I’m posting this because this addiction – to the affair, to the affair partner – is something I went through and am now past. Seeing someone who turned out to be destructive, mean, and psychotic helped me get over them faster, but I still felt the “withdrawal” from the affair when I terminated it and went cold turkey. It was still a process.
I wrote this for some of you Waywards that I see on blogs, on message boards, asking, “Why oh WHY can’t I get over him/her so I can heal my marriage?” And perhaps some of you Betrayeds aren’t recognizing that your Wayward must go through withdrawal-like steps and experience the symptoms before they can fully commit to marital recovery. I’m not saying go easy on them, per say, but recognize that that to some extent they may still be on the fence after D-Day. Not sure that they truly DON’T want their Affair Partner and maybe this is the time to leave. They are shell-shocked and confused. Numb.
They are addicts and are going through withdrawal. Recognize it. Support them. Help them. Show compassion as if they were a recovering alcoholic. You’ll be better off for it. You have the right to be angry. To make demands. To punish them mercilessly with word and deed. To put some ridiculously comprehensive set of “controls” on their lives to keep them from EVER doing this again. But what is it that you want? A better marriage or justice? You can’t pursue both at the same time. Treat them, at least initially, like addicts. With compassion. With understanding. With supportive words and actions.
For most Waywards, ending an affair usually means giving up the thing or the person that was your everything. Who made you feel wanted, understood and desired. With whom you had all your “fun times.” Like with most addictions, giving up on the immediate satisfaction is very difficult and painful to accept. An affair can boost self-esteem, rejuvenate and give us the sense of fulfillment that we look for in a relationship. Similar to an adrenaline rush, the affair can give us energy and a false sense of happiness. The problem is that all these feeling are related to a make believe reality that does not exist. Most people that are having an affair still have to go home to a spouse or significant other and create a façade to hide what is going on.
Even me, with as much progress as I’ve made with my wife to repair our marriage, I still have moments of missing some of the trappings of the affair. The excitement. The fun. The “highs”. But more than that, I sometimes miss the friendship I had with her. The bond. The openness. How she made me feel about me. Even though I know it was the wrong thing to do. Even though I know it was partly an illusion. It’s still not easy. And the itch never fully leaves you, just like an addict. We miss the “fix”. I will say, though, that over time, this has significantly faded. I rarely think of the “good times” with her in almost anyway. She is a page I’ve turned. THAT is the good news.
It is very important though, that we recognize the destructive cycle that leads to the affair in order to avoid future relapses. Lack of communication, withdrawal, and low self-esteem followed by gratification with another partner can create a cycle that is hard to break. Recovering from any addiction can be a lot easier if the drug of choice is not available or the person we are cheating with is not around to fulfill the immediate need.
An affair is a chemical addiction like any other. The craving to be with the lover can be so intense that objective reality doesn’t have much of a chance. The fact that a spouse and children may be permanently injured by this cruel indulgence doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters is spending more time with the lover. That makes it an addiction.
After recognizing the need to overcome the addiction, the next step is to suffer through the symptoms of withdrawal. Addicts are often admitted to a hospital or treatment program during the first few weeks of withdrawal to ensure total separation from the addicting substance. The way to overcome an addiction is tried and proven —- abstain from the object of addiction. Alcoholics, for example, must completely avoid contact with any alcoholic beverage to gain control over their addictive behavior. They must avoid places where alcohol is likely to be found, such as bars and parties. They must even avoid friends who drink occasionally in their presence. They must surround themselves with an alcohol-free environment. In the same way, when a wayward spouse separates from the lover, extraordinary precautions must be taken to avoid all contact with the lover for life!
So what do you Waywards do that are still fighting the addiction? First and foremost: You must firmly and permanently end the affair. Total Separation (no contact) is a must. You must end the affair and go cold-turkey. Never contact the affair partner again in any way. Putting it off will only cause trouble and hurt. It gets harder to break the affair if we have stronger emotions to deal with. Also important is to not give hope of any future contact. Get rid of the triggers that make you think of them, as much as possible. Delete all the old emails and pictures. If they are on Facebook, put a block on them, so they can’t see you and you can’t see them. Or leave Facebook entirely (like I did). If you can avoid going to the places where you had your times with your ex-lover, avoid them. Short, simple and straight to the point is the recipe for success here.
Without total separation, marital recovery is almost impossible. Those who try to straddle the fence — who keep in some contact with their ex-lovers but say they are “working on” their marriages — are fooling themselves. They are in total denial. Their marriages have no chance. They might as well pull the plug. In many circumstances, the Wayward Spouse agrees to marital counseling and reconciliation only as a way to draw attention away from the affair, which may go temporarily dormant until the storm passes, but then reignites. This is just another lie by a Wayward! Just like an alcoholic who hides bottles around the house, and sneaks drinks at work, they will do whatever they have to do to get their fix without overly upsetting the rest of their life, which becomes something of a facade! You cannot be in the position where your Wayward is straddling the fence on recovering — going back and forth between you and the Affair Partner, unable to decide whom they really want, or unwilling to give up either. It won’t work! There is no recovery until the affair is totally and permanently SHUT DOWN and all contact ceases!
So what does a Betrayed Spouse do? In a word, firmly set (fair, not ridiculous) boundaries, but show compassion and patience more than you show anger and mete out punishment. Recognizing that ending the relationship with the AP is often a gradual process. Maybe even a bit of a roller coaster. It depends on the type of affair that occurred — the longer it lasted, the more emotionally tied your Wayward was to their partner, the deeper the addiction and the harder it will be for them to fully move on. You don’t have to like it. But be prepared. Breaking off an affair relationship, as in no more contact, may take weeks. So, let’s assume this is your case. Here are a few things to do:
1. You are entitled to set some limits. Keep clarifying the limits, but don’t make them ultimatums. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, especially with this kind of affair. Experiment with phrases such as: “This is extremely difficult for me. I refuse to share you with another person. And, I know it is difficult for you. But, at some point I will draw a line in the sand.”
2. “Get at” the specific issues. Ask, “What does it mean to “get it out of your system?” What are a couple or three things you need to “get it out of your system?” (If he/she is open to this exploration, the prognosis is good.)
3. If he/she is reluctant to go there, throw out suggestions. “Is he/she controlling you?” (very often the case). “Does it feel good to be wanted by two people?” “Waffling like this seems to be theme in your life?” “Are you afraid to face the hurt? Are you afraid to lose something?” Allow your voice to trail at the end. Do not be dogmatic. Open the door for discussion.
4. See this as his/her problem. (I know! I know! Easier said than done!) Define your standards. Get your personal needs met. Begin to design the future for you. And tell him/her, “I would like to make it with you, but if not, I will certainly create something wonderful for me.”
5. Notice the changes in your relationship. Do you see a movement toward what you really want? Are patterns changing? Is their more effective, in-depth, heartfelt communication? Sometimes the larger picture is comforting.
6. Surround yourself with people who accept and listen to you. Friends/family often blurt out: Get rid of the #$%#$! They fail to understand the complexity and long-term process. Find sources of support from people that do understand.
Remember, ending an affair is never easy but there is help for those who want to move on. It is actually very rewarding to realize that we are strong enough to take control of our lives and that we can recover from painful and addictive behavior. The end of an affair can mean the beginning of a new life, the opportunity to make things better. Although affairs leave us with the sense of instant gratification, fulfillment comes from real goals. Rebuilding the relationship with a spouse will ultimately give us the tools to live a satisfying reality that can be reflected in everything that we do. We can finally find the balance within ourselves that defines who we really are without having to hide and pretend what we are not.