A Reader Writes…
In October 2013, I discovered my husband had been having a two year affair with a work colleague (who was also a very good friend to me).
I find it hard to put into words the feelings and devastation I felt and still feel. It physically hurts so much especially because during the affair period we were in the process of adopting a child. The other woman was a very close friend and work colleague and knew things about our relationship which others didn’t ( when we had a row, when things were tough, etc) our children and hers were also close and when we finally adopted our daughter she even joined us on our first family holiday.
My husband got a new job before the summer and we moved away, after I discovered the affair he said this was the reason for moving as he wanted to end it so much that he felt the only way to protect us was to move away. Since discovering he has cut all contact with her and we have read and used resources on the net to help us he says he loves me and wants me more than anything and that he made a stupid stupid mistake which then snowballed and he couldn’t manage it and was so scared that she would reveal what had happened if he finished it.
We have worked hard and talked and listened to each other but I struggle so much with images and thoughts in my head of them together being intimate with each other. I know I want to make our marriage and relationship work, he is my best friend and I want to be with him. I just want to make these things go away. We are working through your book together and are finding it very useful but I struggle with images of my husband being unfaithful and want to know how to deal with these images and thoughts. Thank you for your time.
First, I want to congratulate you on working so hard and listening and to your husband for making such a clean break. I can’t tell you how much of a difference than makes. Next, I want to reassure you that four months is early days in recovering from an affair (especially as it went on for a relatively long time and you knew the other woman so well).
So what to do about the images and thoughts? If they keep coming back, I think we should take them seriously (and they could also be telling us something important). However, I think is important to separate the images from the thoughts – especially as I suspect they are coming from different places ie: the images from your unconscious and the thoughts from the front of your mind.
If the images are coming when you’re awake, don’t push them away or get angry with yourself or worry ‘I’ll never get over them’. Allow yourself to watch if it is like a clip of film or if it is a still image to examine the photo. When you have finished, write a summary of the film or what the picture is about. I would also like you to add your feelings – but no thoughts attached to it. Please accept the feelings and witness them (rather than judging yourself for having them). They are a natural response to something traumatic. Afterwards, do something soothing – like a bath, cup of tea or phone a friend. When you have a body of evidence, ask yourself what are these images telling me? What are the themes? What can I learn from them?
If the images part of a dream, it’s basically the same process. Be conscious that you’re dreaming, don’t fight it and when you wake up, lie still as this helps you to remember. Keep a pen and paper by the bed and jot down a few keys words as this will also help to tied down the details. Once again, ask yourself: what is my sub-conscious trying to tell me? (By the way, don’t worry: dreams are not predictors of what’s going to happen).
When you have the images – or the affair is particularly troubling – consider telling your husband. He probably knows – because you’ve become distant or angry – and this gives him permission to talk. You could even tell him the basic details. However, and this is key, he does not have to do anything about the image (this feeling of powerlessness to make it better is what gets men angry or feel shamed about their past behaviour and makes them push their wives away). Your husband just needs to give you a hug and say something reassuring like ‘we will get through this’.
Moving onto the thoughts, once again rather than trying to push them away or edit them, write them down – almost like you’re taking dictation. When you’ve finished we move onto a separate and different approach. While I want you to accept your feelings, I want you to challenge your thoughts. Now they are out of your head and on paper, cross out anything that seems ludicrous.
Look for words like, ‘never’ and ‘always’ – what is the evidence that you will ‘never get over it’. Change these thoughts to something more appropriate: ‘It will take a long time to get over it.’ OK it’s a small change but a significant one – and THIS IS IMPORTANT: Thoughts influence feelings. If you think ‘never’, the feelings will be panic, anxiety or even despair. If you think ‘a long time’ it could be ‘annoyance’ (for him putting you in this place) or ‘determined’ (to push onwards). See the difference. Challenge words like ‘should’ – says who? For example, ‘I should be over this’ could be confronted with ‘everybody takes their own time.’
When analysing your thoughts, it helps to change statements into questions. For example, “I’ll never get over this” becomes “how can I get over this?”‘ By this point, you should be feeling calmer, as you’ve been able to cross out some statements, watered down others and moved into problem solving mode. More times than not, there is something that has promoted this over-thinking. I call it the animating spark.
It’s normally something quite small – for example, it’s your birthday and you’re wondering why he didn’t come home early last year on this date. If this is the case, address the animating spark, calmly with your husband. You’ll find it is much easier to resolve than a torrent of problems, thoughts and fears all at once.
If you’ve found How Can I Ever Trust You Again? helpful I would also read I Love You but I’m Not in Love With You and if you’ve got children I Love You but You Always Put Me Last as these will shed more light on why he had the affair.