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
What to do to prepare for separation or divorce
Within the course of my work, I have found out that most times, people are not prepared adequately for separation. Even though in reality there is no preparation that is good enough, it helps when someone who is going through a separation gets even a little bit of preparation before they leave.
In preparation, it is important to understand the psychological ramifications involved, both for themselves and the children if any. Everyone involved need to learn skills of handling issues that the process brings. In some cases, people seek legal help and this helps only in as far as legal issues are concerned. To handle the psychological related consequences, one would need to seek the help of a therapist before making the move to separate.
Evaluate the relationship
Since that is not always possible, I would give a standard way of looking at the marriage so that later when you are going through the emotions that come with separation, they do not overwhelm and destabilize those involved. I always recommend someone who is planning separation to do a list. Once in a calm state (when anger has considerably subsided) Divide a page into two. On one side, write the benefits and on the other the demerits of that marriage.
This process helps one to think through carefully so that later when they begin to live with the emotions that come with separation, they will have something to assert themselves that they took the right decision. So if you have not already left a marriage, I would recommend that you begin by doing an honest list of the benefits and also the demerits of that marriage. By doing that, that you prepare in terms of facts and not just emotions.
Emotions that come with separation
There are very many emotions that come with separation and one is likely to face some of these emotions or all of them at once. These emotions include;
-Guilt- you are likely to find yourself wondering whether you gave it your all.
-Shame and Stigma – these mostly from the to the society whose view is that a marriage needs to work.
-Self-doubt- involves moment where you swing from a feeling of having made the right decision to that which makes you feel you made a wrong decision. Self-doubt comes with many voices telling one to go back to the marriage.
-feeling less attractive,
-self-blame (especially for the one who left the marriage).
-There are feelings of failure- we have been conditioned from childhood to believe that being in a marriage is in itself evidence of a successful marriage. And this is not always true, because most of the people especially the older generations have lived in unhappy marriage or in a marriage that did not really model to the next generation what a good image of marriage. Those who “persevered” equate being together in a marriage to a successful marriage.
-There are feelings of resentment and revenge and especially where children are involved. The person who remains with the children, in anger and resentment, bars the other partner from seeing or co-parenting the children. They feel that the other partner does not need to be part of the journey because of the wounds they inflicted on them.
Separation is not just about you
Separation is a very tough journey because it is emotionally draining in that not only is someone dealing with losses but also faced with many other decisions to make at the same time. Some common areas that I have found with separated people is the difficulty in answering questions.
It is common for the children, if children were present in that marriage, to ask many questions and normally end with; “what makes it very difficult for you to forgive?” If it is mommy, “what makes it difficult for you to forgive daddy?” and if it is daddy, “what makes it difficult for you to forgive mommy?”. Other questions are, “daddy/ mommy, will you leave us again?” for the parent who is living away from children when they meet.
Questions from children almost always push one parent to see the need to reconcile. There are questions from friends and family. Notice that some family members will be against the individual who has separated probably because of their values or the way they viewed that marriage or maybe the belief systems that marriage needs to work by all standards. Some family members will be against the separation.
There are questions from the society or the cultures where the people involved belong especially from the church or whatever religious affiliations one subscribes to because different religions view divorce differently. It becomes very difficult trying to answer the questions from religious bodies.
There are also religious beliefs that place the onus on a woman/man to makes a marriage work and answering questions from such quarters is also very difficult because they are already biased especially to the one person who is separated.
The stages of grief
I am going to discuss the process of grieving for someone who is going through separation.
Why grieving you ask? It is because separation comes with many losses. Loss of spouse, the privileges they offered, sometimes its loss of property, loss by relocation, etc. I will mention the stages not in any order but from time to time you will move from one stage to the other or be at two stages at the same time. I will call the first stage numbness where the person who is separated is neither sad nor happy but just there.
The person cannot tell what they feel about the separation but are just lost in that space. There are feelings of denial where the mind or the system has not come to terms with the fact that they are already separated. They keep imagining that it is just for a day or two then things will be fine and back to normal. We are talking of grief because separation itself is a form of loss and often followed by the process of grieving.
Another emotion that is experienced with the process of separation is anger; angry with themselves, angry with the spouse, angry with God, angry with community, angry even with workmates, angry with the children or basically everyone around them. It is just a difficult process. The anger gets dumped in the wrong places. If someone is aware that they are likely to be angry at the point of separation it helps them to know how to manage their anger.
Bargain stage which presents itself thus; ‘why me? Why now? Why after all these investments? Why did it have to be us? Why did the other person do what they did?’ This stage is about ‘why’ and ‘what if? What if we go back together? What if this thing works?’ what if I give it a try?’ One may involve wishes or prayer that if it works they will be better people, better wives, better husbands. That is the bargain stage.
Depression stage is also experienced during separation where someone is constantly in a sad mood. It can take so long and it can actually graduate from a state to an illness. It is therefore important for someone to be very keen that they could get depressed and if the sad moments persist, then they need to seek help.
Acceptance stage where someone comes to terms with the fact that they are separated and they begin to plan their lives separate from the spouse.
After grieving, one is likely to begin the process of healing. I want to say at this point that healing is not something that just happens. It is not true that time heals. Time does not heal anyone. It takes deliberate effort to heal the wounds that are caused by separation
By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com