Affairs happen to good people. Life is messy.
Both spouses together created the disequilibrium in the marriage that made the marriage vulnerable to the affair. The betrayed partner is never to blame for the affair. Gottman talks about a 22 step cascade towards betrayal ( Gottman Rusbult-Glass). This is a series of small steps where the spouse turns away from the partner. Communication shuts down and secrets begin.
Often when couples enter therapy, the betrayer doesn’t understand why they risked their marriage, family, and reputation for the affair. They are shocked at the amount of hurt they have caused.
The person who is betrayed will usually have a set of responses that is very much like a PTSD response (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) : intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, images, thought constriction, numbing avoidance, hyper-arousal, hyper vigilance and physical arousal.
The betrayer often is impatient, feeling and saying. “We talked about this, I am sorry but you keep bringing it up. Will you ever get over it?”
The process of relationship healing after an affair is complicated. In a very real sense the original marriage/relationship is shattered forever. What is possible is to create Marriage # 2. This requires hard work on the part of both people. It can take 6- 18 months to recover from an affair and years to understand why it happened.
Gottman has identified 3 stages for affair recovery:
When couples can find each other and connect again, marriage #2 can be amazing. Holding together to face the wounds, can deeply open each spouse in ways that were not possible before the painful rupture. The betrayer must learn to become the healer. The couple must work to restore trust in tiny steps. The pace is set by what the betrayed needs. They must learn new tools for communicating and being present to each other. Gottman says that every affair is about a conversation the couple didn’t have. In affair recovery, they learn how to listen and validate each other, how to ask for what they need, how to turn towards each other, how to make repairs, how to dialogue about gridlocked issues. They develop skills for intimate conversation, make new rituals of connection, build a culture of fondness and admiration, rebuild commitment and effective interdependence, reestablish their sex life and create a new shared meaning and vision for life in Marriage #2.
There is hope.