As you may recall, last week I introduced you to the”Smith family.” The parents came to see me about their son, Tim, a high school senior. His grades had been dropping, he had been exhibiting some negative behaviors, and he was in danger of having his acceptance at his first choice college rescinded because of that behavior. Turns out, Tim’s acting out behavior was a symptom of what he had inadvertently learned from his parents’ arguments that his Dad was having an affair.
My next meeting with Harry and Susan, the parents, was an explosive one. Susan confronted Harry about his affair. Harry was furious with Susan for revealing his dirty laundry in front of me, a stranger. It was OK to discuss Tim’s problems in public but not his.
I needed to spend some time educating both of them about “affair recovery” before we could decide whether or not we were going to work together. Having an affair is like dropping an “A” bomb into the middle of the couple relationship, as well as sending shattering and rippling effects through the rest of the family members. Look at what it did to Tim’s life he nearly took a huge detour. We don’t know what if any repercussions their daughters, who are away at college, might have experienced or noticed.
Here is the education. An affair is a breaking, a severing, a damaging assault on the bond, commitment and promise that a couple makes to each other with their vows. The marriage vow was a promise. How is Susan to trust Harry ever again? As with most affairs there is usually a lying and deceitful stage when evidence of the affair starts to reveal itself. This is when the lying – to the partner’s face – destroys the relationship even more. “When I asked you, you lied to me…to my face for months. You allowed me to feel crazy and confused – for snooping around and for not trusting you…you gas lighted me. The breach in trust is devastating sometimes irreparable. I’m not saying that the violation of the sexual agreement is not a major injury, but the violation of trust is far more damaging in the long run and a lot more difficult to repair.
You cannot sweep an affair under the rug, try to keep it a secret or accept someone’s “I’m sorry…it was a huge mistake…I promise it will never happen again…let’s just move on.” No way! What good is that “I promise it will never happen again?” The person who had the affair, most likely, feels like they have the upper hand in the relationship. They will want the evidence to go away quickly and quietly. They may threaten you in some way; try to make you feel guilty. However, this is only more proof that the affair is a symptom that has deep roots.
Affairs happen for a reason – and that reason need not be of a sexual nature. The affair is the smoke that alerts you that there is something seriously wrong – and if you don’t get to its root cause, it will happen again. I recommend that both parties seek professional help immediately. If the offender won’t go with you, go by yourself. You have been run over by a truck, by someone you loved. You have been crushed and are very vulnerable and need help. If you bury it because of some misguided reasons, it won’t go away. It will eat at your self-esteem and self-respect.
Affairs can be healed; couples can grow stronger and move on together. It will take a lot of serious work and truth telling.
Let’s apply this to Harry and Susan. They will need to have ongoing consultation services to disclose and repair all the deeds and the hurt. Harry has to be impeccable with his word and deeds. If, at any time, Susan has doubts, Harry has to be willing to explain himself until the original level of trust has been regained. It is a long, hard process. If you are willing to put in the effort, a deeper, stronger relationship can be achieved.
There are a lot of other relationships that need to be rebuilt in this family in addition to Harry and Susan’s. Harry and Tim have issues to work on as well as Harry’s relationship with both of his college age daughters who will now have the additional homegrown issue of “can you trust men?”
If you are thinking of having an affair, think twice. Give me or another professional a call to walk you back before you drop the “A” bomb on your entire family. Yes, you are correct; you are going through a serious emotional disturbance at the time you are considering cheating and lying. But, the affair might be just a symptom or a distraction from the real issue – something else that is going on in your life. It will not solve your problem but only increase it exponentially.
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