The aftershocks of the affair have probably not yet fully worn off. You may still be feeling angry, hurt, triggered, defensive, sad, betrayed, and very lonely. Yet by picking up this book, you’ve made the decision to work on your relationship. One of the things you’ll need to do to help initiate the healing process is to look at why the affair happened and even what it may have to teach you. As hard as it may be to contemplate right now, the affair may actually point directly to the parts of yourself that you will need to work on to grow as an individual, as well as the parts of the relationship that weren’t working before the affair began.
What You Had Together Led You Here
Hundreds of couples have told me that an affair was the best thing that ever happened to them. This realization comes after the initial crisis has passed, when you begin to have insight into what led to the affair. It may be difficult to think about it this way, but for the couples I’ve worked with, healing began when they realized that the relationship could only have led to infidelity. Looking back, it seems that the affair, or a real marital crisis, was inevitable.
The partners realize then that their original monogamy agreement needs to be reexamined. Many couples find that the affair is a wake-up call to create a new and more vital partnership, one where excitement and intrigue are an inside job.
How and Why Did the Affair Happen?
Often, when we discover that a partner has been cheating, the first question is an anguished “Why?” This often-unanswerable question is what drives us to ruminate on what happened, and we may force our partners to talk about the details over and over again, hoping to find the answers we are searching for. If we felt that our relationships seemed fine before we found out about the affair, the “why” can plague us, make us lose sleep, and keep us from being able to focus on other tasks.
One of the first things you will need to do to heal from the affair is to explore this question of why it happened and to be open to hearing the real, honest truth. Most people want to blame the cheating partner. And the cheating partner does have to take responsibility for pursuing the outside relationship. But no affair happens in a vacuum. So, part of asking “why” will most likely include the betrayed partner hearing things about her own behaviors that she may not want to hear, such as ways that she exited the relationship prior to the affair, perhaps without even realizing it.
Affairs as Exits
An exit can be any behavior that a partner uses to avoid being truly present in the relationship, whether emotionally, psychologically, sexually, or even physically. Harville Hendrix (2008), author of the best-selling self-help book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, says smaller exits can include anything that helps you to avoid dealing with conflict or intimacy, including over focusing on the children, being on the computer, checking e-mails, texting, cleaning the house, staying late at work, or even playing golf. Any behavior that is used to avoid ways to engage with your partner is considered an exit. Bigger exits include things like gambling, drinking, and taking drugs. An affair is considered one of the biggest exits and is called “an invisible divorce” (ibid.).
Affairs are only one way to exit from the relationship, but they can be a powerful and damaging way to avoid the intimacy of a monogamous partnership. However, whenever the person who is exiting traces her behavior back to the moment she exited, it often becomes clear that at that time, her partner was exiting as well. If the cheating partner can trace her behavior back to the point where the indiscretion began, it may become clear that the affair was an attempt to deal with the feelings of a partner who “exited” the relationship first.
Adapted from Tammy Nelson’s, The New Monogam
Copyright © 2012 Tammy Nelson, PhD. Published by New Harbinger Publications. Used with Permission.