The crushing weight threatens to suffocate you, the pain wants to engulf you, and you don’t think you can go on.  Unfortunately this is what many individuals experience when they find out their spouse has had an affair.  One day the world comes crashing in, when the secret affair becomes known.  There may have been infidelity signs and doubts.

“Where is he?”

“Why won’t she answer my phone calls?”

and “Could it be that…?” are all questions that poke the mind but are put to rest-temporarily.

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have become aware of your partner’s infidelity and you would like someone to answer the questions of “Why?” and “How can I possibly heal from this pain and ever trust again?”

The “Why?” is complicated, but is necessary to address in order to understand what led to marital infidelity in the first place.  Individual circumstances will vary, but the common thread of why affairs happen is a lack of connection in the marriage relationship.  Spouses grow apart over time due to the stress of life.  Work schedules and children’s needs come first and without realizing it, couples no longer spend time together.  They forget how to communicate and conflict often becomes a part of the daily routine.  An addiction can also come between spouses as well as a mental illness.  Sexual needs may not be met and resentment grows.

There is a common misconception that all affairs are about unmet sexual needs, but the truth is that the need for attention and connection is often the reason a spouse might be having an affair.  It should not be assumed, though, that the hurt spouse is entirely to blame, because they also long for connection, but something in the marriage dynamics creates a painful “disconnect” and couples no longer know how to reach each other.

Healing from an infidelity is a long and difficult journey, but a journey that’s worth taking.  Initially there are many questions that arise in the hurt spouse’s mind, and some of these questions need answers.

Initially the hurt spouse must know for certain that the affair has ended and will not resume at a later time.  All contact information of the “other” person should be deleted or destroyed and sometimes leaving a job or asking for a transfer is in line if the other person is a work associate.

The unfaithful spouse should be as transparent as possible without becoming defensive.  By the same token, the offended spouse should refrain from “badgering” the offender or making the affair the constant topic of conversation. It is a good idea to plan a weekly time to talk about the affair instead of letting it creep into every day’s conversation.

Rebuilding trust is a major task to be achieved, and the offending spouse must be transparent at all times.  Leaving cell phones out in the open, sharing email passwords and basically being open about how and where time is spent is helpful.  Trust cannot be rebuilt if there is secrecy or hidden elements in the relationship.  Rebuilding trust takes time, sometimes months or even years.  The timing is hard to determine, and the unfaithful spouse often wants to “speed things up” and get past this as quickly as possible.  The truth is that rebuilding trust cannot be achieved quickly, and the attitude of the unfaithful spouse will determine whether their spouse can slowly learn to trust again.  If new events related to the infidelity occur, trust is once again eroded and the rebuilding process must start again from zero.  As you can see, the behavior and attitude of the unfaithful spouse will have a lot to do with their spouse’s ability to rebuild trust.  Patience is very much needed for this process.

The third element to healing revolves around building a marriage that is worth saving.  Taking a hard look at what was missing or not working prior to the infidelity is painful but necessary.  Once this step has taken place, new ways of relating can be learned that can build a marriage that is fulfilling and meets the needs of each partner.  Counselors are equipped to help couples learn to communicate their feelings and needs in deep and satisfying ways, and the marriage can eventually be stronger than ever.

If you and your spouse are striving to heal after infidelity, take heart-There IS hope!  At Northwest Counseling, Inc. we want to help you heal and build a strong marriage.

Deborah (Debbie) Pinkston, Ph.D.