This blog entry is on mistakes that Betrayed Spouses routinely make during marital recovery. Blunders and errors of judgment that make it unlikely that a marriage will not only survive an affair.. I wrote it after reading blog after blog by Betrayed Spouses who seem to be doing all in their power to sabotage marital recovery and don’t realize it. From my reading, thought and research, I came up with what I think are 21 things to avoid if you want your marriage to survive and thrive after an affair. Unlike many, I truly believe that marriages can not only survive an affair, but become something far better than they were prior to the affair. I’m not one that believes that infidelity must be the end of the marriage.
As much as I hate to use the term “run-of-the-mill affair” to mean the “most common type of affair”, I think I will stick with it for lack of a better term. According to one study, one in four affairs was a mere fling, lasting less than a week. The majority of affairs (65 percent) end within six months. The “typical affair” is emotional and/or physical, has gone on anywhere from a month to a few months (which apparently is most typical) and where the emotional bond between the Affair Partners (not the sex) was the primary lure of it. This is the type of affair where “attachment” even if temporary occurred, but that the affair is now over and the Betrayed and Wayward Spouse have committed to fixing the root causes of the affair. Where the Wayward Spouse is truly remorseful, honest and is attempting to make amends for the betrayal.
Within that context – the “typical affair” — where both partners wish to truly fix the marriage, not ditch it– I present:
The Most Common Mistakes Made By Betrayed Spouses in Recovering from an Affair
Believing that once your spouse agrees to end the affair or the behavior, it is truly ended. Quite often the betrayed spouse is somewhat naïve and actually believes that his or her mate is able to effectively flip and stop the behavior or talking to the affair partner. It is a lovely thought, but very unrealistic. Recovery may involve seeking out helping professionals as well as support groups. It takes time. Most people need help getting out of an affair. They are like addicts and it’s hard to kick an addiction by flipping a switch. Again, much depends on the type of affair they engaged in. If it was a one night stand, affair of “sexual opportunity”, then ending it is easy since it was just that. If it was a multi-year affair, few cheaters can instantly turn off all feelings. I have a blog entry on this subject.
Demanding that your spouse pledge 100% commitment to the marriage right at the moment of disclosure. Even if your mate is willing to make such a pledge it does not really mean anything. Your spouse may mean it in the moment, but not realize how big of a problem they actually have. Addicts cannot just stop using. People in emotionally entangled affairs have trouble disengaging.
Not seeing forgiveness for what it is. Forgiveness is not a “free pass” or pretending it never happened, or saying what happened was ok. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment that you are going to let go of the anger associated with this. That at some level, you are choosing to put it aside and work on your marriage. I have a blog on the topic. I hear far too often Betrayed Spouses indicate that somehow if they forgive the affair, that their spouse “won” or “got away with it.” Far from it. This type of thinking is corrosive. I assure you, inside, they have paid a huge price and don’t feel like “winners.” Healing cannot occur until forgiveness is given. If you refuse to truly forgive, your marriage is doomed anyway.
Not being in reconciliation mode, but instead, being in revenge and punishment mode continuously and/or bludgeoning your spouse with guilt, thinking that this will be helpful. Your spouse already knows that what they have been doing is wrong, even if they will not admit it to you. Pointing such things out over and over again, especially after months or even years have elapsed since recovery was agreed upon, will usually only serve to push them away. It’s time consuming and counterproductive for you to concern yourself with punishing your cheating husband or wife, seeking revenge, or trying to pay him/her back for having an affair.
Your interests would be best served if you focus your energy and efforts on what the two of you can do to get their derailed marriage back on track. You cannot seek reconciliation and justice simultaneously. You must choose. If you seek to punish, to “even the score”, to continuously remind them how they betrayed you, don’t bother pretending that you are trying to fix things. If you are going to forever throw the affair in his/her face, your marriage is over.Of course, especially initially, you will have rage and anger. This is normal and expected.
But at some point, if you forgive, you to put this aside. Nasty comments. Sarcasm. Sneaky tricks like spying on them or trying to hack their phone or accounts. Withholding love or sex. Verbal assaults on your Wayward Spouse might make you feel better, but if you truly want to save your marriage, there has to be a point where this ends. If tantrums go on endlessly and unpredictably, only a spouse with no options and no self-respect will stay. They will leave you anyway.
