Are you trying to make your relationship work after an affair?
Infidelity is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a relationship.
Not all affairs are created equal, but all are extremely painful and difficult to overcome.
This post will be nowhere near comprehensive, as it takes time, work, patience, risks and pain to recover from an affair.
Today we will only discuss one crucial aspect of the recovery process that many couples struggle with.
“It felt like we went to war and back together.”
This is how some couples describe their experience of recovery from an affair. Going to war is exactly what you may have to do in order to overcome the trauma that has happened to your relationship. Hopefully you will not be at war with each other, even though it may feel that way at first, but you will be at war on the same side, trying to heal the deep wound that your relationship has endured as a result of an affair.
If you cheated on your partner and want to make things better, you hopefully feel horrible.
I say “hopefully” not because I want you to suffer, but because you feeling horrible is a key element to help your partner heal. You feeling horrible means you know you did something to hurt your partner and your relationship.
You never meant to hurt your partner or your relationship.
Perhaps you thought it would be harmless.
Perhaps you were going through your own stuff and for whatever reason your relationship wasn’t giving you what you needed, so you found it elsewhere.
Perhaps it was a slippery slope – a friendly connection led to something much more dangerous and you somehow got pulled in.
You probably thought you’d get away with it, but you never meant to hurt your partner or your relationship.
You messed up, and now you feel horrible.
So I say it’s good that you feel horrible because it means that you are committed to your relationship and you know you did something bad to it. You care about your partner.
The problem with feeling horrible is that it can create a sense of shame.
The problem with shame is that it causes us to shut down and hide.
And if you are shut down and hiding after you hurt your partner in possibly one of the worst ways you could, it will be infuriating to them on a surface level, but will compound the pain and hurt on a deeper level.
If you get sucked down a “shame-hole,” which is common for partners who have cheated, you may get lost and continue to be unavailable to your partner.
Shame is so tricky, and so painful, you may not even know you are experiencing it.
Shame is the feeling that we are bad at our very core.
It is natural to try to suppress this feeling or push it away in any way we can.
You may feel dead or numb instead. You may feel like you don’t even deserve your partner because you did something so awful. You may get lost in your shame-hole and be unable to look at your partner because you feel so badly. You may be constantly looking inward, at yourself, telling yourself how rotten you are.
When you’re lost in your shame, you aren’t present with your partner.
And your partner cannot heal without you.
For your partner to get over this breach of trust and for your relationship to recover, you’re going to have to be fully present. You’re going to have to answer questions and really hear how much pain you caused your partner. Your shame will be there, but you can’t let it overtake you.
Get real with yourself.
Yes, you did something wrong. Yes, it makes sense to feel guilty. But get out of your own way – your partner needs you now more than ever.
You might be afraid they’re going to leave you, and they very well may. But if they’re willing to try to work it out, now’s your chance to give it everything you’ve got. You’re going to have to be fully present. You’re going to have to stomach the shame and face the fact that you did something really hurtful to the person you love the most.
It’s going to be rough.
You’re going to have to really understand how much pain your partner is in. You’re going to have to feel it and they’re going to really need to be convinced that you get how much hurt you’ve caused and are truly sorry.
If you’re like most partners who cheated and want to make things right, you wish you could just say “sorry” and make it all go away.
An “I’m sorry” just won’t cut it.
It’s going to be really hard. You both very well may need some help.
You need to remember that even though you did something terrible, you’re not a terrible person.
Know that this is so hard because your relationship is so important – you are so important.
Together you can make your relationship right again, but your presence is key.
Of course there are other elements to getting through this, for example your ongoing honesty and doing whatever it takes to re-establish your partner’s trust. First and foremost, you need to be present.
Being present is especially challenging when it means having to face your shame, and all your shame makes you want to do is disappear and turn away from your partner and the world.
When you find yourself spiraling down into a shame hole, remember that you did something terrible but you’re not a terrible person.
How to be present when you just want to disappear?
Try to imagine your shame as something separate from you so that you don’t get lost in it.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
Go to therapy.
If you truly want this relationship to work, you need to do whatever it takes.
If your partner’s on board to work with you to get past the affair, you can do this. You can be even happier than when you were before the affair.
You can fight the war together and win, coming out stronger than you were before it all happened.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be a smoother process with a professional, even though I can assure you it won’t be smooth. It is rough.
If you’re committed to making things right, your partner is on board and you’re willing to do what it takes, you’ll be able to get through this.
One thing that is key to the process is your total and committed presence.
If you hesitate to reach out for help, and yet wish to learn more about how to get your love right, check out my book, which may not be all you need to overcome the trauma of an affair together, but can get you started.
Cheers to your best relationship,