Dear Anne & Brian - My husband and I have been together 20 years and I had an affair. He immediately went and started dating someone, even before he left me. We separated for one month then he decided to give me another chance and rebuild our marriage. We have been back together for 3 months. We talk about our affairs quite often, although he tends to avoid opening up about his feelings at times. This is my fault, since when we are talking I assume it is a sharing of feelings and I tell him how I feel about his other person. He just recently informed me that sometimes he just needs me to listen and I am willing to do that. The main problems we are having are trust. I have told him about my affair and answered as many questions as I had answers for but he doesn't believe me. How do we help each other through this? Do the thoughts and images ever leave your mind??? I want to do whatever I need to do to help him through this. What do you do when you've both had affairs?
Affair recovery experts generally believe it takes a MINIMUM of 2 years to heal from an affair. We have seen quite a few couples come through our programs and heal in as little as a year. We’ve also noticed a common denominator among these couples. They are the ones who found our help within the first month of disclosure. As we dug deeper for common denominators of those who healed more quickly we found it is not the affair itself that does the greatest damage to the relationship. We say this very cautiously, because we do not wish to diminish the great amount of damage an affair does to a marriage. It is all the mistakes couples make post disclosure that cause the greatest harm to the marriage. It's no different when you've both had affairs. We, therefore, cannot overemphasize the importance for couples to find good help as soon as possible.
Revenge affairs are a common post disclosure mistake, and they greatly diminish couples’ chances for success. That said your situation is NOT hopeless. Statistics are unhelpful in the affair recovery process, because the only statistic that really matters is the one that applies to you. You could be the exception and not the rule. It’s best to believe you are going to be a success story, and work towards healing and getting it right from this day forward.
To anyone contemplating a revenge affair, don’t do it. It will not have the intended affect, and it will not be satisfying. It will leave you feeling worse about yourself, not better.
We are seeing more and more couples where this is the dynamic and pain they are dealing with.
Generally the 2nd spouse to have an affair deals with a greater amount of remorse and regret than the 1st spouse to have the affair. They tend to come around and wish they had chosen a more positive initial response to the first person’s disclosure of their unfaithfulness, such as getting a divorce or proactively working towards healing. The 2nd spouse to have an affair also tends to be more withdrawn and less willing to participate in the healing process.
In a typical affair, there are certain things the betrayed spouse must work through, and there are other things the unfaithful spouse must work through and do. When both have had affairs, both spouses must play both roles. They each bear both sides of the pain, and both sides of the responsibility towards healing.
In typical affairs, the betrayed spouse is so consumed with their own pain for many months that they are unable to grasp or understand the fact that the unfaithful spouse is also in a tremendous amount of pain. Where both have had affairs, both spouses are in both roles and the road is double difficult. Contrary to what one might believe, that if I have a revenge affair, the 1st unfaithful spouse will “know how I feel.” When both have had affairs it does not bring greater understanding. Instead it makes the road even more difficult and arduous.
When both have had affairs, both struggle with trust. Trust is foundational to a strong marriage. It makes sense that you say the thing you are both struggling most with is trust. Obviously it would be much easier if only one of you were struggling to rebuild trust instead of both at the same time.
When you’ve been unfaithful and you answer questions about the affair truthfully more than likely your betrayed spouse will not believe you. You have proven yourself to be untrustworthy and right now they are therefore not likely to believe much (if any) of what you say. That’s normal. This said if you are telling the truth, you will be just fine. Truth stands the test of time. Just keep telling the truth, in time, they will trust you again. Of course telling the truth means your behavior matches your words. If your behavior doesn’t match your words you’re in trouble.
When there has been an affair in the marriage, the first 3 – 6 months post disclosure are a time of trauma for the betrayed spouse. Most betrayed spouses suffer from varying degrees of post traumatic stress disorder. They struggle to think straight and to function normally. They are easily distracted. They forget common normal things. They struggle to think logically.
Really no betrayed spouse should be fully held responsible for his or her actions or words during this time.
One of the most common mistakes professionals make when supporting a couple through an affair is to try and move forward in significant ways during the “trauma” phase, or to take things that either spouse says or does, with too much seriousness.
Most couples who successfully work through an affair will separate, get back together, file for divorce, say they’re going to make it, call us and thank us for our help, but tell us it’s over, then 2 days later report to us that they are back in love, back and forth like a roller coaster. Therefore if a couple in the first 6 months post disclosure tells me they are finished and it’s over, while I respect the place they are in on this particular day, I also know this is all part of the journey, and it may or may not be how they still feel 2 days from now.
