Susan was devastated. Her husband Dan was supposed to be in Cleveland on business. Instead he was seen vacationing in the Virgin Islands with a female co-worker. The betrayal took her by surprise. She couldn’t believe Dan would risk the ten-year marriage for another woman.
Susan called a therapist. Dan admitted to the affair. He apologized profusely and cut off all contact with the other woman. The hurt and anger in Susan’s face was hard to bear. Dan hoped that by apologizing and admitting his sin that Susan would get over the affair. He felt his apology and cut off from the other woman was enough to reconcile the relationship.
But Susan couldn’t stop thinking of the betrayal. She found herself obsessing on thoughts of the other woman. She worried Dan would be unfaithful again. She felt guilty. Dan had apologized and promised not to ever have an affair again. Dan went back to church, talked to the minister and put himself under the accountability of a men’s group. But Susan couldn’t sleep and was anxious.
Susan sensed Dan was mad at her for not “getting over” the affair. Dan said, “Forget it ever happened. Why are you still talking about it when it’s over?” He was frustrated with her nervous anxiety whenever the phone rang late at night. He resented her constant questioning about late business meetings.
Dan and Susan represent many couples stuck in the aftermath of an affair. They think because the affair is acknowledged, things should go back to the way they were before. They don’t recognize the traumatizing effects of the affair.
Susan never really talked at length about her feelings regarding the infidelity. She was too afraid Dan would leave the marriage and felt vulnerable due to her financial dependence on him. All through her marriage she avoided conflict. She pretended to believe everything was great when it wasn’t.
Dan apologized but showed little remorse. He broke the marital covenant and expected Susan to be over it much too quickly. He didn’t understand the trauma his wife experienced. The apology wasn’t enough.
Dan needed to:
· Share his feelings of remorse more than once
· Allow Susan to question him and give reassurance
· Be empathetic for the pain his actions caused Susan
· Understand Susan’s reactions were typical
· Learn to share his emotions including his fear that Susan may leave
· Be patient. His wife needed time
Susan needed to:
· Have time to process, talk and explore her feelings more deeply
· Understand that the injured spouse usually has post -traumatic stress like symptoms (difficulty sleeping and concentrating, hyper-vigilance and intolerance for things that brought up memories of the affair)
· Be allowed to question Dan whenever she needed reassurance
· Not feel guilty when she needed to talk more about what happened
Admission of infidelity is just the first step of reconciliation. The betrayal raises complicated emotions that don’t usually fade away without additional work. A one-time apology is not enough to cover the reactions of the partner. Your partner needs to forgive but also process his/her reactions over time. The one who committed the offense needs to be patient and humble.
For more, read about the way back from infidelity in I Married You, Not Your Family by Dr. Linda Mintle. Click on the picture.