In Part IV of this series, we explored how a Betrayed Spouse can make a decision on whether or not to attempt marital recovery. Part V will cover how a Betrayed Spouse can navigate recovering the marriage from infidelity.
Recovering a marriage from infidelity takes time, effort, and consistency. Recovery may well be one of the most difficult things you will attempt as a couple.
“People are not always very tolerant of the tears which they themselves have provoked.” – Marcel Proust
What Is Marital Recovery?
Recovery is the short-form often used in place of “marital recovery.” In this article, Recovery refers to recovering your marital relationship from the devastating effects of infidelity.
Recovery begins when the affair is truly over. This is important: recovery begins when the affair is truly over.
Recovery entails exposing the truth of the affair, rebuilding trust, and rebuilding the marital bond. New boundaries are erected around the marriage to help prevent another affair.
A Warning About False Recovery
Many a promising recovery has turned false. A false recovery is one where the affair never ended (went underground) or was restarted shortly after the Wayward Spouse came home. It is usually caused by an inability to withstand the symptoms of withdrawal. The Betrayed Spouse often sees this initial recovery attempt as the one big shot at recovery. Then, fear takes over and poor choices are made, and the Betrayed Spouse too soon and too easily, lays his/her heart open to the wayward. Often the false recovery is more damaging to the Betrayed Spouse than the original affair.
Misdirection And Blameshifting
Wayward Spouses have a favourite ploy employed by illusionists everywhere, called “misdirection.” They frequently attempt to shift responsibility for their behaviour onto their Betrayed Spouse. Just as batterers claim to be provoked, controllers contend that doubt or suspicion make their domination necessary, and substance abusers blame others for their dependency; Wayward Spouses often point to the “neglect” by their spouses as the reason for cheating.
This misdirection can lead the Betrayed Spouse to feel guilty, believing that somehow s/he had a hand in the Wayward Spouse’s affair. This can further undermine the Betrayed Spouse’s sense of worth, and can even lead the Betrayed Spouse to feel responsible for his/her own pain. The Betrayed Spouse may realize that s/he was not the most loving spouse that s/he could have been. The Wayward Spouse often fuels this as justification for his/her affair. None of this is a cause for an affair, but the Betrayed Spouse may not figure this out at first.
So, the Betrayed Spouse settles, waiting for the real truth about the extent of the affair. For all intents and purposes, the affair is over, since it cannot be proven otherwise, and life becomes “business as usual.” Months pass… and that is the only thing that changes. The Betrayed Spouse is now at his/her wits end because s/he wants a better marriage, but the Wayward Spouse is content with the status quo, leaving the Betrayed Spouse lost as to where to go from there. Unfortunately, it is all too possible to have complete no contact with the original affair partner and change in the Wayward Spouse’s actions and interactions while the Wayward Spouse can still be wayward in thinking. This can lead to a restarting of the affair, or another new one with no real warning.
Signs Of False Recovery
Signs of false recovery include when your Wayward Spouse:
- Is difficult to contact
- Avoids sexual contact
- Lacks care and concern for you
- Has bouts of crying and/or anger
- Continues his/her fog babble
- Desires ‘privacy’ and/or continued secrecy
- Does not apologise or demonstrate true remorse
- Does not engage in the marriage, especially if using your hurt to justify the disengagement
- Attempts to set terms and conditions
- Blames you for the affair or engages in other blame shifting
- Continues to be dishonest, including inconsistent stories
- Is cold or distant toward you, or shows extreme boredom
- Changes his/her work schedule
- Disappears and/or still insists on needing space
- Retains affair mementos
- Discusses contact with the affair partner (especially for “closure”)
- Hides or continues to use contraceptives
- Lacks commitment
- Displays a sense of insincerity
- Behaves as if he/she is doing you a favour
- Lies when confronted with evidence of ongoing contact
This list may resemble a red flag guide of an affair pre D-day. Sadly, a false recovery often brings back the entire wayward personality. While not all of these are absolute indicators of a false recovery, several of them in a row does indicate caution. Remember, the false recovery is often more destructive than the original affair.
Finally, it requires more than just a lifting of the fog of the affair to truly change someone from wayward to former wayward status. As long as the phrase “I’m sorry, but…” still permeates conversations, the “former” has not yet been earned. In fact, it isn’t even really pending. Rather, it indicates that the Wayward Spouse still has a sense of GIVE and TAKE rather than GIVE and RECEIVE. A Wayward Spouse may be willing to perform some actions that appear repentant, but there are some they will refuse that indicate lack of repentance.
