YOUR CHEATING HEART
Here’s a question for you: After infidelity, how is trust regained?
This question is relevant today because infidelity appears to be on the increase and the opportunities and methods of cheating have risen dramatically. Typically it has been believed that husbands cheat within a marriage more than wives do. In some relationships, married or not, both have cheated. And recent studies indicate that the rate of women cheating on men may be approaching the rate of men who cheat on women. Some say that the cheating occurred while they were engaged, but not after the wedding. Some report the cheating started after the wedding, even in the first year of marriage. Then again, the cheating may have happened before and after the wedding. Some have cheated with the other’s knowledge, as in the case of “swinging”. But if both spouses agree to have other sex partners, does that count as cheating? One spouse might say it’s okay to have a sexually open marriage … just don’t get emotionally involved. In that case, the sexual act might not count, but getting too close might be the last straw. The variations are almost endless and the causes are numerous.
To keep it simple, let’s address just one of the above variations: one male cheater, one female victim.
What are some possible outcomes? A) The victim ends the relationship. B) The victim kicks the offender out and insists he gets help. C) The offender stays in the home and the couple works through it with or without outside help.
Focusing on the last option, we can explore what would be involved in working through this, with the goal of saving the relationship. Comparing this to a natural disaster, the first step would be to assess the damage. We want to know what damage has been done to every aspect of one’s personality. What is the impact on the victim’s physical being, health and perceptions? On her thinking, the thoughts that pop into her mind regularly, as well as her belief system? On her emotions … it will help to be as specific as possible in naming the various emotions. On the nature of the trust in the relationship? On relationships with other people? On the victim’s spiritual beliefs? What is the damage to the sexual relationship? Taking each of these assessments one by one, on a scale of 1 – 10, you can judge whether the damage can be repaired. If yes, how reparable is the damage?
The above exercise is useful in more ways than one. First, it helps the victim think clearly about what happened. This is very important, because emotions will be running high. After receiving a brutal blow like infidelity, the victim usually experiences a mix of thoughts and emotions; they will include anger, sadness, confusion, denial, fear and anxiety, and even numbness. These emotions can come at any time, randomly, when least expected. This alone can be disturbing. Actually sitting down and writing out the answers to the questions above can help the victim sort through the damage and cope with the emotions. Secondly, the answers to these questions could help the offender realize what he has done. And as the victim does this, the offender might do the same exercise. And both should share their findings with the spouse.
Questions that are often asked by the offender:
What must I do to make things right?
Will she ever believe or trust me? Am I doing all this for nothing?
When will this period of suspicion be over?
Can the damage even be repaired?
Questions often asked by the victim:
Will I ever be able to trust him?
Is time the only thing that will heal my wounds?
How can I tell whether he has really changed?
Why do the feelings keep coming back? Will they ever go away for good?
Can I ever be happy again?
One truth that the offender must keep in mind: his judgment is irrelevant in determining what it takes – and how long it takes – for her to get over the hurt. He will always expect it to happen faster than it can. And he will need to exercise great patience with her, as she sorts through this in her unique way. Women do not process their experience as men do. Men need to understand this.
SOME OBSTACLES TO HEALING:
Dramatic difference in their way of processing experience, in their belief systems, in their values, in their communication styles.
Poor conflict resolution skills.
Unresolved past issues which make it hard for each to be compassionate to one another.
The intrusion of outsiders.
External Stresses: Financial pressures, health concerns, extended family problems, etc.
The harsh reality is this: not all infidelity can be repaired. The reasons are too numerous to discuss here.
Check out a book called “The Five Languages of Apology – How to Experience Healing in All Relationships” by Gary Chapman. Written from a Christian perspective, but applicable to everyone.
The offender develops the skill of listening actively to the victim.
The offender accepts – even seeks out a mechanism for – accountability.
Both people use effective communication and conflict resolution skills.
Both accept the fact that the scars may never disappear and that the relationship may never be restored to its original luster.
The victim defines as clearly as possible what is involved in letting go of hurt, forgiving, and allowing oneself to be vulnerable once again.
Having taught workshops on communication, stress and anger management and conflict resolution since 2004, I have lots to offer. If you’ve been through a tough time in your relationship, please feel free to contact me. It would be an honor to be of service.