Getting Past an Affair
Helen’s work was to first cope with the shock from finding out that the man she knew and trusted for the last ten years had an affair. The affair and Helen’s thinking triggered feelings of intense hurt, embarrassment and shame that she was not worthwhile enough. These inner feelings were expressed as anger at Wally. Helen had to work on accepting some responsibility for how her relationship was, but not take responsibility for Wally’s actions.
The first investment and commitment that Helen needed to make was to herself. She had to first cope with the intense emotions that were triggered and then learn how to forgive herself for the blame she took on. The affair triggered off deep feelings of insecurity and anxiety that Helen had carried around since childhood. Helen hated having these “old feelings” resurface and resented Wally for making this happen. But she did not need to take full blame nor declare herself unfit and unlovable as a partner. Without working on forgiving herself and not letting Wally’s actions define who and what she was, Helen could become quite depressed.
Let me make this very clear, recovering from one’s partner having an affair can be a major life stressor that not only takes time but effort as well.The question for Helen is whether a Wally is willing and would be allowed to help in the recovery.
Wally had to understand where he was with the affair and why he chose to step out of his marriage with someone else. Could he be honest with himself and would he be willing to put some effort into finding out why he strayed? He must be able to understand the difference between a new romantic relationship and his marriage of over eight years. This truly affords Wally the opportunity to decide whether he wants to end his affair and work on rebuilding his marriage. Some partners do not take the time to understand what they really want. They may make a hasty decision under crisis conditions to return to their marriage only to find out later that they really wanted out. Other partners may hastily leave their primary relationship, only to discover that they have made a big mistake.
Wally and Helen will be most likely be at level 1 or 2 on the Relationship Investment Commitment Scale where they are willing to put energy into their relationship. (pg. 76 Taking Space) Any major obstacles and backslides, ie continuing to see the other person with whom one partner had the affair; failure to take responsibility and to do the work to rebuild trust will often diminish the chances for recovery as a couple. Taking Space is unique in that the problem-solving process builds in the time even during a physical separation, to actually see if partners are able and willing to put in the effort to improve their relationship. It further allows for an evaluation period to assess how well the individuals and relationship is recovering.