Q and A With Dr. Spring: 4 Tips to Heal After the Affair

Affairs are like car wrecks. Everyone involved is shocked, whether they have been injured or are to blame. According to Janis Abrams Spring Ph.D., a researcher of infidelity for over 25 years, it is normal for hurt partners to experience post-traumatic-stress symptoms including hypersensitivity, an inability to concentrate, and a loss of passion. Recently, she provided these four tips to iVillage members whose husbands have cheated, and answered some very personal questions from them, too.

Do you need advice? iVillage’s confidential Betrayed Spouse’s Support Group welcomes you to read or participate in discussion.

1. “It will take a long time to heal. People think that the worst part of being betrayed would be losing trust, but many women who are hurt experience a feeling that is far worse, almost like a total disintegration of themselves. I tell my patients that this turmoil can last at least a year and a half. Since this is such a long time, they say they feel hopeless about healing, and I understand that.

A woman’s progress depends on many factors. If she becomes clinically depressed or blames herself for the affair it will take longer to stop grieving. These are normal feelings though, and any patient who is honest with me says that healing took longer than they admit to others.”

“So how do I stop obsessing about the details of the affair, including the sex?” --from murmaide

“Obsessing is a normal female neurological response to trauma. The first way to stop doing it is to understand that you’re not crazy. Too often, people are ashamed to admit that they can’t stop thinking about the affair, particularly women. Men have an easier time distracting themselves. Women remember the details.

Next, make sure to get into couples therapy. Sometimes the reason a woman is obsessing is because her husband who was unfaithful is not doing his job in rebuilding of the trust. That is where a therapist can step in and spend time trying to figure out what is going on, what he may or may not be doing to help her.

On your own, try thought-stopping. This means that as soon as you’re aware of your obsessing gently interrupt the negative thoughts. You should literally become your own coach. Ask yourself, “What else could I be thinking about that’s more stimulating?” Think of a happy memory or a good book. Remind yourself that you’ll never have this moment again, and also that that thinking about the affair will do no good. (There are medications you can take to stop obsessing, but you must see a doctor to find out if you are a candidate.)”

2. “Hurt partners have the right to know all the facts. They experience incredible aloneness and need to feel connection. So I tell patients it’s fine to ask their unfaithful partner to recognize what harm he has caused. He needs to know that his wife’s self-worth is shredded. Even more importantly, he needs to earn forgiveness.

“My husband is a clam who won't answer questions? If he is just trying to avoid conflict, should I abide by his wishes and stop asking?” -from pollyanna1032

No, absolutely keep asking questions. Honesty builds trust in any relationship. But also know that verbal reassurances are not the fix. Your husband has to prove his word his good. “Trust me honey” has to be backed by real evidence that he is sorry and wants to re-build your marriage. For example, it’s your right to know if he has run into his ex-lover, and more than that, it’s your right to ask him to bring you if he’s going to see her. Unfaithful partners have to do these things, even if they feel awkward or manipulated because it helps you to feel safe.

“What if my husband works with his ex-lover?” -from jill.2 “This situation is really tough. You might feel as though you can’t compete because your husband spends so much time with her. He can invite you into the office for lunch or coffee. This action is a specific salve to a specific wound -- trading your public humiliation for his public declaration. In other words, if he is willing to be seen publicly with you, it is like an announcement that he is working on the marriage, and it makes a very strong statement to the ex-lover.

It’s also okay for you to get an informer in the office. Hurt partners who are recovering need information. You can ask a friend at his office whether he is spending a lot of time with his ex-lover, taking long lunches or even just looking at her. This might sound crazy, and a lot of women I see say that, but you should know that it’s normal and helpful.

3. “Telling children about the affair is not a good idea. Hurt partners often want to tell their children what happened. This might be because they have a secret wish for the kids to hate the unfaithful parent. But children derive their sense of self from both parents. The momentary pleasure of sharing will not be worth a child’s confusion about his or her own identity. and know how much harm they’ve caused, but people also realize that It’s isolating because the wish for support sometimes leads to making it more difficult, making it more difficult for the person to return home.

“My children are old enough to see that something is wrong. Is there anything that I can say to them?”

If your children notice the tension in the house, the most helpful thing you can do is to validate their observations. Acknowledging that there is change and confusion will help them later. You can say, “You may have noticed dad and I are fighting. You are not imagining this. We are having marital problems, but we are working to get better.”

It is crazy to deny the situation, but don’t put your children in the middle. The one piece of reliable data is that kids suffer when they are caught between fighting parents. If you need to vent to someone, see a therapist, talk to your friends or your own parents. Kids will see how upset you are, but any discussion has to be purely factual, not biased.

4. When you are ready, let the hurt go. “For the hurt partner, deciding whether or not to stay in her marriage is a decision that takes strength. She has to make a thoughtful choice rather than simply go with her feelings of depression or anger or even love. A person can feel tremendous love for her husband, but that doesn’t mean he’s earned it or deserves it.”

“How long is too long to hang onto hope that your marriage will heal?”

    Like I said, this process takes a long time, and hope in itself is hopeless. You have to look at your own personal situation and ask, is my husband demonstrating a commitment to our marriage. Is he working to rebuild trust? Is he trying hard to figure out what the affair was about? This healing process is about taking concrete actions. You have to look honestly at you, and learn lessons from your husband’s affair.

    Even though you might feel beaten up, look at how you may have contributed to the affair. Nobody makes someone else cheat, but you might have contributed to an intimacy issue at home. Understanding your own role is an act of courage. Did you make him feel lonely? Were you critical or child focused? No matter what the answers are, they can help you make a decision about your marriage.

    I wish you all the best of luck.

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