Affair healing Blog
I've heard this story before: you have a strong emotional connection with your affair partner and believe your affair is uniquely wonderful. Even though your affair is probably among the 96% destined to fail, you remain convinced (like so many before you) that yours is an exceptional experience. But belief doesn’t change the fact that it almost certainly is not.
I know this because I once told that story, too.
I Should Have Known Better
Looking at my affair from hindsight's perspective, it's easy to see how predictable the outcome would be. What began as an euphoric experience with idealistic expectations ended in pain. How did I become another addition to the overwhelming affair statistic?
Before I had an affair, I believed I never would. Crossing that line was out of the question. Not only did I think my vows meant something, I had often been witness to the fallout when promises were revoked and spouses betrayed. Nobody escaped the consequences. The conclusion of my own affair should have been obvious to me from the start of it.
But once I convinced myself that feeling good was more important than being good, I opened the back door of my heart to a rush of passion. Don't I deserve to feel this? Why should I be expected to deny something that seems so naturally wonderful?
I started offering the same excuses I'd heard from others. Today, on the other side of a ruined career and lost marriage, I recognize my rationalizations. From the middle of the affair, however, they felt like truth. I needed to believe them in order to justify the pain I was inflicting on my wife and children.
This affair would end differently, I thought, because our relationship was special. We weren't just lovers; we were soul mates.
The Soul Mate Myth
In an online posting titled What is Love: Are you made for each other, or are you on a journey?, psychologist Jeremy Dean discussed research into this question. He wrote:
“As many as three-quarters of Americans believe in the idea of soul mates: that there is someone out there who provides a perfect fit. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking may be hurting their relationships, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology…
“They recruited people who were in long-term relationships and then had them think back to times of both celebration and conflict. Some, however, had been subtly primed to think of relationships more in terms of a ‘perfect unity’, while others were primed to think in terms of relationships being a journey. When they recalled their times of conflict, people thinking about unity subsequently reported being less satisfied with their relationship than those who’d been thinking about their relationship as a journey.”
Dr. Dean then quotes Professor Lee, one of the researchers:
“Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as a perfect unity between soul mates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out. Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love lead to different ways of evaluating it.”
As I work with men and women caught up in affairs with emotional connections, I hear pretty much the same story over and over again. I wonder what they would think if they all were in one room and had to listen to each other's arguments about why their affair was so different, why their affair would not end like almost all the others.
Here's how one of my clients expressed it in an email:
"[The other woman] is mysterious and uncertain, but the connection is SO POWERFUL, I feel hopelessly drawn to her. At times I want nothing more than to write that story and see the ending.
"Everyone says this is infatuation but it seems so much more to me. I've been thinking about this for the past few weeks and it seems like the only reason why I want to stay in my marriage is because it's what is expected of me, but the reason I want to be with [the other woman] is because that is who I'm meant to be. My head feels so clear too when I think about this…
"Here's another point. I know this sounds so crazy, but it's almost like [the other woman] meets me where we both need to be in conversation... I realize that we haven't had what's considered a true relationship but this has been going on for 7-8 months. We've had some pretty serious conversations and I can honestly say that we are always connecting with each other. It's uncanny the stuff that comes out of her mouth is almost verbatim the stuff that comes out of mine.
"I mean I know I'm talking crazy talk right now, but I'VE NEVER EXPERIENCED SOMETHING LIKE THIS BEFORE! Every time I have conversation, I learn something new that just connects me ever closer to her. One would say, "Well, stop talking to her" but it's like my soul is thirsting for more. It's my soul and my heart.
"This isn't just some high school crush. I feel love, deep deep love for someone a love that I never thought I would ever feel. It's the same love I feel for my kids. That true unconditional love. Even at our highest peak, I've never felt anything like this for [my wife]...
"This absolutely kills me. If I were to choose [my wife], then I'm afraid I lose my soul mate. I know I know I know I know I know, life with [the other woman] would have hardships, but this relationship feels so pure... Her views of intimacy go hand in hand with mine. Where the hell was this person 10 years ago? Why now?!"
Different affair; same story. He thought he found relationship perfection and so he was willing to abandon the 14 years of investment in his marriage. Too bad he didn't realize the connection he longed for was more likely found on the path that wound through the ups and downs of "for better and for worse" than in his paradise mirage.
Do you think your affair really is different? If you sat with me long enough to hear the thousands of stories I've encountered in my years of counseling and recognized the themes that repeat again and again, would you change your mind?
Probably not. Affairs have nothing to do with making smart choices. They're not even logical, so maybe you won't recognize your affair for what it is until enough time has passed. I wonder what will be left when that finally happens. How much regret will you face?
Maybe you can stop long enough to see the cracks that are already showing in the facade. Maybe you can see you're not so different from everyone else. Since you're not so unique, that means the same opportunities for healing and change are available to you as they were to those who have been through this before.
You are telling a story with your life. This part, the affair chapter, is too predictable. Why not change the script? It deserves a better ending.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources. Twitter: @TimTedder