Healing from infidelity? Try an infidelity leave.
Posted Oct 02, 2008
I've been working with couples on the brink of divorce for two decades. Needless to say, that means that I've become an expert on helping people heal from infidelity. I've learned that affairs are not marital deal-breakers by any means. Having said that, I have also learned about the extraordinarily devastating effects of extra-marital affairs. Betrayal rocks the very foundation of a person's sense of reality, security, trust and, not to mention, self-esteem. The discovery of infidelity often leaves people feeling anxious, depressed, unable to eat, sleep, think, focus or function. In fact, many people experience lingering feelings of anxiety or PTSD symptoms long after the affair has ended.
When betrayed spouses decide to remain married and work through the hurt and pain, they often discover that their bodies have other plans for them. When faced with danger, our biological response is one or "fight or flight." Choosing to remain married to someone who has hurt you to your core, who probably lied to cover his or her tracks is no small challenge because, if you want to make a marriage work, you must defy your body's protective mechanisms- you may neither fight nor flee. And that isn't easy.
Yet, I have helped thousands of couples work their way through this challenging process and get their marriages back on track. In fact, many people tell me that their marriages are even stronger than prior to the infidelity. Given the inherent obstacles to recovering from the pain and reconnecting, how do so many couples rebound from the brink of divorce after an affair?
There are many steps couples need to take to get their marriages back on track. But one specific step is the topic of this post- the importance of arranging as much time together in the early stages of recovery as possible. Why? In an attempt to help the betrayed spouse to come out of the fog and feel less anxious and more connected to his or her partner, I routinely ask, "What's different about the times when you are feeling just a little bit better,?" and hands down, the most common response is, "I feel fine when my spouse is with me, by my side, but as soon as s/he leaves, things fall apart again. I can't stop my mind from wondering, feeling scared, feeling alone."
Needless to say, people can't put their entire lives on hold forever, nor would that be a good idea, however, there is something magically reassuring about the physical presence of one's spouse when it is so sorely needed. The importance of extended time together at this juncture of their lives to talk, hold each other, cry, and just be, simply can not be overstated. This might mean taking time off of work or rearranging schedules. Although taking time off from work or re-structuring schedules may be inconvenient, it's essential. What are vacation days for anyway? People who avoid this step and try to pretend that, after the discovery of an affair, life is business as usual, typically have a more difficult and protracted healing process.
Given that the number one cause for productivity problems at work is marriage and family problems, you might think that infidelity leave- where employees would be entitled to spend a few days with their grieving spouses- would be an extremely cost-effective policy. Don't you agree?