What do you do when you’re in a relationship and your partner cheats on you? Or what if you’re the partner who has stepped out on your relationship? Does infidelity mean that things are over? Or…how do you bring things back into balance and heal your relationship – perhaps even get it to a place that’s better than it ever was?
My hope is that you’re getting the tools that you need to thrive in your relationship here on the podcast. Of course I also want to ensure that you have the information that you need in order to repair your relationship when things go wrong. Perhaps no problem impacts relationships more than infidelity. So whether you’ve experienced it in the past, or it’s going on in the present – this episode is for you. And, if you’re thinking about having an affair, I want to take a moment to encourage you to find a way to address the problems in your relationship directly. Believe me, even though a relationship that survives infidelity can be even stronger than it was before, it’s way easier to just tackle things head-on and avoid all of the hurt and trust issues that come from an affair.
Today’s guest is one of the world’s experts on the topic of infidelity – and how to heal in its aftermath. Her name is Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, and she is the author of the Bestselling book “After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner has been Unfaithful”. She is also the author of two other books: “How Can I Forgive You, The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To,” and “Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent.” Her book “After the Affair” has sold over 500,000 copies, and is full of insightful, relevant information about what to do if your relationship has been impacted by infidelity.
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Today, Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring and I cover the following:
What constitutes infidelity in a relationship? There is no one definition for what constitutes infidelity; rather every couple must define it together. Infidelity is not necessarily about sex, it is also about secrets, intimacy, and trust. Whatever someone’s definition of cheating is, most people know when they are violating their partner. Feeling unsure if you are crossing a boundary? As a general rule, imagine that your partner were in the room looking over your shoulder- if you are uncomfortable with them witnessing what you are doing, saying, or how you are being then you can assume you are doing something that would hurt them and is violating an implicit sense of trust in your relationship.
Create a secrets policy. Don’t wait for something to happen, speak early and openly with your partner about infidelity, and come together to create a working definition before any situation or threat occurs. Talk about what is permissible and what isn’t, and see how your perspectives align. Some couples have understandings and permissions around certain secrets, while others choose to share everything. Be proactive in your relationship by starting this dialogue now! Working out these agreements does not necessarily have to come from a fear-based place, but can instead be a loving and empowered step towards building resilience, and trust.
NOTE: Don’t forget to include cyber affairs in this conversation. What constitutes an affair when you don’t actually meet or touch the other person? What level of flirtation is okay with you? There is no blanket rule here – each couple needs to define the boundaries together and make sure they are on the same page.
Why do people have affairs? While apologies, recommitting, and choosing monogamy are all important steps in repairing after infidelity, one of the most critical tasks post affair is to understand why the affair happened in the first place. Likely there were multiple reasons. This is going to require taking an honest and deep look at yourself, and your relationship and be willing to get very clear about your vulnerabilities. It will not be easy, or comfortable, but try to create a list/an inventory of contributing factors – and search to find out what your actions say about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. Remember that affairs are often less about the attraction to the other person, and more an attraction the unfaithful partner has to certain parts of themselves and the way they get to be with this new person. They may feel seen, validated, care for, and desired in ways that they have long been aching for.
Degree of responsibility: Repairing after an affair requires the couple to come together in an effort to collaborate, clarify, and recommit. It takes two to tango, as they say, and nothing is a one-way deal in relationships. That said, it is important for the hurt partner to also take the time and risk of looking at themselves and understanding what responsibility they had in contributing to the vulnerabilities that may have let an affair occur. Each partner must willingly search for ways they each contributed to the space between the couple that made room for another person to come in. This is sobering work and a challenging process, and must be addressed and explored with compassion and passion so that the hurt partner does not get double slammed, first by the affair itself and then with the belief that somehow they are to be blamed for it happening. Though painful, there is enormous potential for growth and transformation in the process if the couple is open to learning from the affair and working to create a new beginning! Willingness leads to recovery!
Share your concerns and your vulnerabilities with your partner. One of the most empowering and effective ways to avoid an affair, is to willingly take the risk of communicating your needs and desires with your partner, before they take on a life of their own. If you are feeling unheard, unloved, frustrated, disappointed, etc., go to your partner and say something like “I love you and want to be in this, and yet, what is happening right now is challenging for me and is making me vulnerable to look for someone else’s attention! I want to look at this together and figure it out”. This way you are voicing your concerns early, enrolling your partner in a collaborative and creative process, and allowing your partner a chance to respond and change their actions accordingly.
