I’ve worked with couples who don’t survive infidelity. There are many reasons they don’t, but one of the consistent themes running through these marriages is that the person who had the affair didn’t commit to being onogamous in the future. S/he never said, “I won’t do this again, I promise.” Some people fail to say these words because they think it’s self-evident. Others don’t promise this change because they’re too proud. Whatever the reason, failing to promise monogamy makes your partner wonder whether the two of you are on the same page about the future of your marriage. So, don’t hold back. If you can honestly say that you’re committed to being monogamous, let your partner know in no uncertain terms that that is your plan.
If your spouse is the sort of person who requires lots of information in order to feel better about the affair, you should be honest. I know this is very difficult and you may be tempted to withhold information, thinking that you’re protecting your spouse. But many in your spouse’s shoes have said that the worst part of the infidelity were the lies and deception that followed the disclosure. It’s time for you to come clean and clear the air. As tough as that might be, it’s a lot easier than lying, covering up, and being discovered again. That corrodes trust tremendously. So share, even if it hurts.
Sometimes you’ll question whether sharing information is a good idea because your spouse reacts so badly to the things you’ve said. But if your spouse determines that the road to recovery is paved with brutal honesty, that’s the path you need to take no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. There will be times when the two of you will feel close as a result of this new honesty and you’ll begin to feel that your truthfulness has really paid off. Then, just when you though you were out of the woods and the questions would cease, a whole new slew of questions get thrown your way. You feel as if you’re getting the third degree.
Remember, healing is a process, not a quick fix. Just because your spouse was fine on Monday doesn’t mean s/he will be fine on Thursday. It also doesn’t mean that sharing information isn’t working. Some people think, “I told him/her what happened. If that was so useful, why is s/he still having a problem and needing to talk about it constantly? That’s just the way improvement happens … in waves. You need to continue to be forthcoming, from now until forever.
Although you may have decided to turn over a new leaf, your spouse is still reacting to what happened. This is completely normal, for now, you owe it to your partner and to yourself to bend over backward to prove your trustworthiness. You might be thinking to yourself, “I decided to stop the affair and be trustworthy, I don’t know why s/he just doesn’t trust me now.” Your spouse is feeling very insecure right now and needs all the help you give him/her to get back on stable ground. You need to extend yourself — even if you don’t think you should have to — to help your spouse feel more secure. Along these lines, do what your spouse asks. Here are some things s/he might ask of you:
Call from work often.
Limit out-of-town travel temporarily.
Offer complete travel itineraries and phone numbers.
Carry a pager.
Talk about your day in detail.
Spend more time together.
Be willing to answer any and all questions about the “other person” and about your whereabouts.
Expect Ups and Downs
I really want to emphasize this point. The road to recovery is a zigzag, not a straight line. At first, the bad days will definitely outnumber the good ones. In fact, there may not be any good days to speak of. But slowly, as you begin to talk and make sense of what happened, you will have your positive moments. Moments will turn into days. Then, you will actually have a stretch of a few good days at a time. Just when you start to get optimistic something will happen that will remind your spouse about the affair and bring back those unpleasant feelings. This rockiness and instability will occur for a very long time. You need to expect that. It doesn’t mean that this problem is insurmountable, it just means that this problem is on its way to being resolved. It happens slowly, much too slowly for you. And what should you do in the meantime?
Even though you might feel a great deal of remorse about what happened, there will be times when you have a hard time understanding why your spouse seems intent on hanging on to the affair. From your standpoint, the whole thing is over and you want to just move on. However, if you convey this emotion to your spouse, s/he will feel that you’re not empathetic, that you have no idea what s/he has been going through, and that will set both of you back considerably.
I realize that your need to move on has little to do with your insensitivity. In fact, one of the primary reasons you want to put the past in the past is because you don’t want to see the hurt on your partner’s face any longer. But be that as it may, you have to move at your spouse’s pace. You won’t be able to speed things along with your anger.
Continue to answer questions and be reassuring. If your spouse still wants to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing, continue offering information. It won’t last forever, even though it seems that way right now. This is a transitional period. There has been major breach of trust and it takes time to heal. Be patient, be loving, be responsive, and you will get through this.
Adapted from The Divorce Remedy by Michele Weiner Davis. Published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2001 by Michele Weiner Davis