Requirements for Recovery from an Affair
Dear Dr. Harley,
I discovered my husband's affair in May. He was very repentant, ended it and has been working very hard on our marriage ever since. I was not familiar with Marriage Builders at the time and I just followed my instincts. I suppose we are in recovery.
But our communication skills are almost non-existent. We only talk about things that are "safe." My husband’s idea of dealing with his affair is to put it behind us. I need to talk about it to heal. I am still having nightmares and sleeping little. I know nothing about this woman, including her name. He has refused to give me the information because he feels it is over so what difference would it make now. He has agreed to counseling but has been dragging his feet.
Our communication skills are so poor that I can't even bring up his affair for fear of "rocking the boat." He will not read any books or discuss the reasons for his affair with me. I am terrified it will happen again.
We went for a few counseling sessions over a year ago (before affair, communication issues) and it was a disaster. It was so much psycho-babble that neither of us could stand it. Where should we go from here?
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Dear K. R.,
The plan I recommend for recovery after an affair is very specific. That's because I've found that even small deviations from that plan are usually disastrous. But when it's followed, it always works. The plan has two parts that must be implemented sequentially. The first part of the plan is for the unfaithful spouse to completely separate from the lover and eliminate the conditions that made the affair possible. The second part is for the couple to create a romantic relationship, using my Basic Concepts as a guide.
I'll describe these two parts to you in a little more detail.
The first step, complete separation from the lover and eliminating the conditions that made the affair possible, requires a complete understanding of the affair. All information regarding the affair must be revealed to the betrayed spouse, including the name of the lover, the conditions that made the affair possible (travel, internet, etc.), the details of what took place during the affair, all correspondence, and anything else that would shed light on the tragedy.
This information is important for two reasons: (1) it creates accountability and transparency, making it essentially impossible for the unfaithful spouse to continue the affair or begin a new one unnoticed, and (2) it creates trust for the betrayed spouse, providing evidence that the affair is over and a new one is unlikely to take its place. The nightmares you experience are likely to continue until you have the facts that
will lead to your assurance that your husband can be trusted.
An analysis of the wayward spouse's childhood or emotional state of mind in an effort to discover why he or she would have an affair is distracting and unnecessary. It takes precious time away from finding the real solutions. I know why people have affairs: We are all wired for it. Given certain conditions, we would all do it. Given other conditions, however, none of us would do it. So the goal of the first step is to discover the conditions that made the affair possible and eliminate them.
After the first step is completed, the second step is to create a romantic relationship between you and your husband using my 10 Basic Concepts here
as your guide. While your relationship may be improving, it won't lead to a romantic relationship because you are not being transparent toward each other. Unspoken issues in a marital relationship lead to a superficiality that ruins romance.
Your nightmares are only the tip of the iceberg. They are but a small reflection of the suffering you experienced when you discovered your husband's affair, and the fear you have that the suffering will be repeated. You have no assurance that the affair is over because you don't even know who the other woman is. You are being asked to trust your husband, who has already proven to be untrustworthy. For all you know, he could be working with her, or you could be going to the same church, or she could be
your neighbor. And since he won't discuss the details of how the affair took place, you have no assurance that another affair will not take its place.
Infidelity is not something that can be swept under the rug. While those who have affairs want to forget about it and move on, those who are betrayed must take very specific steps before they can fully recover. In your case, those steps have not been taken, and as a result, your fear persists. I will send you a complimentary copy of my book, "Surviving an Affair," if you send me your address. It will describe these two steps to you and provide you with a roadmap toward full recovery. But the path will require full disclosure of all details.
Willard F. Harley, Jr.