This post was generated by a number of things that I’ve been seeing on blogs and message boards. Waywards (former cheaters) lamenting about their ex-Affair Partner. Most of them stating that they are trying to make amends to their spouses (or in some cases, the spouses still don’t know about the affair) and recommitting themselves to their marriage, but still unable to “get over” their ex-Affair Partner.
Some are still clearly in love with them, to varying levels, and their longing for what they had with their ex-lovers is poignant, raw and clear in their writings. They still feel stuck. Not 100% sure what they really want. Their ex-Affair Partner is still, at some level, a life option to them. Perhaps a safety valve. A back-up plan. Or perhaps who they’d secretly would rather be with if the financial, familial, social difficulties and complications of a divorce could be somehow neutralized. I see it everywhere. They carry a “torch” for this person, large or tiny, secretly or openly. But a torch nevertheless. A torch that can undo their marital recovery. You can’t really recover until you get past your affair, your partner and your addiction to both. It’s not merely an obstacle — it’s a game-changer.
This, however, is not the case for me, as anyone who has read my blog knows. I don’t want her back. Under any circumstances. Do I sometimes have a twinge of feeling for her somewhere at a remote outpost in my psyche? Yes. But it’s barely a flicker. So I’m not in the position of the people I’ve described above, although I truly understand their feelings.
So what DOES one do? Your head and heart desperately want to be in the “right place.” You want to erase the past and the hurt it caused and fully commit yourself to a loving, satisfying marriage. You want things to not go back to the way they were, but to be better! You want your spouse to essentially make you feel how your ex-lover made you feel — loved, desired, appreciated, wanted. You SO want this. Yet you still feel the tug of past feelings for “her” or “him”. The longing. The torture. The sadness. The loss. And you don’t dare say it out loud.
It’s a breakup, like any other. If anyone knew the secret to how to instantaneously get over a breakup, that person would be the richest person alive. And the heightened nature of an illicit affair, especially one where you rarely see the person due to distance or circumstances, may make the breakup seem even worse in many ways. You are holding on to an illusion of a relationship more than the actuality of it. How does one get over a fantasy? I have to believe it’s hard. I wish there was a way to merely say — “well, it was an affair, and it was WRONG, so just get over it!”
But it simply doesn’t work that way — I’m sure that you’ve been through other breakups before, where you felt like total shit and missed them for weeks and weeks. Well, this is a breakup. And there’s no way to get over it instantly, except to go through it.
Get your head on straight. Your affair was real, yes, but it was rooted in fantasy and maybe even more so now. An extramarital obsession is usually a form of fantasy – the love object — your ex-Affair Partner – fulfilled all your unmet needs and possesses all the qualities your spouse or partner does not have (in your eyes, at this moment). Usually there is a certain amount of projection, of giving your external focus qualities they do not necessarily have – where there is doubt, they get the benefit.
Recognize however that to some extent you’re probably over-romanticizing your ex-lover. You’re not out of the affair fog and you may not be seeing them objectively. Understand that the qualities you have placed on him or her probably belong more to fiction than to reality, and try to divorce this fictional crush from the real person. You are purposely ignoring their poorer characteristics. Remind yourself what they were. There were probably red flags and you likely ignored them because you were getting your needs so fully met by your affair partner.
Understand that what you had during the affair is UNLIKELY to continue if you had them in a legitimate, day-to-day relationship, with all of its attendant difficulties. The heightened awareness during an affair — the stolen moments and days or weekends of nothing but sex, passion and happiness are very unlikely to continue in real life. It was part fantasy, part reality. But recognize the part that is an unreal illusion. It was a relationship, but it was in a bubble, shielded from many of the problems of ‘real’ relationships. As I blogged about previously, few illicit relationships make a long-term, successful transition to the “real” world. Your odds are better flying an airplane without an engine. Keep that in mind.
Affairs are generally an escape from a very unsatisfying reality in our lives. Even after they are gone, they still become a mental escape. Keep that context in mind.
Don’t trigger yourself. The more you can control your thinking of the other person, the better off you’ll be. Send all their emails and pictures to a new email account that you don’t use. Don’t purposely go to places that remind you of them. I think that it just takes time to train your mind away from thinking about them. Don’t blog about them (in any way that seems sentimental, anyway). If a song comes on that reminds you of them, turn it off. Remove and block them on Facebook so you’re not tempted to even look at their page. Delete them from your phone. If you can’t throw their gifts in the trash, put them in a big box, seal it up and toss it into the attic for some better point when you can deal with them. Distract yourself from thoughts of him or her. Think about something else instead, something that you want to put more of your personal time and energy into. You invested an awful lot of “psychic energy” into that relationship, and it doesn’t just go away when you decide for it to.
It’s normal to grieve. I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to grieve, or that you have to act like none of this happened. But I am saying that every time you wallow in those sad, unrequited love feelings, you’re strengthening them. If you find them unpleasant and want them to go away, you have to stop feeding them. You can’t make it stop completely, it will take time, but this is how you do it faster.
Sometimes we WANT to hold on to our pain, as strange as that sounds. There is something alluring about wallowing in our own suffering over the “lost love.” It feels almost noble. Like a movie. It makes us feel alive because we FEEL. But it won’t be good in the long run. It will ruin your healing and your marital recovery. Guaranteed.
Count your blessings. This may sound trite, but whenever I felt a positive thought about my ex-OW, I tended to purposely list all the great things in my life, and remind myself what a fine woman my wife is. Focusing on what you have will tend to snap you back to reality.
Give it time. I once read it takes 1/2 as long as a relationship lasted to get over it. I largely believe that’s true, but when it comes to an intensely emotional and physical affair, it might not be. However, I do believe that if you follow some of the concepts above, all you have to worry about it time. Your feelings for him/her WILL dissipate. You won’t forget them, but over time, they will find an appropriate context and compartment in your psyche. You will see them as someone who once “was” but not longer makes sense in your current life. You don’t have to hate them, and I doubt you’ll ever merely feel neutral about them, but the sting of loss and of their memories will eventually dissipate to a minor pin-prick.