I would be very careful of the words you use in your anger — they will be remembered and can become an obstacle. Remember, they too have grievances against you and probably the underpinnings of why they sought love and understanding outside of the marriage. Don’t add to the grievances, if at all possible.
I see this as the number one mistake Betrayeds make in marital recovery. I read it constantly on message boards and blogs. Year or more later, and still nit-picking. Still punishing. Still humiliating their spouse. Still having meltdowns, and wondering why their marriage still sucks. Go figure. It’s easier to punish than to forgive, but completely counterproductive. Don’t do it.
Believing that you, the faithful spouse, are “blameless” and the only one who has things to forgive. Even if you were a good spouse, no one is perfect. Your unfaithful mate probably has hurts and things for which he or she must forgive you. After dealing with the pain of the affair, it will be helpful to look at the marital relationship completely and be honest enough to understand that affairs rarely happen in a vacuum — they are almost always in reaction to vast, unmet needs in the marriage — our outright abuse or neglect.
Happy and content spouses rarely have affairs. Once you understand this you are in a better place to pursue marital reconciliation. I constantly read how many Betrayed Spouses have an impossible time accepting this very basic concept. A poor marriage is not an excuse for an affair — there is no excuse – but it is almost always the reason. So don’t try and pretend it’s not.
You’ll never get anywhere with your Wayward if you refuse to acknowledge your part in creating the environment where an affair became an attractive possibility to your mate. They did the worse thing yes, but no matter how many times I read betrayeds say how PERFECT their marriage was and what a FANTASTIC spouse they were and are, and can’t understand why their mate strayed, I know that if their spouse was posting along side of them honestly, they’d have a different story about how great things were at home prior to the affair. So if you tell everyone that your marriage was great before the affair, and you were the perfect spouse, I think you’re not being honest and missing an opportunity for some serious self-reflection.
Drawing too much security from access to a Wayward’s passwords, cell phone, email accounts, etc, which you demanded after affair discovery. I call these demands for passwords to phones, computers and emails “fool’s gold.” Although these measures may make you feel better and make it harder for your spouse to have private communications with anyone, they are not sufficient. They will not keep an unfaithful spouse from getting a new phone, a calling card or opening a new email account, and only use them in places you can’t get to them (at work, a library, an internet cafe, etc). And they will probably resent this type of monitoring which is humiliating.
Nobody wants to be treated like a child, no matter what they did. Resentment is a cancer on marital recovery. You the Betrayed Spouse probably carry a lot of it, and your Wayward Spouse might also be carrying some too based on how they felt mistreated or neglected in the marriage prior to the affair. Their resentments probably linger, even if they had an affair and feel bad about it. So why create more resentment in this situation?
Being a “helicopter spouse.” Believing that you can keep your mate safe and away from temptation by keeping them under total surveillance. As tempting as it may be to make sure your mate is always safe and monitored, it is impossible. You can try to be with your mate 24/7, but unless you work together, it is not possible. Honestly, it is not even possible if you work together. One of you may have meetings or errands that the other one may not be a part of. But if you think that the only way to keep your spouse faithful is to have them on some sort of “Virtual Leash”, then your marriage is already over. You can’t hover over them like some perpetual helicopter. Secretly tapping into their computer or phone, or putting GPS trackers on their car, etc. These are REALLY bad ideas. I wouldn’t do it. I turns YOU into the dishonest person. That type of control is not only likely to not work, it will breed resentment.
Trying to convince your spouse that nobody will ever love him/her as much as you do. If your spouse is in an emotionally entangled affair, chances are good that he or she may already believe this is not true. It may even encourage an “I’ll show you I’m not such a loser” attitude. The reality is likely that their Affair Partner DID love them more than you did or showed and that’s why they were drawn to them — they felt more loved, desired, appreciated and understood by their Affair Partner than you. So making this argument to them to recovery may actually make them think in the opposite direction. Advice? Don’t argue it. SHOW them in your actions — your kindness, your love, your understanding, and how much you are willing to be honest and examine yourself as well during marital recovery.
