Affairs are difficult, to say the least. Like marriage, we have no “manual” that tells you how to handle an affair or what the “right” things are to do. There are many books out there, but how do you know which is the one? You don’t, but you do your best.
|an affair is fantasy|
Here are three mistakes I see cheaters make again and again when couples are trying to reconcile after an affair.
#1. Keep in touch with their affair partner. This is the “we’re just friends now” excuse or “I still care and want to make sure they are okay.” The cheater is trying to justify to themselves and their spouse that somehow it is okay to keep in touch with the person they cheated with.
It doesn’t work. You have to make a choice and stick to it.
If you choose to work things out with your spouse, then no personal contact at all with your former lover. None. Why? Because it is too easy to slip back into the unhealthy behaviors. Even things you may try to explain as “just talking to a friend.” Remember an affair is an affair. You are still taking something away from your spouse.
This is when I’m asked about work affairs. Does this mean you have to quit your job? If feasible, it is probably a good idea one of you leave the job. However, I know it isn’t always practical, so here are a few suggestions:
- Make it clear you are not available at all and that is your choice. In other words, don’t blame the breakup on your spouse, kids, etc. Take responsibility for your choice to work on your marriage.
- Keep everything strictly work (emails, discussions, etc.) and short, to the point.
- Keep everything at work. No after hours “work” together, no off hour calls, no connecting outside of work.
- Do not talk about personal information, feelings, memories, regrets to your ex-lover. Period.
- No lunches, dinners, private discussions with your ex-lover.
- No texting, checking if they are “okay,” or encouraging notes.
Easy rule: if your spouse would question it, be hurt by it, or be angered by it, don’t do it.
#2. Sometimes the cheater falls into idealizing the affair partner/relationship. Emotionally an affair feels really good: it has intensity, a hint of “danger” which adds spice, and “everything is perfect.” However, an affair is fantasy.
The unfortunate part of fantasy is no real relationship can live up to that “perfect fantasy” you have created with your lover. Truthfully, your affair and lover wouldn’t stand up to the harsh light of reality either. You have to realize reality isn’t fantasy (but it can be better.) The more you focus on how “perfect” things were with your lover, the more you put at jeopardy the chance of working things out with your spouse. You can’t see the real love you have (or can create) through the drunken haze of “affair goggles.”
What you have to do is stop comparing and work with your spouse on your very real relationship. Help heal it, do your own work, and ask for what you would like from them.
#3 is the mistake I see most often; the cheater tries to move on too quickly. This often is indicated in a variety of ways:
- “I’ve said I’m sorry, how many different ways do you need to hear it?”
- “I said I made a mistake, let’s just move on.”
- “I just want to leave this behind and take care of my marriage.”
- “How long are you going to make me pay?”
Do you realize the message you are giving when you say things like this to your hurt spouse? You are telling him or her how they feel is unimportant, your discomfort is more important, and what you did was no big thing. Not a good starting point if you are trying to heal your marriage.
Here’s the tough truth: healing and rebuilding trust will take a looooooong time. If your spouse needs to talk about it “again” then talk about it. If they need to hear you say “I’m sorry” again, say it. If you need to swallow your impatience and show your remorse stronger, do it. If they need to keep tabs on you, then let them know where you are. If they want to check your texts, then let them feel more comfortable with you by doing that. If you are working with a therapist, and they think it has gone on long enough, they’ll let you both know.
Keep in mind anniversaries will be the toughest. I don’t mean your wedding anniversary, I mean anniversaries of thing that happened: when they found out, the first Holidays after they found out, the day you decided to end the affair, the day they confronted you, the day you moved out or back in, etc. So, this means a year at least of times when your spouse will be triggered and feel unsure.
Your courageous work if you are trying to recover your marriage after and affair is to keep these three mistakes in mind. Don’t keep in touch with your ex-lover, focus on your healing work. Don’t idealize what was a fantasy; enjoy what you have in reality. Don’t try to hurry your hurt spouse to “get over it” and recognize they will be hurt for a long time.