- Will an affair make or break your marriagee?
- An affair can be a wake-up call for a marriage.
- It is possible to reconnect after an affair and recapture lost intimacy.
We often put denial into action in an effort to soften the blow, to make something we know will hurt us appear less bad. If we pretend it isn’t happening, then it can’t touch us, right?
The truth is, ignoring a problem can make it worse in so many ways. Consider infidelity, for example.
If we have an inkling that our spouse or partner might be betraying us, emotionally or physically, we often turn our back on the details that are making us wonder and brush them under the rug, telling ourselves it isn’t happening. That is an understandable initial response. There is no question that infidelity in a marriage is devastating; it brings your world to a grinding
halt. Everything that you thought you could count on has been smashed to pieces.
Ignoring it, though, will not make it go away, and it won’t make your life better in the end. It will do the reverse. Looking squarely at the facts will allow you to take control and have a hand in whatever the next phase might be.
In many cases, surprisingly, the discovery of an affair doesn’t always have to mean the end of a marriage. It can sometimes be the thing that jump starts your relationship back to a good place. Actor Joshua Jackson, who has been married for four years, recently spoke about this, saying he believes an affair does not have to be a dealbreaker. He thinks it can be forgiven.
Can they be? Can your marriage not merely survive an affair, but can an affair actually be a catalyst for breathing new life into a marriage that might have already been in trouble and rebuilding it? Can it even, with lots of hard work, make your connection stronger than it was before? If so, how can you get from ignoring the truth to facing it head-on?
It is hard to confront the suspicion that your partner is being unfaithful to you, that they are being intimate with someone else. So when they stop coming home at the usual time, or you find them on the computer at all hours of the night, or they disappear for hours at a time on the weekends, or they seem to have no interest in having sex with you, you tell yourself you are imagining things, that you are being silly. You explain the unease away.
If it goes beyond that and you eventually ask about your concerns, but your spouse assures you that you are wrong, that you are making a mountain out of a mole hill, you believe what you are told, which is one of the hallmarks of denial. You don’t want this to be your new reality, so you do everything possible to avoid it.
In my new book, Am I Lying to Myself? How to Overcome Denial and See the Truth, I discuss how easy it is to pretend something disturbing isn’t happening when you suspect it is, to protect yourself. But I advise my patients to do just the opposite. I tell them to pay close attention to everything they are seeing and to not reject that nagging feeling in their gut.
One of the important skills I share I call Look In the Rear-View Mirror. Stop letting denial tell you that what you are witnessing is nothing; instead, examine it, focus on it. If there are enough signs pointing in the direction of an affair, if there are indicators that things are not right, then they are worth checking out. Review your experience to make sure you are considering everything that might be coming your way.
The discovery of an affair is a wake-up call for a marriage. Once it is out in the open, the response can take a couple in one of two directions.
In the first, the anger and resentment are so great that the cheated-on partner sees no choice but to walk away and end the marriage. Alternatively, both partners can become committed to rebuilding the broken trust and continuing on as a couple. Basically, you can either go or stay. I have worked with many couples over the years who have decided to stay—close to fifty percent of those dealing with an affair—and most of them would agree that their commitment to each other, their level of intimacy, and their relationship in general is even better now than it was before. But to get to that point, you have to be willing to do some heavy lifting.
An affair is never about one person. It is usually about two people who have grown so far apart that a whole other person was able to fit in the space between. There was most likely tension in the marriage before the affair.
If you do decide to stay together, breaking through your denial can allow you to focus on what went wrong that led to the affair. If your spouse is willing to put in the work to regain your trust, that can enable you to move forward as a couple, and you might eventually find yourselves in a brighter and happier place than you have been in a long time.
As painful as an affair and its aftermath are, facing it demands that you take stock of what was and was not working for each of you. That awareness can allow you to work together to recapture your lost intimacy and reconnect in a new way that can bring you closer together.
By defying denial and learning to look In the rear-view mirror, you will begin to see what is really going on and know the truth you have to face. From there, anything is possible.