As a therapist, the challenge is to try and help these clients make sense of what is happening to them, and for me to help them to start understanding how they are feeling inside. Once they are more in touch with how they are feeling, their path forward becomes much clearer. In this week’s blog, I will be addressing the feelings of the person who has been cheated on, and will focus on the person having the affair, next week.
It is normal that when your partner or spouse has cheated on you that you should feel hurt, angry, confused and betrayed. You may find that you start questioning your whole relationship, sometimes even looking back many years for signs or confirmation. Important, first of all, is how you find out about this infidelity.
Have you had some hunch or suspicions about your partner?
Have they been acting out of character?
Have they been spending more time than normal away from home?
Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether there is something really going on or not. It is this uncertainty which can make you feel extremely stressed and unhappy. Some people choose to confront their partner immediately, and this confrontation may end well or disastrously!
What happens when your partner is confronted?
Will he/she be relieved and tell you the truth?
Will he/she deny there is anything going on?
Will you be satisfied with the response?
The one really good thing about talking about your concerns and suspicions with your partner is that it then gives them a chance to understand how you are feeling and a chance for the two of you to reconnect with some open communication. This is always the goal in any relationship. Improving the communication between you is imperative. It is the one tool you have to deal with any problems which come your way.
So what happens to those people whose partners have confirmed their suspicions? They have found out or been told that the affair is real. For this group of people, the carpet has just been pulled out from under their feet. In their heart of hearts, they know that their lives have just changed irrevocably. Three paths lie ahead for these victims of infidelity, and they will have to choose which of these paths to travel down.
The first path is that of ending the relationship. This path will be chosen by those people who recognise that something has irrevocably broken down in their relationship and that they could never trust their partner again. While things will be upside down for a while for this group, they will be able to have a chance for a better relationship in the future. The emotional work which needs to be done for this group is to focus on their past relationship and understand how they got to this point in their lives. This will hopefully ensure that they are able to choose more functional and happy relationships in the future.
The second path is that of continuing in the relationship, with or without couples counselling. There are those who, despite infidelity, will continue in their relationship for financial reasons, for the children, or for social, religious or even cultural reasons. This group of people will often withdraw emotionally from their cheating partner and reinvest in friends, extended family and even themselves to enable them to continue as things were. This group often do not seek out therapy, as they know that if they confront their issues, they may be forced to leave their relationship. Then there are those who will seek help and use their partner’s affair to improve both their own lives and also their relationship. These people have decided that the relationship is still worth working for and will strive, often with help, to invest in better communication between the partners.
Couples Counselling can often rejuvenate failing marriages as both partners are forced, sometimes for the first time, to listen to and acknowledge each other’s feelings.
The third, and final path is a mixture of the two already discussed.
This group of people may choose to start off by either wanting to leave the relationship, or to work on it. However, the emotional and the practical realities of the infidelity may take them down a very different path. So, for example, a wife may decide initially to leave a cheating husband, but when she sees how much her children are suffering, or how much she may suffer socially or financially, she might change her mind. So too, a boyfriend may decide to work on his relationship with his girlfriend when he discovers her affair, but may, with time, discover that this is impossible and that he cannot forgive her or trust her again.
Infidelity can turn people’s lives upside down. I would urge any of you who are struggling with this issue in your lives at the moment, to seek the support of family, friends and a professional counsellor.