Steps Towards Real Marital Recovery
There are no simple 1-2-3 steps to recover your marriage from an affair. This guide clarifies the essentials that generally need to be included in the recovery process. The journey of recovery is often a lengthy process with few or no shortcuts. Even when couples do “everything right,” the journey is seldom smooth. It’s likely instead to be a very jagged path with two steps forward and one step back.
Recovery Is Complex
Recovery often tends to be far more complex than most couples either want or expect. Even the very definition of recovery itself is complicated. For instance, staying married is no guarantee of personal recovery, and personal recovery is no guarantee of rebuilding the marriage. The deceived spouse can personally recover through his/her own effort, but rebuilding the marriage takes commitment and effort from both partners.
Note that the goal of recovery is not just “staying married.” The objective is to rebuild a marriage that is strong and loving, and hopefully even more so than before the affair.
Both Spouses Need To Make Changes
An affair is only a symptom of marital breakdown. Yes, you remained faithful to the marriage, but you still need to take a honest look at your role in the marriage prior to the affair. This means that there are requirements for the Betrayed Spouse in order to recover the marriage. An affair does not promote the Betrayed Spouse into sainthood.
Don’t use the affair as a weapon. Constantly bringing up the affair is a love buster for both your Wayward Spouse and for yourself. The affair is not leverage — it’s an unpleasant event from which you can use the lessons to grow as a spouse and as an individual. Don’t ignore your love busters or your spouse’s emotional needs that you weren’t meeting well. You both need to address all the root causes of the affair and offer a solid plan for marital recovery. It should not be one-sided, however. The plan should make the wayward spouse and the betrayed spouse equally responsible for following the overall plan.
Participate in a marriage-focused recovery plan such as marriage counselling (MC), attending a marriage seminar, and/or enrolling in a married couples’ program. Don’t try to bury the affair, which only “buries it alive,” making it a continuing burden you’ll carry forever. Take your time, avoiding quick decisions that may be overly influenced by emotions. Learn to do the win-win waltz as a partnership team with your spouse. Think long-term, how you will both live with your decisions, without second-guessing yourself or each other.
A “no contact letter” or NCL is an excellent tool for the recovering couple to utilise. For the Betrayed Spouse, it can be a litmus test as to the sincerity and remorse of the Wayward Spouse. Often a Wayward Spouse will refuse to write one, saying they had already ended the affair so a NCL would be superfluous. S/he may say it would only bring up old hurts and may even say s/he dosn’t want to hurt the affair partner’s feelings. However, this is the perfect time to write one, as it reassures the Betrayed Spouse about how genuine the Wayward Spouse is being, and makes the Wayward Spouse fully consider just how many people were impacted by the decision to “do something for him/herself” (have an affair).
For the Wayward Spouse, writing a NCL gives them the opportunity to give the Betrayed Spouse tangible proof that they are willing to do what ever it takes to get the marriage working again. It shows determination to re-win their Betrayed Spouse’s trust. The NCL is not a “good-bye true love” letter, or even much of an acknowledgement of the OP at all. Primarily it is an apology to the Betrayed Spouse that the OP reads, and a statement that there will be no contact between the affair partners ever. Even if the marriage breaks down again. It also states that if the Affair Partner attempts to make contact in any way, the Wayward Spouse will immediately tell the Betrayed Spouse. This includes a phone call, text message, or a letter from the other person.
A link to several sample no contact letters is included at the end.
The Emotional Booby Traps
Most experts suggest refraining from making any sort of serious choices or decisions while in a state of emotional turmoil. These include buying a car or house, NOT buying a car or house previously decided upon, moving to a new place, changing or leaving a job and a bunch of other things that can include ending a marriage. Emotions deliver very poor reasons for choices. The part of our brain that feels has no data processing built in; it is more of a sort of I/O device. When it is allowed to rule over our reason, the choices are seldom lasting, what we really want, or what could be considered in our best interest.
D-day is the equivalent of a psychological trauma. There will be times of sadness, times that are better than others, times of inner turmoil and times when the normal, isn’t. Chemical processes occur in your nervous system that put you in a state of chronic hyper-arousal. making you feel agitated, anxious, panicked, and sleep deprived. Your rage may feel uncontrollable. You may feel sick, be unable to eat, or stop eating. Your world is suddenly upside down and narrowed; nothing else seems to exist except the affair. Your body eventually needs a respite from this state and you go numb, nothing seems real, you can’t feel anything but isolated and strangely disconnected from others. Then there is a reminder of what happened and you are plunged into the turmoil all over again. All this is normal. Only time, and patience with yourself, will lead to healing and normality.
