Ask Dr. Z
By Laura Zipris, Psy. D., LMHC
Dear Dr. “Z”,
I am writing because I fear that my 8-year marriage is over. A few days ago, I found out that my husband cheated on me. I know that he and I have been somewhat distant for the past year or so but I just thought it was because we were both busy with work, kids, and life. I am in complete shock and disbelief. My husband assures me that it was a short-lived affair and that it is over. He says he will do whatever it takes to make things right between us, but I just don’t know how I can ever trust him again or even if I want to. I think the marriage has to end but I am so confused. In a million years, I never would have thought that we would get divorced but I also never would have thought that he would betray me like this.
A Very Hurt and Confused Rachel
There are many people, not unlike you, who feel that an affair is the ultimate betrayal and that a marriage is doomed as a result. It is an understandable conclusion, as an affair shakes the very foundation of the trust, love, and commitment that you vowed in your marriage. However, there is also another perspective I would like you to consider, which is that an affair is a powerful generative force that can jolt a couple out of complacency. It sounds that like you and your husband got so caught up in the day to day grind that you became complacent and neglectful of one other. His affair may be the catalyst for both of you to focus your energy back into the relationship and on building a “new marriage”- one that is stronger and more deeply committed.
Certainly, this is not an easy undertaking. If a relationship is going to survive after an affair there is much work to be done. Full recovery takes time (usually 18 to 24 months, although you will likely be feeling more hopeful within 3 months) and couples will experience set- backs as they progress. Healing is definitely not linear but it can be done with psychotherapeutic support and a commitment to the process.
For a couple to rebuild, first and foremost, they must absorb the blow and deal with the immediate crisis of the betrayal. In the initial weeks after an affair, couples typically experience a deluge of contradictory feelings and feel so anxious about their future. It would be quite normal at this time for you to be bombarded with intrusive thoughts and feelings of intense grief. Just know that this won’t last forever. With the help of a therapist, you and your husband will learn to re-establish some form of equilibrium by creating guidelines and boundaries moving forward. This will prepare both of you for the next step in the recovery process, which is when you and your husband can begin to try to make meaning of the affair. This does not mean focusing on a direct cause and effect or working toward excusing your husband’s infidelity, but it does mean focusing on developing an understanding of the context of an affair. If you are to move successfully through this stage, your husband will accept full responsibility for the affair, acknowledge the costs, and engage in trust building behaviors while you will stay open to receiving his repair attempts. Reciprocal empathy is developed as a result and healing begins. It is at this point that you and your husband can make informed decisions about how to move forward.
Rachel, I know that you are so hurt and confused right now. Perhaps the big picture seems too big to even contemplate. I would highly recommend that you make no decisions about ending the marriage within the next 3 months. Start by just deciding whether or not you want to go to therapy with your husband. Remember the “exit” can always be there at the end of the therapy process should you feel no different.
I wish you all the best-
Laura Zipris holds a doctorate in Psychology and is licensed to practice psychotherapy in New York, as well as in Florida. Laura is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, a transformational approach that has been used successfully with couples around the world to help them to strengthen their partnerships, deepen their connection and reignite their passion for one another. Laura sees individuals of all ages and sexual orientations, couples, families, and groups in her office located in Delray Beach. For more information about Laura, please visit her website at www.drlaurazipris.com or to set up an appointment, contact Laura directly at (561) 558-7815.
Questions for this column should be sent to ”Dr. Z” at Drlaurazip@gmail.com.