Affair Recovery and Jealousy
After doing marriage counseling for twenty years, I can say with certainty that affairs make marriage much harder. The hurt feelings, broken trust, and betrayal of an affair are very difficult to work through.
The good news is that many couples do succeed at recovering from infidelity. I have seen marriages become stronger after an affair than they were before. If you are ready to seek help, request marriage counseling or a marriage intensive online, or call (404) 325-3401 for your preferred appointment time at The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy in Atlanta, GA.
Learn about our approach to affair recovery and jealousy:
- Affairs and Wake-Up Calls
- Apology and Forgiveness
- The Difficulty of Forgiveness
- Rise to the Challenge
- Some Things DON’T Come Easy
- Do Self-Help Your Own Way
Affairs and Wake-Up Calls
Life is easier if you can give your marriage a "wake-up call" without going all the way to the heart-wrenching impact of an affair.
One particular wake-up call is about sex. "I need to feel more alive sexually," is a legitimate request. Don’t disregard this complaint if you hear it. Sadly, too many people feel discouraged about sexually revitalizing their marriage. My advice is: keep trying. Don't conclude that it's hopeless. You may not be right.
If things aren’t good, try saying that. Try making an appointment to have a serious talk. Try making some changes to improve things. Try some counseling.
If your partner tells you things aren’t good, pay attention. Don’t dismiss their complaints. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Affairs almost always feel intensely alluring at first. Usually the affair is at the height of the "romantic love" or "infatuation" stage while the marriage is at the depth of the "power struggle" stage. Those stages feel real different. Usually the marriage also began with romantic love, and usually the affair will also turn into a power struggle. But most people don’t think about that.
Maybe you should.
Apology and Forgiveness
You can't really forgive someone who doesn't apologize. Maybe in some inner way you can come to accept what they did. But meaningful forgiveness depends on their apology first. That's what you need so that you can come together again and move forward.
A sincere apology has five parts:
- Saying you're sorry
- Admitting how you were wrong
- Acknowledging the pain you caused
- Stating a way to prevent it from happening again
- Finding some way to make it up to the person you hurt
When you want to apologize to someone, think about each of these five steps. Think about what you can say and do to make each of these five steps happen. It may take a while to figure these things out. Make sure that these are things YOU will do differently, not things you are asking them to do differently.
Watch out for thoughts like: "If you just wouldn't disagree with me so much, then I wouldn't get so angry and this would never happen." That's asking THEM to do something different. That's not an apology.
When you've made a sincere no-kidding-around apology, it's a lot easier for them to forgive you. They still might not. They might not be ready yet. They might never be ready. But with a sincere apology, you've done what you can to get things started.
If you haven't made a sincere apology, you should. Probably more than once.
The Difficulty of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard for most of us. We have resentments about things others have done to us. We bear grudges for offenses from long ago.
These feelings are understandable. But they keep us unhappy — and stuck.
So how do we forgive?
The answer is simple, but not easy. And it can take a while.
We have to understand that this difficulty was actually perfect in some deep way.
Think about someone you haven’t fully forgiven yet. That person hurt you, or they made you feel bad, or they did things that were wrong, or they didn't do things they should have done.
How could any of this be perfect?
Could this have been a wake-up call? Was there something you needed to hear, or see, or pay attention to, or understand, or do?
Or, is this situation a mirror for you to see something about yourself? Do you have that same trait that you dislike in them? Is this an instance of "You spot it, you got it?"
Or, was this karma? Have you ever done the same thing to someone else? Is this an instance of "What goes around, comes around?" Or, do you always do the opposite thing? Is there some cosmic balancing going on here?
Or, could this be the hand of a higher power in your life? Could this have been preparing you for some higher destiny?
I turn to these questions again and again to help me work toward deeper understanding, less resentment, and more forgiveness.
Rise to the Challenge
Difficulties are part of life; there’s no way around them. Each of us has faced our own heartbreaks — family problems, lost love, illness, injuries, career setbacks, losses. Life’s not always easy.
The question is: How do we respond to our difficulties? Do we rise to the challenge? Or do we sink into defeat and despair and depression? For many of us, it depends on the way we think about our difficulties.
Consider a difficulty of yours. Do you think it’s a punishment? Do you think it’s a test? Do you think it’s a challenge?
Your answers to these questions will tell you a great deal about how you are responding to this difficulty.
If you are thinking of the difficulty as a punishment, you’re focusing on what you did wrong.
If you are thinking of the difficulty as a test, you’re focusing on whether you will pass or fail.
If you are thinking of the difficulty as a challenge, you’re focusing on what you need to do now.
For me, challenge is the best choice — by far.
A challenge is a situation that requires us to use our inner resources, go beyond our imagined limits, and realize that we can be more than we previously thought possible.
This turns the difficulty into an opportunity for change, growth, energy, courage, resolution, commitment, perseverance, and moving-forward.
Some Things DON’T Come Easy
A country-western songstress sings:
"If it don’t come easy,
You got to let it go.
Cause if it don’t come easy,
There’s no natural flow."
She’s right about most people’s experience of Romantic Love. The beginning of most relationships is a wonderful, easy, flowing time.
But she’s wrong about most people’s experience of the next, more difficult phase of relationship: the Power Struggle. This is a difficult and discouraging time in almost all relationships.
Most marriages don’t stay "easy." Most marriages don't stay "happily-ever-after."
It’s dangerous to think that relationships should be easy all the time. Because if you believe, "When I find my true love, I will live happily ever after," then, at a time when you’re not happy, you could easily conclude: "He or she must not be my true love."
But you might be wrong.
There are times when we need to keep going even though it’s difficult. There are times when we have to find new ways even though we’re discouraged. This is called commitment — and covenant. It’s the faith that the difficult path leads to a better time and a better place.
Difficulty and discouragement are not necessarily signs that "all is lost." Yes, sometimes difficulty suggests "we got to let it go." But other times difficulty suggests "keep on truckin’" and "perseverance furthers."
For most people, Real Love comes AFTER difficulty and discouragement, not before.
Do Self-Help Your Own Way
Suggestions about improving our lives come at us from the internet, radio, television, books, tapes, and newsletters. If you’re considering some of this advice, wait a minute.
Don’t just do what someone else says without first making it your own. Adapt it. Customize it. Personalize it. Make it work for you. Then, it will really be yours.
For instance, I have used a therapy technique called Couples Dialogue. I love its beauty, elegance, and power. But, at first, I had trouble with the words: mirror, validate, and empathize. They seemed confusing.
So, I use my own words: hear, understand, and guess. First, hear what they’re saying. Then, understand their point of view. Then, guess what they are feeling.
My words are simpler for me. They’re easier to remember. The acronym is ‘hug’ (hear, understand, and guess). I think to myself: communicate with hugs. I like that.
So, if you’re going to try some self-improvement plan, go ahead and customize it. Make it your own. Then, there’s a lot greater chance that you’ll use it. And a lot greater chance it will work.
Reduce Conflict and Increase Connection in Your Relationship
Love Cycles, Fear Cycles teaches readers the most important idea in all of couples therapy. This idea gives readers a new understanding of what’s been going wrong in their marriage – and a new way to make things right.