How do I get over an affair?January 17, 2017
In marriage counselling, it is common for a couple to present with issues around infidelity.
I do this work a lot with couples and I also meet with individuals who have been deeply impacted by infidelity and need help making sense of what has happened to them.
Many injured individuals ask me “How can I get over the affair/s?”
Affairs are a big topic. Today I am going to focus on what I think is important for the injured person to do to get out of the crazy-making stuff in their heads. I want to help those of you who want to stay with your partner but be well. And those of you who don’t know if you wish to stay but need to be free of the torment.
These are some of the things that injured people experience and report to me:
- Flashbacks – to the time the affair was discovered. To new information that was discovered. To smells, clothes, places and people. To images found on devices and to messages tripped over (or not) that changed their life.
- Anger and never-ending bitterness.
- Feelings of low self worth. Not attractive. Not sexy enough. Not loveable enough.
- High anxiety and sometimes depression. Many people carry P.T.S.D. symptoms. And many people require anti depressant support.
- Immobilisation – difficulty working and difficulty in parenting.
- Difficulty in concentrating – many people tell me they can’t read a book now or watch TV.
- Obsessional thinking about the betrayal. Going to bed with it. Waking up with it and thinking about it all day.
- Going through phones and other devices searching for more evidence. Some people go further and hire private detectives.
- Feeling like a fool.
- Wanting to know more information and details about the affair. Searching for answers. Sometimes attacking partners. Sometimes asking questions to be met with defensiveness – not answers. Regret over interrogating their partner but unable to stop.
It is a living nightmare for the betrayed. And the couple.
I have worked with affairs for many years and I am still affected by the raw human pain that presents in my room whether it is the couple or the injured person on their own.
Reading all the above you are probably wondering by now if anyone can truly survive an affair? Why anybody would want to stay with a partner who did this to them?
The answer is that many couples not only survive an affair but go on to transcend it. Meaning some couples do the work and begin a totally new and often wonderful relationship together. The reality is that often the injured person loves their partner very much. And perhaps they have children together or a life that is otherwise good. The injured person would very much like to stay with their partner and make it work. But of course there are problems in the relationship or problems to be resolved in the wider family system.
So let me see if I can help you.
These are the sorts of things I say to the injured person when they come to see me for relationship work:
- Resist the urge to ask for explicit details regarding the affair. You should ask your partner questions about why they did it – but try not to ask what they did. The details of what they did will burn in your mind and you will never be able to move on from it. This is the sort of information that leads to anxiety, flashbacks and more. The more details you find out the more unwell you will be emotionally.
- For the same reason above – resist the urge to go hunting for images of the subject of the affair. You will be the one who is hurt the most by the images and they will add to crazy-making narratives in your head.
- Do talk to your partner about the need for him/her to be transparent with devices. If messages come through to your partner’s phone they should be shared with you to alleviate anxiety. However, resist actually going through their phone yourself.
- Move away from thinking about superficial reasons your partner had the affair. Most people are surprised to learn that the person their partner had the affair with is not as attractive or as young as they had imagined. Very rarely is it about the betrayed not being attractive enough. A lot of people I talk to who have had affairs say they were after the emotional connection as opposed to the sexual contact.
- Ask your partner to bring up the affair rather than wait for you to do this. Because of the guilt and shame, most people struggle to raise their transgression with their partner. However, it’s the single biggest thing they can do to help the injured with their anxiety and obsessional thinking. It says “I take responsibility for this trauma too and I want to talk about it and make sense of it”.
- Work with your partner to find the meaning of the affair. In other words, move off the details of the affair itself to why it occurred in your relationship. If you understand the meaning of the affair you are both more likely to make the changes needed to see the possibility of a new relationship. If you don’t understand why the affair happened, you will never trust that an affair won’t happen again. Couples counselling is often required to help with meaning finding.
- Probably one of the single biggest tasks required to transcend a trauma like an affair is empathising with your partner. This is not forgiveness. And this is not accepting the behaviour (affair). It is putting yourself in your partner’s shoes to attempt to understand why your partner did what they did.
- Set the affair to one side and think about what has been good in your relationship. What has worked? What drew you together in the first place. Hanging on to the good in the face of the bad will give you the strength to fight for the relationship.
- Distraction – as much as you don’t feel like it, go back to work and meet with friends who make you feel good. Distraction will provide relief from the obsession and positive things like work and friends help re-build your self esteem.
- Establish what behavioural changes need to occur (from you both) in order to feel like there could be a new relationship. The objective is to re-create commitment, so that the injured party feels like they can trust the relationship again.
- Look for ways to empower yourself. Ensure you go to a good relationship therapist who can support you and give you strategies that allow you to take control back in your life.
The work to repair a relationship where an affair has occurred is long and arduous. In couples counselling there are many setbacks. There are waves of emotions that rise up at different times for the injured person. Their partner has to be realistic about this – to understand that it is not possible for an injured person to move forward in a linear fashion. The couples who do the best are the ones that are able to empathise and tolerate each other’s pain – for a long time – until trust is slowly re-built.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.
If you would like to talk with one of our Couples Therapists, call us on 02 8968 9397 and schedule an appointment today.