Rebuilding Trust After An Affair
Hey everyone…this is Stacy Lee LMFT and Director of CICS…in this recording I am going to read a blog that was written by one of the therapists here, Michelle Joy.
You can either listen here, read it or both if you are an overachiever…
Finding out about an affair is often met with shock, devastation, and the sense that the relationship was never what they thought it was, and can never be the same again. There is also uncertainty in the relationship: where do we go from here?
There are 3 directions that couples decide to go:
- Split up immediately
- Move forward as a couple without discussing the affair because it is too painful/overwhelming
- Have the difficult conversations which are designed to process the affair, how you got here, rebuilding trust, etc. The goal is to come out the other side a stronger, more evolved relationship, based on a foundation of growth.
For the sake of this article, I will discuss the 3rd direction, specifically the aspect of rebuilding trust.
Processing an affair is part of what is needed to rebuilt trust; yet this is not easy for either partner, for different reasons:
The partner who had the affair commonly feels guilt, shame, and anger / strong emotions from their partner. They often don’t know how to react to this anger or emotion in a way that is productive. Furthermore, their shame and guilt often gets in the way. This can lead to a feeling of impatience, “I have already apologized, how much longer is this going to go on? When can we start to move forward?” This dilemma can lead to them feeling helpless and begin avoiding conversations with their partner.
The partner who found out about the affair commonly feels on some level like it’s is their fault that the affair happened: “If only I was more ___ or less ___, my partner wouldn’t have strayed.” So in addition to feeling the pain of the betrayal, they feel the pain of not feeling good enough. The relationship is different, and they wonder “how could I have been such a fool and not seen the signs?” Now not only do they not trust their partner, they question trusting themselves as well. All of this can lead to withdrawal, and/or lots of anger directed at their partner.
It’s important to know that that if the couple works together, they can begin to process the affair and rebuild trust (when they are ready). Both partners play a role in doing this.
The partner who had the affair:
- Describe why you had the affair, without justifying it, and without blaming your partner. Get the help of a therapist for this. The scariest thing your partner can hear you say is that you don’t know why the affair happened, because then why wouldn’t it happen again? This will cause your partner to have constant anxiety. If you instead explain the part of you that made that choice and why, and why you won’t make that choice again in the future, it helps.
- Be consistently transparent from now on and going forward. Your partner is not listening to what you say, they are watching how consistently transparent you are because that communicates to them how serious you are and your level of commitment to the relationship.
- Anticipate sensitive life events: “Hey our anniversary is coming up — I know that’s a hard time of year for you.” “Tonight, I am going out with some coworkers, I know this brings up anxiety for you. Let’s talk about what I can do to help you feel more comfortable with this.” Etc. When you anticipate and express this sensitivity, your partner won’t feel as alone.
- A willingness to listen, soothe and validate your partner’s feelings. Let them know you understand how they feel, that how they feel makes sense and that you would feel the same way in their shoes. This takes a capacity to extend yourself to your partners reality apart from your shame and guilt, and to know that every time you do that, it’s helping to rebuilt trust.
The partner who found out about the affair:
- Tell your partner when you have thoughts / anxiety swirling around in your head about the affair, verses acting it out indirectly. It can help for your partner to validate you, hear you and respond to you.
- It can feel so isolating when going to an event with your mutual family or friends, but no one knows about the affair. Tell your partner when you are anxious about going to an event. Let them know what they can do to support you whether it’s leaving early, or having an agreed behavior between the 2 of you that you can do to let your partner know that you feel overwhelmed, etc. at the event.
- You are angry, and understandably so. When you talk with your partner though, see if you can get beneath the anger and tell your partner about the betrayal, hurt, fear, and other emotions that you are feeling instead of just the anger. It will help you process better.
- If you are suspicious of your partner’s behavior, try not to come at them with convictions and accusations — see if you can instead ask them clarifying questions.
Rebuilding trust after an affair is a process that gets strengthened over time. Trust is not freely given, it is earned. It’s normal to have good days, and bad days — it may feel like a roller coaster. This is normal. Your feelings are normal.
I hope this article offers some big picture steps for each of you during this difficult time. If you find you need guidance to navigate your way through contact us for a free consultation to hear how we can help.