“Normality” doesn’t happen nearly as quickly as you’d like, so expect to be distracted and absent minded. You’ve maybe put the milk in the cupboard in the AM and it’s not found until the evening. It’s just milk. You aren’t crazy, you are just trying to make sense of something that makes no sense within your value system.
You might scream and yell with tears rolling down your face, say things that would never have come out of your mouth prior. This fades. Do your best to keep your vocabulary under control, you are human and these emotions are more powerful than what you ever expected. While you can’t take back words that have been said, you can apologize. The rollercoaster ride of up/down/love/hate is a vicious one that changes by minute, hour and day.
The Affair Is Not Your Fault
Never blame yourself for the affair. At any time, the Wayward Spouse could have talked to you. S/he could have asked you to join in marital coaching. S/he could have read a book about marital issues. S/he could have asked you to look at some marriage materials with her/him. S/he could have used the Internet to find answers for the marital issues s/he thought existed.
Even if s/he did try all of that, and you did not respond, s/he could have at any time separated and filed for divorce. However, s/he did not, and s/he ended up going outside the marriage. Please remember that the decision to have the affair was not yours, and that you didn’t “make him have an affair” or “drive her to have an affair.”
Having one’s needs met, or not met, within the marriage may be at issue. However, having an affair was not — is not — the way to solve the problem. The way to solve the problem is to have an adult discussion, go to counseling, read marital-related materials, etc. Having an affair will not solve marital problems – it CAUSES marital problems.
The number one priority for a Betrayed Spouse must be to recognize that their uncertainty does not mean the abdication of power to decide, and to learn to control the emotional responses in a way that lets him/her act from choices, rather than reacting to the up-and-down, all-over-the-place emotional roller coaster. Stop focusing on how to control the outcome and actions of the cheating spouse, and focus entirely on what you actually have control over.
What about Forgiveness?
One of the most difficult parts of infidelity is forgiveness. Many betrayed spouses think “justice” (or revenge) will heal them. They look for certain milestones to pass, believing that is when everything will “be all right again.” However, this just leads to disappointment time and time again, because these do not bring healing, comfort and fulfillment. Anger doesn’t stay locked away in a neat little box. What will lead to your real healing is forgiveness.
Forgiveness Is A Process
Forgiveness is a process and can take time. How much time depends on many variables, such as the length of time since D-day, how long the affair lasted after D-day, whether the affair lasted a few months or several years, and whether or not the marriage recovered. It is also a very personal thing, a commitment that has to come from the heart. Feelings follow actions. Trying to forgive is the first step to actually forgiving. By refusing to forgive, you are opening up the rest of your life to be eaten up by resentment and bitterness.
Surviving infidelity is 5% about the situation and 95% about your response to it. A real breakthrough happens when you’re able to change your emotional response from seeing yourself as a victim, to seeing yourself as a survivor. Another aspect of forgiveness is detachment. This means not allowing the weakness of your Wayward Spouse any more control over your mental and spiritual well-being. Remaining angry and bitter over their unfaithfulness invariably makes their affair a part of who you are by your obsessing over it every chance you get. Detaching helps by giving you the freedom to forgive.
Forgiveness is more for the Betrayed Spouse than the Wayward Spouse. The Betrayed Spouse needs to forgive more than the Wayward Spouse needs to be forgiven, particularly if you’re attempting to recover your marriage. Without forgiveness, you will struggle to love your Wayward Spouse as, they are, rather than as you want them to be. However, you cannot force forgiveness onto someone; you cannot make them accept your forgiveness.
This is not to say that by forgiving your Wayward Spouse, you lose the right to grieve the loss of your “old” marriage, and how you once perceived it to be. Nor must you deny the hurt you’ve been caused. Instead, grieve without being lost in despair. Instead of saying, “This is too painful to let go,” say instead, ”Because this IS so painful, I have to let it go.” No, you will not forget everything, and perhaps you shouldn’t forget everything, but to rebuild your life, alone or together, you will need to let the pain die down.
Reminded yourself that unless you control your own actions, you will be bound by your own stubbornness to remain in the anger and resentment stage. The constant dwelling on what happened is what keeps people stuck there.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela