept what you cannot change and agreeing to no longer hold this egregious action against the people who caused you this seemingly unending pain. Forgiveness will liberate you.
  2. Images– If you suffer from mental images of your husband/wife with the affair partner, you are not alone. These abominable images come to your mind at the MOST inconvenient times, they are hard to erase and become the triggers that fuel many arguments and sleepless nights. They are not emotionally healthy and they get in the way of being present with the people you love. So when the intrusive images make their presence known, interrupt the experience and block them by thinking of something more positive.
  3. Despair– One of the reasons betrayal hurts so much is because it is a weapon found only in the hands of someone you love. Your enemy doesn’t have this power. Betrayal is mutiny, a violation of a trust, an inside job. After a betrayal it is common to feel despair. You may even question who you are and court suicidal thoughts. Humiliation and embarrassment become your closest friends. It’s okay to acknowledge the feeling, but don’t live here. Discuss these feelings with your therapist. Even if your marriage is not salvageable, you will recover. Divorce despair and pursue healing and wholeness.
  4. Demonizing the affair partner– It’s easier to forgive your spouse when you are trying to save the marriage and demonize the affair partner. And though there may be many reasons for demonizing him/her: decimated finances, pregnancy, STDs, etc., the brutal truth is, they (your spouse and the affair partner) are BOTH to blame. It is highly unlikely the affair partner will feel guilty enough to take responsibility for their actions or even apologize for their home wrecking antics. Don’t let this person live rent free in your head and don’t waste your precious time plotting revenge.
  5. Ruminating on the affair– Instead of ruminating on the affair and all the “what if’s,” focus on the redemption of your marriage and the new things God is doing in your life. If your partner is repentant as evidenced by terminating the affair, expressing remorse and taking active steps to repair the damage while participating in your healing, you are headed in the right direction. It is safe to stop replaying the events of the affair disclosure in your mental theatre.
  6. Interrogating your spouse– I advocate for the affair details to be shared with the offended party in order for proper emotional healing to take place. Constantly interrogating the guilty spouse, however, will only serve to push them away and you end up reliving the trauma. A good therapist will help you flesh out the affair narrative, learn the causes of the infidelity and repair the breaches. Resist interrogating your spouse and allow your therapist to facilitate the questions and answers you need in order to heal.

 

10 Signs Your Spouse Might be Cheating

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Current infidelity statistics reveal that in over one-third of marriages, one or both partners admitted to an extramarital affair. This number might actually be low because affairs are under reported. Other research estimates indicate that nearly 60% of all individuals will engage in an affair at some point during the marriage.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I do a lot of affair recovery work. My clients have taught me that sometimes there are obvious signs that the faithful spouse misses and sometimes there are no signs at all, because (sadly) some folks are just that good at compartmentalizing. The signs below are not meant to represent an exhaustive list and if present, may not necessarily mean your spouse is cheating. Every relationship is unique and you will have to discover the truth for yourself in your own situation.

