Understanding Extra Marital Affairs in Marriage -Part 2
A major concern and a question that has been raised by couples who have experienced infidelity is, what makes a marriage that had started well end up in affairs? While it is only fair to evaluate infidelity on a couple to couple basis, it is also important to mention that marriage is work, and while most couples do put in the work, others are not equipped on ways of working it productively.
It is easier for a couple to invest in career, assets and property than it is to invest in connecting emotionally with each other. This is because investment and entrepreneurship can be learnt in school while no school teaches couples to connect emotionally. Lack of emotional connection leads to lack of a sense of belonging and the feeling of deadness in marriage. Once the partners in marriage begin to experience the feeling of deadness, they are prone to extramarital affairs.
Effects of extramarital affair on the marriage
Extra marital affair robs the couple of their identity in marriage – it changes the perception of who the couple thought they were-committed to each other, valuing each other, caring each other and being the only ones present in the marriage. Infidelity turns a couple into people they never thought themselves to be.
Infidelity threatens the emotional security of the couple- the emotions that comes with betrayal are very destructive and creates emotional disconnection between the couple. Rebuilding the emotional connection takes time and effort. This is because the party feeling betrayed, constantly doubts the commitment of their partner who betrayed them, even when they are committed to change
Effects on the person who had an extramarital affair.
- Shame, guilt and the need to defend themselves.
- Difficulty in disconnecting from the person one needed not connect with in the first place.
- Thoughts of quitting the marriage if it takes too long to reconstruct.
Effects on the betrayed.
- Violates trust and the struggle to trust again takes much work.
- Betrayed sees a monster who never cared in the spouse who had an affair.
- Causes trauma- The betrayed party looks out for opportunities that make them believe the affair is still going on. They get dreams of infidelity and unending feelings that the affair has not ended.
- Stigma-the society judges the betrayed if they stay and still judges them if they leave.
- Self-blame for failing to see the signs early enough and if they had seen the signs, they blame themselves for not taking the right actions.
- The person who had an extramarital affair constantly triggers the pains of betrayal- they are a constant reminder that infidelity happened.
- Denial, anger, betrayal and shame.
- Loss of self confidence
- Confusion – There are the feelings of shame for choosing to stay and guilt for leaving the marriage when they would have worked it out.
Frequently asked questions by the betrayed.
- Do I stay or leave?
- What did I do, or did not do to warrant this?
- Am I good enough?
- What is in the person they had an affair with that I do not have?
- Can we ever be the same again?
- Do they offer better sex than what I offer?
- How many other cases might I not know of?
- Have I mattered to my partner or have I been deceiving myself?
- What exact reasons made you to have an affair? -On this one, it is important to understand that the reasons given are not the real causes since even the people who have had affairs hardly understand their inner inadequacies that lead them to infidelity.
Can a marriage survive after infidelity?
There is no right answer for this frequently asked question. It can be a yes or a no depending with the direction a couple takes after an extra marital affair.
What makes it a yes? It’s a yes if the person who has infidelity issues agrees to resolve the cause that led them to extramarital affair (this has nothing to do with what the partner did or did not do, it is as a result of their own inadequacies, see part 1 for the causes), if both partners agree to work on the marriage and make it better, if the marriage agrees to work on any unresolved issues they may have had before the affair.
It is a no if, the person who had an extramarital affair does not take responsibility for their own inadequacies that led to infidelity but instead blames the partner. and similarly, when the betrayed partner forgives the partner (without resolving the issues that may have been present in the marriage) and without healing the wounds caused by infidelity.
What the couple needs to know after infidelity happens.
The couple needs to understand that they have lost their first marriage- that comprised of faithful partners. Once this is understood, then the couple decides whether to completely let go the marriage or work towards healing themselves and beginning the marriage afresh.
Let the couple understand that it is not practical to put away the pain or run the marriage as it was before, should they chose to build the marriage. Let the partner who had the affair understand that apologizing does not mean continuation because even with an apology, one needs to heal the wounds.
For a marriage to begin afresh, the betrayed party needs to be allowed space to express themselves, their feelings, ask questions, and to let the partner who had an affair be generous in answering questions and allowing the betrayed to know that they will be listened to and given time to heal.
Do not expect or even ask the betrayed partner to trust you. Trust is not an obvious thing. At the point of pain, trust is alien. Support them to heal and once they have healed, begin the journey of building trust. If they ask where you are and who you are with, they are trying to feel safe. If trust seems to happen at once after infidelity, the possibility is that the betrayed has not healed and is internalizing the negative emotions.
That to heal from infidelity the couple needs growth- first individually, then as a couple. Each partner needs to admit that they have a part to play towards healing and reconstruction of the marriage. It takes two people to get a better marriage, not one.
In part Three, we share healing from the wounds infidelity.
By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com