Healing Marriage After an Affair
Find a Conversation
|Thu, 02-28-2008 - 2:33am|
Healing Marriage After an Affair
Angela Gilbert always assumed she would leave any man who cheated on her. So when the suburban San Antonio woman learned three years ago that her husband was having an affair, she kicked him out and found a divorce lawyer.
Then she thought twice about making the break. “What made me slow down was we had kids,” said Gilbert, 36.
The Gilberts join high-profile couples such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his wife Carlita, who haven’t immediately thrown in the towel after one spouse engaged in questionable behavior.
It takes honesty and work to recover from such a crisis, but Jennifer L. Baker, the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Forest Institute in Springfield, Mo., said she sees more couples willing to work with marriage counselors to save their relationships.
“I think people would be surprised how often it does not lead to a divorce,” she said.
HONESTY, ALL THE TIME
Repairing a relationship requires openness and candor from the person who cheated.
“He has to admit that he made a mistake and recognize the hurt of betrayal and say I want to be faithful,” said author John Gray, who examines relationship problems in his latest book “Why Mars and Venus Collide.”
The person who cheated needs to end the affair and take responsibility, he said.
The adulterer must be willing to disclose all the details of his affair and agree to new degrees of openness, said Rick Reynolds, founder of the Affair Recovery Center in Austin, Texas.
The new rules might include sharing e-mail and voicemail passwords, being constantly accessible by phone and checking-in regularly with a spouse.
Angela Gilbert requires her husband to take an annual lie detector test.
“I don’t trust him the way I did before,” she said. “I feel safe because of the measures we put in place.”
At first, Chris Gilbert resented the new rules. But he’s gone along with it. “Deep down, you know it’s for the best,” he said.
GIVE AND TAKE
It’s not always just the spouse who committed the transgression who has to change after an affair if a marriage is to recover.
Often it’s difficult for the betrayed party to consider what he or she could have done that may have helped lead to the affair, said Meg Haycraft, a Chicago couples specialist who founded a practice called TWOgether. That’s not to say that someone can blame their partner for an affair, she added.
Angela Gilbert had to respond to her husband’s concerns that she was too rigid about the family’s schedule and too overprotective of their children.
“He told me I wasn’t fun anymore, and he was right,” she said.
And to move on, she has had to act carefully, too.
“He knows that I have forgiven him, and I don’t feel I have some special right to act inappropriately because of what he did,” Angela Gilbert said.
LOOKING BACK BUT MOVING FORWARD
Haycraft often asks couples to chart their marital history and look at what caused the high and low points in the relationship.
The process often creates a “heightened awareness” of tendencies and events that might trigger a partner to “shut down, check out or look outside the marriage.”
Couples also need to discuss how long they will allow an affair to define their marriage.
“You have to set up ground rules,” Haycraft said. “How long can the person who’s been cheated on keep the subject of the affair alive? It is a part of the healing process; you’ve got to put it behind you.”
Reynolds, who worked with the Gilberts, counsels the spouse who cheated to answer any question his or her partner has, but sets a date when the questioning must end. He also warns the other spouse to be careful when asking for details.
“I think I went overboard,” Angela Gilbert said. “There’s information I don’t want to have in my head for the rest of my life.”
HEADING THINGS OFF
The best medicine for an affair should come before one takes place, of course. Just as young couples talk about finances and children before the wedding, many also discuss adultery, Gray said.
“They want to be assured, ‘You’re on the same page with me — that you want to be faithful and monogamous.’”
Some premarital counselors encourage couples to talk openly about their temptations, said Barry McCarthy, a psychologist and professor of American University in Washington, D.C.
“Talk about what could make you vulnerable,” he said. “Talk about what it would mean to your spouse.”
He suggested couples share the details of any flirtations or temptations within 24 hours.
“What happens is the cover-up becomes worse than the event,” he said. “Lies thrive in secrecy.”