When Fantasies Turn into Infidelity
You were struggling in your marriage, and you started to wonder if you’d be happier with someone else. You started to search for old friends online and maybe exchanged a few messages with them. And then the communication became more flirty than friendly, and you found it easier to talk to them than your spouse. And you started to fantasize more about what it would be like to be with this person until one day you act on those fantasies and meet up in secret.
When the affair and flirtation starts, you feel almost high. That is until the guilt consumes you, and you have to get more and more creative to keep it a secret. You consider coming clean, but your spouse catches you first. After much anger and hurt have been expressed, your spouse decides to give you a chance.
You want to see if your marriage can recover from an affair, except you both feel lost. Do you start over with a clean slate and try to forget what happened? Or do you use this affair to uncover what you need to work on both within yourself and between both of you?
While not all couples choose to stay married after infidelity, the ones that do typically need a road map for how to navigate through the rough waters. Most focus on behaviors they want their spouse to stop doing, and neglect to focus on the emotions and patterns that are under the surface. So if you decide to stay married after the affair, then explore what has helped others repair after an affair.
Understanding the Timing of Extra-Marital Affairs
First, try to make sense of the timing of the affair. Was there a reason the affair started when it did? What made the person more open to flirting during this time?
Each affair is different and can vary in length and degree. But people aren’t always open to pursuing someone more than their spouse, so it can be helpful to better understand the significance of the timing of the affair.
Extramarital affairs are one way people deal with discomfort. Turning to another person who sympathizes with you or takes your side can be comforting. And often when in discomfort, a person acts on what feels good in the moment without thinking about the long term consequences of turning to another person. In this way, an affair is a symptom of a relationship disturbance and/or emotional process.
Brave Couple’s Guide to Repairing from an Affair
If an affair is a symptom, then it brings with it an opportunity for growth if you take it. But you have to eventually get beyond the affair, the hurt, and the anger to improve how you relate and think about your spouse.
Here are three steps to not only recover from an affair but to also make your marriage less vulnerable to infidelity in the future:
- End the affair: You cannot make repairs when you are still actively pursuing a relationship with the person you are having an affair with. Ending the affair is the only way to truly address the problems that it covers up. Did you take responsibility for ending the affair or did you end it only when your spouse persuaded you to?
- Develop prevention plan: This is where couples get really stuck and only focus on what behaviors not to do. But it’s recognizing the emotional state that led you to turn elsewhere that is important to deal with in order to prevent affairs in the future. Identify your own warning signs instead of deferring to your spouse to monitor your behavior. If you catch yourself when you are just beginning to fantasize or flirt, you can deal with the emotional state more than dealing with another aftermath. How will you become more aware of your tendency to turn elsewhere when experiencing negative emotions?
- Both work on your part in the co-created emotional distance: Infidelity can be a symptom of too much emotional distance in a marriage. This emotional distance or avoidance is a co-created pattern of interactions and reactions. Most couples try to work on their spouse’s part in the problem, but when you do so it usually results in more conflict or distance. So the more you work on your own distancing reactions and behaviors, the more emotionally present, open, and relaxed you will be with your spouse.
For more ideas, listen to this interview with Douglas Murphy, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and expand your perspective on finding your way back after an extra-marital affair.
Again not everyone decides to stay together. And it can be just as brave to be single again as it is to try to mend a relationship after infidelity. Some people use an affair to end a marriage. While others decide to stay together and try to repair what’s been broken long before the affair started. The more people can take responsibility for their part in the problem, the more likely couples will create a deeper emotional intimacy than they experienced before the affair.
If you are tired of holding onto anger, hurt, and guilt about marital infidelity, schedule a free 15-minute phone session to learn how to repair your relationship and grow from your experience. Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers individual and marriage counseling in Independence MO (Also serving surrounding cities of Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit MO).