  1. Emotional Distance is a huge clue that something may be wrong in your relationship. It’s hard to be emotionally invested in two people at the same time so the guilty partner creates space. The emotional distance works to create a shield that protects them from discovery. If you notice conversations becoming more superficial and your spouse withdrawing more and even becoming secretive, it could be because he/she is growing closer to someone else.
  2. Critical Attitude over the things that never bothered your spouse before such as your weight, wardrobe choices, not having things in common, the way you clean the house or cook, your appearance or even your sexual preferences and zeal between the sheets. Being unfaithful creates a lot of tension and requires the guilty party to focus on the negative aspects in the marriage. In a way, having a critical attitude helps the guilty partner justify their decision to continue their extramarital liaison.
  3. Guilt drives behavior changes. Most people cannot handle the guilt of cheating, so they respond by either showering the unassuming spouse with gifts, attention and affection or they withdraw. They may avoid eye contact and communication efforts aimed at explaining their behavioral changes. The guilty mate may pick fights, especially when the faithful spouse does something nice because it creates mixed emotions and forces the cheater to think about their actions.
  4. Grooming improves during an affair. The cheating partner may suddenly pay closer attention to their looks, change fragrances or begin wearing a fragrance, purchase a gym membership, a new wardrobe or lose weight.
  5. Evasive or unreachable when he/she used to be accessible. Text messages are not given priority and phone calls are not answered or returned. “Client meetings,” “projects” and “business trips” increase with a hyper focus placed on work responsibilities while at home.
  6. Defensiveness is a form of self-preservation. It is a way to blame your partner and says, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” Defensiveness when attempting to address suspicions or making an observation about recent behavioral changes can be an effort to hide an affair.
  7. Blaming the faithful spouse for all the marriage problems and only seeing the marital relationship in negative terms. Often the infidel will flip the script and begin keeping tabs on the faithful spouse or accuse them of being paranoid, delusional or insecure.
  8. Change in behaviors such as listening to new music, picking up a new hobby, an increase in privacy, shutting doors that used to be left open, becoming more confident or more flirtatious with other men or women. It takes money and passion to fuel an affair, so look for changes in spending, a desire to suddenly control the family finances and credit card statements, working longer hours and pulling away from church or extended family.
  9. Sexual intimacy fizzles out or abruptly stops. The guilty partner moves to the guest room or the couch for “better quality sleep” because “snoring” or “restlessness” is keeping them awake. Paradoxically, intercourse sizzles with requests to try new positions and techniques.
  10. A new “friend” enters the picture and more and more time is spent with them. Talking less about interactions with certain colleagues that used to be the topic of conversation can also warrant suspicion.

Three Ways to Love Successfully

loveSecular advice on love and success focuses on ways to maintain another person’s sexual interest or directives on getting your emotional needs met. In the end, this cheap brand of love is shallow and doesn’t lead to long term success. Genuine love is sacrificial and pure, it doesn’t demand its own way or take advantage of others. If you are interested in a love that endures all things, continue reading. I have identified three essential ways to love and be loved successfully:
1. Pursue love- How would you feel if you were deeply in love with someone who was investing more time and energy with their friends, career or hobby? Most likely you would feel insignificant and you certainly wouldn’t feel your love was reciprocated. We invest in the things that are important to us. People think nothing of investing in vehicles, real estate or the stock market, but they rarely apply that same logic to their relationships. Love is a verb. Couples must sacrificially work together to keep love safe, secure and alive. You cannot assume the passion you felt early in the relationship will remain if you invest little effort.

So just how do you pursue love? Put your partner’s needs ahead of your friends. If your other half is sick, cancel your golf game and play nurse instead. Enjoy each other’s company and pursue BFF status with your significant other. Regularly participate in activities you have in common. When eyes start wandering, people begin wondering what they’re missing; love has to be guarded with fierce devotion. Make your relationship an exclusive two-person arrangement. Continue dating after marriage, see a counselor before things go south and finally, never stop discovering new things about one another.

2. Nurture love- Love is among the most basic of human needs; everyone wants to be loved by someone. The ability to express love is what makes us human and sets us apart from the animal kingdom, so before we go any further, let’s define love. Is it a feeling? Is it a decision? Is it more spiritual than emotional or more cognitive in nature? Love is too broad a term to adequately describe in the English language. Would you take a bullet for your car or die for your favorite jeans? Of course not! You probably would, however, give your life for your child or your soul mate! The Greek language provides four major words (and at least eight minor ones) for love:

1. Agape- the idea of a person giving all his or her love or favor to another. Often associated as the love God demonstrates towards us, it is a pure and whole love.
2. Phileo- emotional love, emphasizing affection or a fondness one person has for another.
3. Eros- refers to the passionate love between a husband and wife.
4. Stergo- refers to the love between parents and children.

