When an affair is disclosed or discovered, the betrayed partner experiences a traumatic shock. There usually is an acute sense of unreality. Their whole world and everything they believed to be true has collapsed. How traumatized he or she is depends on the duration and manner of the affair, and also on the way of discovery. Couples regain trust more readily after voluntary confessions than after repeated denials that are eventually refuted by evidence. The whole truth needs to come out as soon as possible in order to rebuild the trust.
While for men the affair itself seems to be the issue, for women being lied to and deceived adds extra salt to the wound and makes it less likely that they can forgive their partner. The denials add insult to injury and cause a double wound to deal with.
Annette Lawson found in “Adultery: An analysis of love and betrayal” that confessing an extramarital affair appears less risky for men than for women. Negative consequences are three times more frequent for men when their wives discovered their affairs than for those who voluntarily confessed. How husbands found out about wives’ infidelity made no significant difference.
According to Jennifer and Burt Schneider’s study on sex addictions, 84% of unfaithful partners deny the affair at first. They try to assess how much the partner knows and how much they absolutely have to tell. They are usually afraid that admitting the whole truth will make things worse. The opposite is the case. As humans we have a tendency to fill gaps in with something negative, often our worst fears. The betrayed partner senses that part of the true story is being withheld and will involuntarily fill the gaps in with their worst assumptions.
Most betrayed spouses would rather know the truth, even though it is painful. Over time, we can usually adjust to the truth, in fact 96% of partners feel over time that disclosure was the best thing. Nothing is worse than filling the unknown in with our own fears and insecurities. The betrayed partner goes through a period of great emotional turmoil when things just don’t add up and obvious signs of infidelity are denied.
Dragging out admissions are comparable to driving long distances on a flat tire. Delaying the repair can cause irreparable damage to the wheel and axle. Denials or half truths cause the same damage to the relationship.
The suspicious partner might hear from the unfaithful spouse, “I am disappointed that you don’t trust me”, or “You always accuse me wrongfully of having secrets or being dishonest”, or “I am telling you the truth. Have I ever lied to you before?” When the cheating spouse continues to try to disarm their partner by attacking them for not trusting them, this is called “gaslighting”. The term comes from the 1944 movie “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman, in which a husband plays mind games, trying to convince his wife that she is crazy and is imagining things. Gaslighting means gradually manipulating somebody into questioning their own memory, perception or sanity.
The betrayed spouse begins to doubt her or his own perceptions and sense of reality. Knowing the truth brings the tremendous relief of realizing “I am not paranoid” and also the opportunity to finally be able to adjust to the new reality. The couple cannot start rebuilding a new foundation as long as the unfaithful partner continues to lie.
Once the full truth is revealed, how both partners react significantly influences the road to recovery. An affair can be the catalyst to save their marriage if both partners are willing to commit to honesty, mutual understanding, time and patience. The betrayed partner needs two commitments: the affair will be stopped and all their questions will be answered truthfully.
The straying partner might also be in a place of suffering, as their life is in pieces and they cannot escape the pain they have caused. They are faced with the choice to relinquish the affair or the marriage. And whether they decide to save their marriage or build a relationship with the affair partner, both are hard roads ahead, in which trust needs to be built laboriously. The reason why 75% of all people who enter into a long-term relationship with the affair partner end up failing is that it is hard to trust your partner to be loyal to you, unless both partners have really understood why affairs happen and how to prevent them.
AFFAIRS PART 3 “Boundaries” will be posted on Nov. 19.
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