Using your kids as pawns. Perhaps even unwittingly, you have used your children to manipulate your mate into staying or using them to punish the unfaithful partner if they leave. This will only hurt your kids. You do not want to force an unfaithful mate to stay if they are determined to leave.
Exposing the affair to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. Threatening to expose your mate’s affair to everyone will only increase their guilt and shame, and may enrage them. More people may know already than you might realize. Some of them perhaps have even offered your unfaithful spouse support or encouragement in the affair or behavior. It will not keep your mate home. I see this suggested constantly on some Betrayed Spouse message boards and blogs — expose the affair to every one. Frankly, this is more about retribution and shaming your Wayward Spouse, and is likely to backfire. If my wife had exposed me to everyone, I am quite sure I would’ve walked out the door instead of reconciling our marriage.
Making threats. You might find yourself threatening your mate because you believe that threats will make your spouse “see the light” and convince them to “fly right.” Threatening increases shame and guilt, but it does not increase desire or will to stay. Coercion from a mate can actually keep the unfaithful spouse from doing what you wish them to do.
Trashing the affair partner. If your spouse is having some ambivalence (one foot in the marriage, one foot out of the door), this will hit the wrong side of the ambivalence and can push your mate away. It will put your mate in the position of defending the affair partner and this serves no good purpose. The Other Man/Other Woman didn’t cause the affair — it’s a choice that your spouse made and they are 100% responsible for that choice.
I wrote a blog entry about the mistake, and pitfalls, of focusing too much on the Other Man/Woman during recovery. This is a trap. It might make you feel better, but it gets you nowhere in recovery and it made breed resentment in your Wayward Spouse. Obviously, at some level, they thought enough of this person to share very personal things with them. You trashing them out is as good as saying your Wayward Spouse is an idiot. Is this the message you want to send? Seethe if you wish. Hate them. Assume that you are so much better looking/sexy/smarter/worldly/better for your spouse than them. But do it quietly.
Trying to drive the Other Man/Other Woman off by personal confrontation. Confronting the affair partner to make him or her feel guilty usually only encourages the affair partner to think that in the end, your spouse will leave you. It may give the impression that the affair partner has all the power and actually encourage the affair partner to believe that the affair will turn into a long-term relationship. See above. Again, focusing on the OM/OW (the symptom) only ignores the cause of why your spouse had an affair. It’s a diversion but it won’t help you reconcile. In fact, it could backfire drastically.
Contacting the Other Man/Other Woman to get information or an apology. It is interesting how often a hurting mate will believe that the affair partner is going to tell the truth and sorrowfully see the error of his or her ways having realized the pain he or she has caused. Quite the opposite, it is not uncommon for the affair partner to lie and manipulate the situation. The Affair Partner, in fact, may tell you half the story, or complete lies, in order to unhinge you and ruin your marital reconciliation. Maybe because they still want your spouse for themselves. Or maybe because they think you are simply the wrong spouse for their former lover. Or maybe because they just don’t like you. So why assume that they will disclose the truth to you? Hoping they will feel truly sorry and tell you so? Very unlikely. They too had, in their mind, legitimate reasons for pursuing a relationship with your spouse. They are unlikely to admit to you that they were wrong. If you’re looking for some sort of closure with this person, don’t bother.
Believing there is a simple formula or a set course to fix the problem. It would be nice if there were. Each type of affair has its own set of challenges with a different set of solutions that are not linear or stepwise, but are unique to each situation and couple.
Trying to get all the unfaithful spouse’s friends on your side. You might be hoping they will help your unfaithful mate to “wake up and see reality.” Some of your spouse’s friends may come on board. This does not mean that your spouse will listen. Others may believe the unfaithful mate is correct in leaving someone so controlling if you try this approach.
Trying to “woo” your spouse back and expecting instant gratitude and immediate results. Wooing can be more effective with certain types of affairs, but in any case, it will not produce immediate results. For example, a man with a sexual addiction may be grateful for the efforts, but it will not solve the problem. Understand, that at some level, in the immediate aftermath of an affair, your Wayward Spouse, while agreeing to marital reconciliation, may still be somewhat on the fence about your marriage. They need to be convinced too that the marriage can be saved. It takes time. They are shell-shocked and probably not unlike an addict concerning their affair. They too have to grieve to some extent. Results will come for both of you, but you must show patience and perseverance.