When the passion fades, you will have to make a decision whether or not to keep on loving in spite of how you feel or you will never leave Phileo Land and experience the depth and richness of “eros” or better yet, the perfection of “agape.” Love is sacred and for it to grow, it must be nurtured. Love should not be repetitive, it should be creative, original and inspired.

3. Hold on to love- Our culture has sold us an unrealistic brand of love. We have been deceived into believing that love is simply physical, which makes you and I no better than Fido the family pet. Romance novels and the silver screen hold men and women to unbelievable standards that devalue love and set us up for failure. Beauty is fleeting, in time romance dwindles, the physical gets boring and eventually, without a strong commitment, we abandon ship and jump into the next hot relationship. Initially love begins as a feeling, but if you want love to last, you must make it a choice and hold on with all your might. Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long term successful relationship. Commitment means honoring the promise to love someone even when the “feeling” is lacking.

In reality, there is no fairy tale ending and there is nothing magical about “true love’s kiss.” Successful love is an unfailing love and in all its splendor, it is quite ordinary. Love that never fails is long-suffering, it is the first to forgive, always seeking to understand rather than seeking to be understood. It means loving a person when they are unlovely or unlovable and loving in spite of each other’s failures and short comings because people are imperfect. Enduring love understands that there are not those couples who have it together and those who do not. We are all broken, messed up and in need of redemption, grace, mercy and forgiveness. So, you want to be successful in love? Pursue it, nurture it and hold on to it with fierce devotion!

Why Forgive?

Almost everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of another person, either intentionally or unintentionally. Smaller offenses such as snapping at someone due to stress or forgetting a lunch date with one’s spouse can usually be forgiven rather easily and can even be forgotten after a little time has passed. More serious; however, are offenses such as abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), infidelity and lying to name a few. These violations can actually leave soul wounds; such an imprint can carry life-long implications.

Considering the emotional suffering associated with soul wounds, it seems only natural to react in anger and desire revenge. The mere suggestion of forgiveness, seems not only unfair, but ludicrous. Yet forgiveness is the exact healing agent needed in order to move forward and live freely. I can identify three foundational reasons to forgive.

1. Forgiveness breaks the bondage of hatred and pain and sets the captives free. Retaliation is a typical response when one has been hurt, it’s human to want to make the offender suffer in similar ways. Left unchecked, bitterness grows like cancer and infiltrates an already calloused heart. Before long the injured person has unintentionally created an emotional prison filled with anger, hatred and pain. This leaves the guilty party in a position of control as they continue to yield power and influence as events of the transgression are replayed over and over in the theater of the mind.

Remaining in unforgiveness is like picking a scab from a wound before it has a chance to heal. Clearly, the benefits of forgiving far exceed the alternative…remaining in unforgiveness. The greatest benefit is often experienced by the person extending forgiveness because it offers release from a self-created emotional prison. The act itself is contrary to the flesh and a near impossible task without Jesus.

2. Forgiveness is both, an act of grace and a gift. Forigiveness is not to be confused with a “pardon” which is letting the perpetrator go free without punishment, it’s not letting them off the hook and it’s not pretending the transgression never happened. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to cut the cords of an oppressive burden and let it roll away. Forgiveness is an act of grace [the giving of something that is unearned and undeserved] and leaving room for God “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NASB).

3. Offering forgiveness improves the quality of one’s relationship with others, allows for spiritual growth and may lead to better health. Dwelling on past hurts robs precious time from those who matter the most (family and friends). Choosing forgiveness frees up the mind and emotions to be present here and now and opens the door to enjoy greater intimacy with God while experiencing inner peace and compassion for others.

Releasing the strangle hold of unforgiveness and choosing forgiveness makes room for emotional health and can lead to lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, and a lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse (Mayoclinic.org, 2011).

After two people have so seriously injured one another, even after apologies have been exchanged, regaining spontaneity and carefree affections doesn’t happen overnight. Some relationships may even be irreparable, but you can walk in peace knowing you did the right thing.