Your Marriage Can Recover
People tell you that it could be worse. You could be struggling to come to terms with the fact that your spouse had a sexual affair. You suppose this is true because right now, you don't know how you'd cope with the idea of your spouse having physical intimacy with someone else. Right now, the emotional infidelity is searing enough.
Emotional affairs often begin as friendships and then develop into mutual feelings of longing and dependency. No one has to tell you that when a third person enters a relationship, it feels like more than a cruel invasion of your privacy; it feels like a betrayal of trust, too. But hang in there. The pain you try to push from your mind as you fall asleep but that taunts you when you awake the very next morning will subside, psychologists say. This should occur as you supplant the pain with action. But first, you and your spouse must make a five-part vow – a different type of vow than the one you took on your wedding day.
Take a Vow of Renewal
The spouse who engaged in the emotional affair must cut off all contact with the third person. If the two are coworkers, this prerequisite could be problematic. But at the least, all “extra” contact – anything beyond the scope of work-related issues – should be immediately suspended.
Then, as a couple, you must commit to:
- Understand how and why the emotional affair occurred. Feel safe and yet liberated in your marriage (meaning comfortable enough to confide, without fear or reprisals). Fortify your bond and methods of communicating.
- Re-establish trust in your marriage.
Follow the “Marital Surgery” Steps
Achieving these outcomes will probably take time. But together, they will form the solid foundation on which you can start undergoing the “marital surgery” your relationship needs to heal. Some of the steps may sound familiar; many mirror the courting rituals that many couples say they were especially mindful of when they first started dating:
Empathize with your spouse. Both spouses may have difficulty with empathy, at least at the beginning when defenses (and hurt feelings) tend to run high. The spouse who cheated should explain the allure of the emotional affair – without being insulted and degraded. And the spouse who was betrayed must be able to exhibit pain and emotion – without being accused of neglectful behavior that led to the affair in the first place. One spouse should be forgiven; the other deserves to feel wounded. Empathy is the bridge.
Expose your vulnerabilities. This is probably one of the reasons you fell in love with your spouse in the first place; you felt safe and secure enough to be yourself. Now is the time to let your guard down, rediscover this commonality and relish it.
Validate with compassion and tenderness. Both of you are probably going through turmoil: one wants to be trusted again and the other may be reluctant to extend it. Strive for “baby steps,” realizing that each represents progress.
Express gratitude. This is a time to show renewed appreciation for your spouse, acknowledging kind gestures and acts of kindness that are easy to take for granted.
Make time to spend quality time together. Many emotional affairs begin because couples “drift” without the benefit of similar interests to bind them together. If you and your spouse suffer from marital drift, invest time in finding a pastime, hobby or exercise activity that you can do together.
Seek professional help if you need it. Many couples learn that they cannot “go it alone.” This is not a sign of failure; in fact, it's a hopeful sign that you will succeed in repairing your marriage since you are being persistent. Ensure that the counselor you do seek out has experience in guiding couples through the treacherous terrain of emotional affairs. You should benefit from the experience – and hopefully persevere.