The things to ask a betrayed spouse about in the early days post disclosure are more about if they have eaten or slept, not what decisions they are making. It’s too soon for decisions. It sounds like your husbands “revenge” affair was a kneejerk reaction, as was your mutual decision for separation for a month.
It is good that you are talking about your affairs. Talking (when done with the right tools), eventually leads to understanding, and trust that in turn leads to healing.
You are definitely doing the right thing, being willing to answer questions about your affair. It also makes sense that there are some things you don’t have an answer for … yet. Smart couples realize that both people in the relationship have intelligence. While Brian answered all of my questions about his affair (many of them even 100 times – it feels like – no one was counting), sometimes I asked a question and his answer was “I don’t know.” Sometimes he really did not know.
We explored the meanings of the affair and found answers to many questions together. This is how we healed. We opened up our hearts and allowed each other into each other’s worlds. We learned from each other.
Generally speaking men have a more difficult time sharing their feelings. It’s just not something that comes natural for them. They need to be given patience, space and time to get there. They can’t get there on a moments notice, like a woman generally can. Instead it’s best to start with more factual questions when speaking with a man – not starting right into “How do you feel?” Off the cuff, they don’t know how they feel.
Listening means listening. You receive messages. You refrain from sending them. Most couples struggle because they are having dual monologues.
Don’t talk about you, and your opinions and feelings. Instead become curious about the other person. Validate what they share with you, and try to follow their line of reasoning. Even if you disagree, if you listen and follow their train of thought, you will be able to understand how the other person came to conclusion “X” given thought “A” followed by thought “B” and so on.
Your husband is quite brilliant that all on his own he has been able to communicate to you that he “just wants you to listen.” The fact that he is this smart gives you a lot of hope for your marriage. Most people make the mistake of not listening well.
Of course you also want an opportunity to share how you feel. It helps if one person can be the mature person and step up to the plate and do the listening first. When the other person feels heard and understood they are then much more open to hearing what the other has to say.
“To an adult human being feeling heard and understood has the same effect that being held does to an infant child.”
It is a wise woman who can be quiet and let her husband share, without needing to instantly respond with her side. We recommend if possible waiting until the next day before sharing your side. When it’s your time to share, it also helps to ask for permission first. For example you might say:
“Last night I really appreciated the way you opened up to me and shared your side. Your side makes sense, and it meant a lot to me to learn about how you were feeling and what you’ve been going through. I was wondering if it would be okay with you if tonight I shared with you how I’m feeling?”
It may sound clumsy, but it’s much easier to listen if you’ve been asked and given a heads up first.
I recommend getting good help a.s.a.p. This is not an easy journey, nor is it a journey for wimps. Why allow it to be anymore difficult than it already is, when there is an easier way? Can you put a price on your marriage?
When I was on my own healing from affairs journey, my doctor recommended a seminar. It wasn’t even a marriage seminar. At the time there was nothing that addressed affairs. Instead it was a personal growth seminar. So I took the phone number and called the organizer, and poured out my heartbroken story. Then I asked (very assertively), “Do you really think your seminar will help us?”
“Yes” came the reply without hesitation.
This seminar was much more expensive than the ones we run here at Passionate Life Seminars, and I did not have the money, but I didn’t care. What good was money if my marriage and life were falling apart? Besides I knew the average divorce in America costs $35,000 - $55,000, and many cost much more. I slapped the seminar tuition on my credit card, and I have never looked back from that decision. While the seminar neither addressed marriage, nor affairs, because I went with a teachable heart, I got some very significant pieces that gave us great perspective to move forward and heal. It was worth every penny we paid.
I cannot overemphasize the value of attending a Healing From Affairs intensive. You will leave with a road map and the tools. You will move forward at least the equivalent of a year of counseling (average cost $5000). What better decision could you both make for your future?
If you are interested and you would like one of our team members to give you a personal call to more specifically answer your questions about how we can help you, just send an email to email@example.com. Our team will respond to you personally.
DO THE THOUGHTS AND IMAGES EVER LEAVE YOUR MIND?
Yes, but not automatically. It takes time plus doing the right things. No one else can get into your brain to help you get rid of those images, so there is a certain amount of work you have to do to proactively get rid of your obsessive thoughts, and the images in your head. Yes, you can – move beyond the pain and get the life you want.
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