I have been counseling couples for many years and the only sure thing that I have seen is that there are no guarantees. However I would like to offer some survival guidelines for the individual committing the violation, the unsuspecting partner on the receiving end, and the couple as a unit.
Now before I delve into the infidelity survival guide, I want to spend a brief moment on the question that is always at the top of the list for the unknowing mate, "Why did she do this?" I must admit--if I were a cartoon character there would be a thought balloon over my head with a dog chasing its tail in it, every time I heard this question. It is never ending...And the truth is that there is no satisfactory answer as to why your mate would choose to share intimacy with someone else. Rest assured there is always an answer, but it will never be "good enough". So my advice is to not spend too much time pontificating the "why". Nevertheless, for the sake of due diligence, I will say there are lots of reasons that affairs happen. Here are a few:
- Escape--There are many ways to check out of a relationship, including sleep, busyness, food, anger, and cheating. Sometimes people are unable to confront the emotional truth of being unhappy, so instead they check out.
- Lack of sex--Sex is an essential element of a healthy relationship. If your relationship is void of intimacy and sex it will not negate your mate's need for it.
- Attention and insecurity--When a person doesn't feel validated or desired, real or imagined, they will seek that basic human need elsewhere (remember, perception is reality).
- Choice--The bottom line is that whatever the "reason" for the indiscretion, the only real reason that people have affairs is because they choose to do so--Plain and simple. They may have felt at a loss for other possibilities to get their needs met, but it is still a choice. The good news is that when we understand the power of choice, then we are empowered. We are empowered because we can always make a different choice.
So now that we have covered the inevitable question of "why", let's get to the 7 tips for saving your relationship. We know that more than 50% of committed couples cheat, according to even the most modest statistics. Therefore you are not alone in facing this dilemma and recovering to something even better than before the dreaded violation of infidelity. With the investment of kids, a house, memories, extended family and valuable time, sometimes staying is worth the effort. SharRon and I are wholly committed to sharing tools to empower couples to flourish. To that end, here are 7 tips as a guide for SURVIVING INFIDELITY:
- It is not your fault that she cheated: That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach soon turns to guilt, resentment and self-blame for many unsuspecting partners. That is an affect of our egos. We think it has something to do with us--what we did or didn't do...Not so! As I stated earlier, an affair has accountability but you are not responsible for the poor choices your mate makes. We are each only responsible for our own actions. It is not your fault!
- Get honest with yourself: If you are the one who committed the deed, then you are responsible for exploring what is missing in your own heart and mind that led you to this choice. You are further responsible for sharing that truth with your partner. Not confronting your truth is what got you in this predicament. Don't let it destroy everything. And be ready to completely let the object of your misguided affection go. Your mate deserves your loyalty and undivided attention as you heal.
- Forgiveness must be at the end of the road: I know there is a part of some women that just wants revenge. I promise you it doesn't work. It only complicates things beyond what is already complex. It is also a selfish act that doesn't consider the other hearts that will get tangled up in your mess. Revenge is ineffective, but forgiveness is sustaining. It takes time but it pays off in emotional dividends. It is a gift you will give each other because if you are going to move on together, you cannot revisit this pain forever.
- You will need support: This is one time that I highly recommend counseling. If you all could do it on your own--well, you wouldn't be here. A trained professional can help you see beyond the pain.
- Be very careful about sharing your situation outside of your relationship: Look, everyone needs someone with whom they can share their feelings. However those who love you may have a difficult time accepting your decision to stay and certainly forgiving your partner. It is important not to isolate yourself from loved ones, but it is equally important to only share with those willing to respect your decision--even if they don't agree.
- Replenish the Love Bank: Infidelity takes a substantial withdrawal from the emotional love bank. It must be replenished with accountability of time, no secrets, talking and sharing without being prompted and quality time. Don't let the affair steal more than it already has.
- Honest communication is paramount: Now is not the time to hold back. At the same time don't ask questions to which you really don't want the answers. Questions like, "Was she better than me?", are fruitless and will not ever garner the right answer. Don't stay there. Getting beyond this situation is not a one-time conversation. It is not a sprint...It is a journey. You can give yourself time to be angry and hurt but don't make yourself a victim. Be empowered by your decision to choose LOVE.
Nya Akoma (Take Heart),
Imani Evans, MA