The key to healing from an affair lies in making the effort to understand, really understand, how you and your mate have been operating in your relationship.
Dwayne* came in for therapy after discovering that his wife, Gina, had been seeing another man for the past six months. He was understandably devastated and confused. He was also surprised that when he confronted her with his evidence, Gina immediately said she’d end it with the other man and that she didn’t want a divorce. Why would she cheat on him if she didn’t want to leave him, Dwayne wondered?
At first, Dwayne blamed Gina for all of it. He said he’d always thought she was selfish and impulsive while he described himself as hard-working and loyal. Dwayne couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be with his wife again after such a massive betrayal.
Things started to turn around for Dwayne when he was asked “What would Gina say is the hardest thing about being married to you?” Dwayne knew the answer to that question; “She’d say that I’m always at work, I’m distracted at home, and I leave all the issues regarding the kids to her. She’d say that I don’t take initiative with the marriage. And she’d be right.”
At that point, Dwayne got interested in looking at his marriage from a larger perspective. Working with the therapist, he developed a timeline of significant events that had occurred since he and Gina had been together. The event that jumped out at him the most was the death of his mother, one year earlier. Dwayne knew he’d been more withdrawn since then.
“But isn’t that normal?” he asked.
It was explained to him that although it’s normal to react to the death of a parent, it’s also common to miss how one’s reactions are affecting the rest of the family. Understanding the context in which the affair took place doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does give everyone a better way to think about what happened.
Dwayne is still working on this issue with his therapist. He thinks he’s getting calm and clear enough to invite Gina into the sessions with him. He’s not sure if the marriage will survive this trauma, but he is confident that both he and Gina can learn from their mistakes.
The only person who is responsible for an affair is the person who has made the choice to have one. However, understanding your part in your relationship dynamics, positive and negative, is empowering. The information you gather can help you to understand and cope with what’s going on in your life. Understanding how your marriage has been operating will point you in the direction of what you want to work on in yourself. Learning how you and your mate really operate will enable you to see things more objectively, to heal and move forward, and to make sound decisions about your future, whether or not you stay in your relationship.
*All names and circumstances have been changed to protect confidentiality.