Five techniques for getting unstuck when you can’t get over partner’s affair
All the advice in books and on-line is for coping with the initial shock and fallout from discovering an affair, but what if you’re further down the line – at least as far as time is concerned – but you’re still no further forward recovering? On your dark days, you fear you can never get over partner’s affair:
It is now one and a half years after I found out about my husbands infidelity. On the surface everything is normal again, but I am still struggling with the pain and flashbacks and mistrust. We worked very hard on our relationship and had good times again. But now I feel a kind of setback. Sometimes I even have the feeling that I have lost the love I felt for my husband. I feel so exhausted after thinking and talking about the affair every day for such a long time, I feel stuck. Is there a way out? Do you have any other advice?
Don’t despair. I have plenty of advice when you can’t get over partner’s affair as a significant proportion of my clients who I see face-to-face are struggling with the same dilemma. So let me boil down my approach into five simple techniques:
Accept your feelings
Please don’t beat yourself up for not being able to magically put this all behind you. It has probably been the biggest shock in your life to date and the greatest threat to your well being, so I’m not surprised that all the pain comes in waves or old stuff strikes you in new ways – because there’s no way you could get your head round the enormity of the betrayal in one go.
Turn it around: It really helps to name the feelings – rather than let them churn around. So tell yourself: I am feeling ‘angry’ or ‘anxious’ or ‘perplexed’ or whatever. You don’t have to do anything with these feelings – just witness them. I ask my clients to start a feelings diary where they write down the time, the feeling, the trigger (event or thought). Keep it for a few days or weeks and understand the patterns. You should find that if you witness the feelings – rather than trying to block them – they will subside and slowly become more manageable.
Challenge your thoughts
This goes hand-in-hand with the first technique, some of your feelings are driven by your thoughts (or certainly amplified). We tend to believe everything our inner voice is saying and take it as the gospel truth. However, it will often exaggerate and join unconnected events from different parts of our life to produce compelling evidence that our life is going down the toilet. (I call this process over-thinking and catastrophising.)
Turn it around: Instead of letting all your thoughts go round and round in your head and pull you further and further down, write them down. It’s like taking dictation from your inner voice. When you’ve got it all down – word for word – you’ll find there’s not much there. Go back and look for exaggerations. For example, from above, ‘I feel so exhausted after talking about the affair every day’. I would challenge ‘every day’. I bet a more accurate picture would be ‘frequently’. I know it is a small change but it will feel less hopeless – and might even want to add more qualifications. So, for example, it would become ‘I sometimes feel exhausted after frequently talking about the affair – although sometimes it has helped me feel better.‘ My guess this second version is not only kinder but also more accurate. Look, in particular, for ‘always’ and ‘never’ and ‘should’ and ‘must’ and any other black and white language.
What are the flashbacks trying to tell me?
You are having flashbacks for a reason. It’s not that you’re a bad person because you can’t forgive yet or that your marriage is doomed. Most probably, your feeling are trying to tell you that there is unfinished business from the affair or something in your marriage needs attending to. For example, you sex life lacks passion or your husband and your daughter are always clashing (and you’re stuck in the middle). In effect, if you keep ignore the alert signals, your subconscious will keep sending them.
Turn it around: Go back to the dictation that you’ve taken from your inner-voice. Once you have stripped out the exaggerations, you will have a few reasonably straightforward issues (how to balance being successful at work and a good marriage) or a simple trigger (we haven’t been out – just the two of us – for at least a month). Once you have isolated what your flashbacks are telling you, it is normally reasonably easy to take practical steps to resolve them. For example, switch off your work phone after 9pm or book a table at your favourite restaurant.
Stop expecting something above your partner’s pay scale
If someone is the receptionist at a business, they are not expected to negotiate a better deal with a supplier or balance the accounts but sometimes I meet discoverers who expect their partner – who is an action person – to have a degree of access to his or her feelings that does not fit with their upbringing or personality. In particular, ‘why did you have an affair….’ In many cases, the answers will be unconvincing because, up to this point, your partner has never been asked to look deeply into his or her motivations. Perhaps you are asking for your partner to listen and empathise, even when you’re angry, critical and shaming when he or she would need the training of a therapist to be able to get past the hard shell to the person inside who is longing to be held or comforted.
Turn it around: We have a tendency to see our partners – and men and women in general – how we’d like to see them, rather than how they are in reality. We expect our partner’s minds to work in exactly the same ways as ours – even though women and men are raised in different ways and get different messages from society when they are children. It is much better to accept our partner’s limitations (and strengths) and truly understand what they can do and what’s above their pay scale. In order to explain men to women and women to men, I have written two books ‘My husband doesn’t love me and he’s texting someone else’ and ‘My wife doesn’t love me any more.’ Please read the appropriate one for you.
Give up on perfection
The most toxic emotion of all is SHAME. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of it in your household at the moment. Your partner will feel ashamed about his or her infidelity. You will feel shame for a recent outburst or rant and the greater shame that comes from being betrayed and feeling not good enough. Unfortunately, we don’t like shame and we are desperate to protect ourselves from it. The most common technique is to aim for perfect and hope that will be our protection from further hurt. For example, to be the perfect partner or expect our partner to be the perfect penitent spouse. I also see people who paint their pre-affair relationship as ‘perfect’ and become doubly angry with their partner for ‘ruining’ everything.
Turn it around: My favourite quote is from Nietzsche (19th Century German philosopher): “‘From the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made”. In other words, we can’t be perfect because we’re human and when we fail to reach the impossible, we feel even more shame. Returning to my first point, it is much better to accept the shame, witness it and challenge our thoughts about it. Ultimately, it’s better to aim to be the best version or ourselves and the best version of our marriage rather than perfect. (There is more on SHAME in My Husband Doesn’t Love Me and He’s Texting Someone Else)
More information from my books My Husband Doesn’t Love Me and He’s Texting Someone Else, My Wife Doesn’t Love Me Any More or How Can I Ever Trust You Again?
- What helped you move forward?
- What held you back?
- What can someone who’s had an affair do to help their partner move forward?
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