Being a Friend to Someone Whose Spouse Has Been Unfaithful

Question: I have watched a friend of mine go through this now for exactly 4 months.

I have never been around such pain…at least when someone dies there is some kind of peace they are in a better place, etc. not this.

I have been very careful to be nonjudgemental, however:

a. there was more than one woman at a time
b. supposedly these were “emotional affairs”
c. he took their kids to meet these other women
d. he will not disclose details, such as amount of money on gifts, where did they meet with kids, etc. (kids have told her these kinds of things, which is awful
e. he is not really sorry.

So my question is: when do you stop being neutral as a friend and start presenting reality as this is not progressing!

Answer: What a great friend you are, checking this website to get information on how to be a good supporter for your friend going through this. Every person going through this should have a friend like you. It’s so important that people don’t suffer alone.

As a friend, you remain non-judgmental, and avoid “telling the person what to do.” What a person needs going through this (on either side of the equation) is someone to listen. Deep inside each person knows what is right for them to do. As they have the opportunity to talk, they will be able to hear themselves, and slowly begin to see and make sense of the craziness. Focus on asking good questions, rather than giving advice.

It’s important to remember, that you will not be the one living with the outcome of any decisions they make at this crucial time in their lives, therefore they must make their own decisions. Realize that while you may think you know what you would do if you were in their shoes, you actually don’t.

If there is one thing I’ve learned through this journey it’s that you don’t know what you will do in any given situation until you are in that situation.

Understand that it takes a betrayed spouse approximately 3 – 6 months to move through the initial trauma stage. Being a betrayed spouse is intensely painful. Everyone knows it would be bad, and that they don’t want it to happen to them, but really unless it happens to you, you have no idea just how bad it is.

During the first 3 – 6 months betrayed spouses often struggle with some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. Four months after disclosure is actually too soon to be expecting someone to be thinking fully logically and progressing (much less healing and moving forward). During this time, it’s best that they don’t make any major decisions, and focus on nurturing their souls back to life.

Based on your question it sounds like this husband is still caught up in “affair la-la land.” I agree that what he is doing is bad.

The fact that there is more than one woman is common and doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not this man will choose to change, and the couple can heal their marriage.

The fact that he is saying they were only “emotional affairs” is most likely a minimization of the truth. Those who have affairs are afraid to tell the truth. They think it will hurt their spouse too much. Really (if they are honest) they are afraid of facing the possible negative consequences to themselves of telling the truth.

Most marriages we work with who heal, start with a ½ confession, where they say it was only “emotional.” Once we work with them we help the one who has had the affair/s to tell the whole truth. We also help the one who is betrayed to make it safe to do so. Timing of full disclosure is important too. There is still hope for a marriage to heal, even if a person is initially lying by saying the affairs were only emotional.

I agree, it’s awful and thoughtless that he took his children to meet the other woman. The smartest, most successful, and even previously morally good and sound people do the most thoughtless, foolish, and hurtful things while they are caught up in affairs. The bottom line is, when you get caught up in an affair, your judgment of right and wrong has become impaired, as if you were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, making a complete fool of yourself. This person (with the right support) can make a decision to “sober up” at anytime.

It’s true that in order for the marriage to be healed, he will have to end his affair/s, be willing to answer all her questions and tell the whole truth, and certainly be remorseful.

You can share what you are learning with your friend, without telling her what to do. When a betrayed spouse is getting sucked into the craziness that is put upon them by their unfaithful spouse tell them to “believe the behavior and not the words. Your gut instinct is not lying to you. If you feel like something is wrong, something is wrong.”

At any point this husband could come to a realization of what he is doing. At that time it’s never too late to turn around, get help and do the right thing.

As a friend, check your own motives. I’ve discovered that often people want their friends to leave their unfaithful spouses, because somewhere in the depths of their being they are afraid, it might happen to them one day, and they want to send a message to their own partners “don’t think you can ever have an affair like so and so, see what happened?”

Have boundaries with your friend. It’s not your responsibility to be their sole supporter. I recommend affair survivors have 3 – 5 support people in their lives, and attend a BAN Support Group. This way they don’t risk wearing any one person out.

The best thing you can do as a friend is be a listener and an encourager. Compliment your betrayed friend often, because their self-esteem is shattered. Help with practical things like meals, childcare, etc. Remain neutral. Offer resources and perspective without telling people what to do. Your friend may benefit from a copy of “Love Must Be Tough” by Dr. James Dobson.

©Copyright 2009 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.