Discovering the infidelity of your mate delivers a gigantic blow to your belief systems, your values and your perceptions of what is right and wrong. Everything you've ever held dear or has ever been important to you is now shaken to its very foundations. It feels as though you are being punished for being good and for remaining faithful. It seems as though black is white and white is black. You wonder, why was trusting my husband/wife a mistake? And you wonder if it is even sane to ever trust anyone again. Building trust after an affair can feel like a monumental, even impossible challenge.
At Beyond Affairs this week, we agreed that the biggest issue was actually the issue of trusting ourselves again. Most of those present were no longer in their marriages and felt that they first of all had made the mistake of marrying the wrong person. Now they don't trust themselves in making decisions regarding choosing a mate. Many of us also recognized that we had made many wrong decisions along the way in our relationships, allowing abusive, codependent and inappropriate behavior in an effort to keep peace. The problem was at the time we did not even recognize that these behaviors were abusive and/or codependent. We were unconsciously incompetent - that is doing the wrong things and not even aware of it.
We wished that we could have identified the problems in our relationships in some easier way, counseling or taking a class, but unfortunately for many of us we were doomed to the devastating 9/11 personal wake-up call, when our spouse had an affair.
How can we trust ourselves again to make good choices for ourselves? To not allow ourselves to be abused again? We must grow as individuals. We must acknowledge the fact that we have grown already. We have now become consciously incompetent! We are still doing the wrong things, but at least we are conscious of our own need to change! And we are taking responsibility for our own lives, rather than seeing ourselves as victims. We are seeing our part in the relationship break down and we are changing. We do this by increasing our own awareness (educating ourselves), through reading books, going for counseling, getting perspective from others who are doing well in their relationships, support groups like the Beyond Affairs Network and perhaps other self growth groups and resources as well. The point is we have to be proactive and take responsibility for ourselves. The other thing we have to do is give ourselves a break and not expect perfection. It is okay to make mistakes along the way. This is how we all learn and grow. We just need to make sure we keep growing.
A situation comes up. We recognize this could be a bad choice. Instead of just doing it this time, we talk to a friend or counselor. This time we do the right thing and avoid the pitfall. We are becoming consciously competent. Most people spend most of their time swaying between consciously incompetent and consciously competent. If you keep on practicing consciously competent, eventually you reach a place where you become unconsciously competent. You are consistently doing the right things (making right decisions) without even having to think about it.
Codependency and Boundaries
Codependency is not just about drug and alcohol addictions. It involves other inappropriate or addictive behaviors within relationships as well. Many times we allow others to mistreat us, while we play the part of the noble spouse, who is so kind, so giving and so loving, helping our spouse through all their difficulties. Really our behavior is disgusting and unhealthy, because we are enabling another's inappropriate behavior. Codependency and the issue of having healthy boundaries are interrelated. Having healthy boundaries means that we do not take responsibility for that which is not our responsibility. We do not pick up the ball that someone else drops. It means we allow others to suffer the consequences of their own mistakes. We do not pay their price for them. A great and amazing book to read on this issue is 'Love is a Choice' by Drs. Minirth, Hemfelt and Meier.
A Virtuous Woman, Who Can Find?
One woman, now single, shared how she was working on discovering who she really is, what she really likes and thinking about what she really wants out of her life, instead of living her life obsessively to please everyone else around her. She is just about finished her education, while managing her household and children on her own. Many people who find themselves single focus all of their attention on trying to find someone new, rather than working on improving themselves. (Then someone will be dieing to find them!) It is interesting to note the famous biblical passage regarding the virtuous woman. This woman is amazing. She is a fine business woman, she manages her household well and she has inner beauty as well as outer beauty. Interestingly enough, one of our members shared how interpreters had been very careful when choosing this word during translation from the original Hebrew text, because this word correctly denotes the real meaning 'manly strength.' We all laughed because this single female affair survivor had just shared how she had independently ripped her own carpeting up and refinished the flooring on her stairs. We agreed that she was the virtuous woman, because of her manly strength! The point is: This is what we should all be doing in recovering from affairs, regardless of whether we are still married, separated or single. Work on being virtuous, discover who we are, develop ourselves as individuals, develop a purpose and mission for our lives and work on being self-sufficient (not just financially but emotionally as well).