Infidelity does not necessarily mean the end of your relationship. There is no way to predict whether you are in a relationship that can weather an affair or not, however there are some key questions you can consider. Ask yourself and each other- Are we willing to do the work that is necessary to rebuild our relationship? Are we really ready to understand each other’s hurts and needs? Are we willing to change the way we treat each other? How willing am I to learn from this catastrophe and grow from it? If you do choose to stay, you will necessarily and inevitably learn to be a better partner, and you will have a new marriage to the same person (this time, with new skills).
“Infidelity is often the deathblow to a relationship. But it can also be a wake-up call, challenging couples to confront the issues that led to the affair and build a healthier, more intimate relationship than before.” Janis Abrahms Spring
Will I ever love and trust my partner again? This question is where the process of healing usually starts. The beginning will likely be like walking through a black cloud – there will be times when you will lose your way and time when you will feel that you cannot recover. While it is not in the best interested of each couple to recover, the couples that do succeed are the ones that keep walking through the difficulty. Not skirting around it, not going under it, not trying to rise above it, but drudging through the thick of it. Even through the despair, the pessimism, the unloving moments, they continue to hold on. It can take a year and a half of rollercoastering before people really feel like they are going to make it.
Watch out for emotional reasoning! Our feelings do not necessarily forecast the future. If you feel desperate and hopeless this does NOT necessarily mean there is no hope. If you feel distrust this does not necessarily mean your partner is untrustworthy. If you find yourself really confusing thinking and feeling, or projections with reality, slow down and take time to look inward and outward from multiple perspectives.
Revealing an affair- Again, there are no rules when it comes to if, or how you tell your partner you are having an affair. As you consider whether you will reveal cheating, it is important to be very thoughtful, and to remember the fact that the person you share a secret with is the one you are closer with, meaning that by keeping your partner in the dark you are continuing to choose to be emotionally connected with the person you had an affair with. By coming clean with your partner you allow them the freedom to make their own decision about what they want to do. Whether or not you tell your partner, you still must figure out why you cheated and be willing to look at your internal stuff and share any grievances and needs with your partner in order to allow the relationship to grow and to avoid continued infractions.
What is TMI (Too Much Information)? As the hurt person you might have an initial instinct to want to know every single detail about your partner’s affair. It is usually not required or generative however for you to need to know everything. Breathe, and ask yourself: what is good for me to know? Is knowing this/that going to help me or hurt me? If there is nothing good that is going to come of a specific detail, it is best to leave it for the time being, as you can always ask more questions down the road. By looking at the motivation behind your questions, you can avoid unnecessary hurt and pain and details that will live on in your dreams and in your psyche. As the unfaithful partner, it is your responsibility to trust your partner’s questions, and to try your best to answer their questions on the level they are asking them. And always be respectful with the truth.
Getting the other out of your life and out of your relationship – Whether the affair person is literally in the picture or not, they will continue to remain present in the couple’s life, and in their bedroom, psychologically and emotionally for quite some time. That said, another important step in the healing process for a couple reuniting and repairing after an affair is to cut ties with the affair person. Ritualize this and make it as clean and concrete as possible. Perhaps this means having a symbolic funeral for the lover in which you make a formal ending. This can be in many forms – the essential elements being that you clearly state the expected and intended ending of your affair.
Often the unfaithful partner will write a letter or an email to the person they engaged in the affair with, stating that they are no longer going to contact or accept contact. Be respectful – it is counterproductive to be cruel, or to minimize what happened. Allow your partner to read over what you write and discuss it before sending. Transparency, now, is key.
Trust is built on concrete behaviors. Trust is not built on verbal reassurances (“Trust me, honey”) but on concrete behavior that communicates to the hurt partner that they are now safe, and hopefully will allow them to feel more comfortable and connected. The list of behaviors and gestures that help to rebuild trust relationships are vast, and most effective when personalized and defined through dialogue in the couple. Create a list together! Examples include telling your partner immediately when you have heard from or encountered the affair person, acknowledging anniversary dates and places related to affair, and letting your partner know when you are experiencing emotions that have been triggers for escape in the past.
Read Janis’ recent book After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful
Read her other relationship book How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To
To learn more and get in touch with Janis, check out her website www.janisaspring.com
www.neilsattin.com/affair Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide and qualify to win a free signed copy of After the Affair.
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