Believing that your unfaithful mate will find you more appealing if you get attention from others. Your mate may find you more appealing if you get attention from others or they may not. Your mate may actually feel relieved if it leads to the thought that you will not be alone if your marriage ends. Either way, it does not bring healing or restoration to your relationship. Your marriage becomes a power struggle. This is passive-aggressive behavior that shows a lack of maturity. You want your Wayward to become a better spouse, then you yourself need to model this behavior. This is not the way to do it.
Engaging in a “Revenge Affair”. In this emotional time, you may feel a desire to show your unfaithful spouse how it feels to be so betrayed and that if you do, your spouse will ultimately come humbly back. This is one of the most foolish things you can do. It will backfire. Not only will you enrage your Wayward Spouse, but now you will have your own guilt and shame to deal with. And frankly what you did is worse –why? It’s unlikely your Wayward had their affair purposely to hurt you. But if you engage in a “revenge affair”, you did it for one reason and one reason only — to hurt your spouse. To me, it would be unforgivable. You might as well have your divorce papers drawn up. Two wrongs never make a right, and engaging in a wrong to hurt your spouse doesn’t show character or a desire to reconcile. It’s simple childish retribution. I also have a blog entry on the dangers of the revenge affair. I wrote more on the topic here.
Relying on advice from “Infidelity” Message Boards: They are almost always dominated by militant, angry and bitter Betrayed Spouses, who usually have a huge chip on their shoulders. Former Cheaters are rarely welcome there, unless they are the complete self-loathing variety. Opinions that contradict the standard POV on these boards are RUTHLESSLY censored. So you end up with one, monolithic set of opinions — usually those of the militant, negative variety. One set of advice from a group of bitter, vicious Betrayed Spouses, most likely.
And because they all say the same thing, they must be right, huh? Don’t buy it. They just don’t allow other opinions on their boards. And most of those people are either divorced or will be divorced. They will give you suggestions that contradict every one of the points above. Just say no or at least realize it’s one point of view, not the only point of view.
There are great books out there – my wife and I were a big fan of “His Needs, Her Needs”. Great advice in that book for any relationship. And get a good therapist.
But beware of forums at marriagebuilders.com or survivinginfidelity.com and others like them. Beware frankly of only reading blogs by Betrayed Spouses. You may find some solace there and support, and perhaps some advice useful to you, but take what’s written there and recommended with a grain of salt.
Violence: People who hit someone out of anger and emotion are not only low-class, immature and of low character, they sometimes end up in jail. Don’t be that person. If you can’t deal with infidelity (or any problem) without resorting to violence, you have essentially confirmed in your Wayward’s mind that you are a person who probably should be left and definitely that having an affair probably wasn’t a bad idea. It’s stupid and self-defeating. Don’t go there. I would always counsel anyone – man or woman – who has been hit by a spouse to leave and leave immediately. It will probably happen again. You don’t get a “pass” on violence if you’re a woman, nor should you expect one. I have a blog entry on this subject.
No one said reconciliation is easy. Or forgiveness. And huge emotions are involved. A Betrayed Spouse has likely been blind-sided by this and their self-esteem and trust have taken more than a minor beating. It takes character, courage and true love to overcome probably the largest crisis a marriage can face. But I would urge you to not make the mistakes listed above if you truly want to save your marriage. To commit these blunders would therefore be to work against your own interests.
In general, a spouse recovers from the pain more readily to the extent that s/he is able to see his/her own part in the marriage difficulties that may have made the relationship vulnerable. These mistakes may include not following up on early hints of potential infidelity. It’s paradoxical, but the more someone feels that they had a role in the development of the affair, the more empowered that person will feel to make changes that will strengthen the marriage in the future.
Recovery for the deceiver — the Wayward Spouse — needs to include a full assessment of how the affair happened. Understanding history enables one to prevent its re-occurrence. This understanding however has to be observational rather than self-flagellating. Being excessively angry at oneself can block real learning. “Shame and blame” do little toward prevention. Understanding of the series of unfortunate actions and decisions that led to the affair is critically important. So is desire to put one’s life on a totally different course, a course of true marriage commitment.
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