The Ideal Relationship
The ideal relationship is an interdependent relationship. First as children we are all dependent. We start out dependent on our parents for survival, but we grow up and we should become independent. The same is often true in relationships. Unfortunately many people start out being dependent on each other. They get married for the wrong reasons, to escape other problems or because they think being married will make them feel better about themselves. Growth is becoming independent, no longer 'needing' each other. One has to be independent before one can become interdependent, which means not needing each other, but choosing to be together, because together you are stronger and better than alone.
Building Trust After An Affair
I'm including here an excerpt from my book 'My Husband's Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.' Here are 3 essential keys to rebuilding trust in the relationship:
1. Sever All Ties with the Third Party
If the couple intends to rebuild the relationship it is first of all essential that ALL ties with the third party are severed. You cannot remain just friends with this person. Many times the person having the affair is quite reluctant to do this, and it may be necessary to deliver a strong ultimatum, such as the one I gave Brian (I have included it in my book). Many times the betrayed spouse is afraid to deliver this strong type of a message to their spouse, because they are afraid of being alone, and this is understandable. However, this same fear is unattractive to the spouse who has had an affair. It makes them feel trapped in the relationship. In order to learn more about how to effectively insist that your spouse break ties with the third party, I also recommend the book, 'Love Must Be Tough' by Dr. James Dobson.
2. Talk, Talk, Talk and Openly Discuss the Affair
The way Brian and I healed our marriage after the affair, was through hours upon hours of dialogue. There was many a painful discussion, but through these discussions came understanding and healing. It is essential that the person who has had the affair be willing to discuss the details of the affair and answer all their spouses' questions. I have seen no better explanation as to why this is important than the analogy made by one man in a letter he wrote to his wife who had had an affair, Joseph's Letter. (This letter is also included in my new book 'My Husband's Affair.')
3. Patience and Giving to Each Other
The person who has had an affair must understand that this has been very painful for their spouse. Healing takes time. In our situation, it took two and a half years. This is actually a relatively short time period. We had more support than most and Brian was exceptional in his strength and courage to do the work of healing. He had to be very patient with me for a long time, as I worked through the grief, the sadness, the anger, and asked many questions at the pace with which I was ready to hear the truth. This he had to do, while he himself struggled with his own feelings of guilt, and while he was very much alone. Generally there is a lot of support available for the person who has been betrayed, but the one who has been unfaithful is the bad guy, the loser and the one everyone hates. A support group for individuals who have had affairs, and who are sorry for their actions, love their spouses and sincerely desire to rebuild their marriages is now offered as an ongoing complimentary service for those who have attended the Healing From Affairs Intensive Weekends for Couples.
In addition to Brian's patience, I also had to be patient and understanding towards him. I had to create an atmosphere that made Brian feel comfortable enough to answer my questions and to communicate with me about the affair and why it had happened.
End of excerpt.
Building Trust After An Affair: Phases of Trust
One lady shared a valuable graph regarding the phases of trust pertaining to infidelity. Before disclosure of the affair, trust is high. After disclosure of an affair, trust plummets to an all time low. Through SINCERITY (breaking all ties now with the third party) trust climbs perhaps 30%. Through ABILITY (discussing the affair, answering questions and proven behavior during this time) trust climbs another 30% or so. Through DURABILITY (being faithful, open and honest - proven behavior - over an extended period of time) one can regain full trust. IT TAKES TIME, WITH WORK AND PROVEN BEHAVIOR.
Bottom line: You shouldn't just blindly trust anyone. We all have to develop skills in discerning who to trust and when to trust. And we need to JUDGE THE BEHAVIOR AND NOT THE WORDS.
Trust is a risk to be sure, but to not take the risk is to cut yourself off from many meaningful relationships. As much as there are many untrustworthy people in the world, there are also many wonderful trustworthy people. Wise people don't cut themselves off from everyone, because of past hurts. They learn to improve themselves, and they learn to recognize who to trust, when to trust and to what degree to trust. Blind trust is unwise and naïve.
If you would like to share a success story, helpful insight or comment on this article we welcome your remarks. Email your questions or comments to Brian and/or Anne firstname.lastname@example.org