Affair healing Blog
I've written openly about my affair story. My past provides me with a particular insight into the experience of an unfaithful partner and how a person can make life-changing choices that spin the heads of confused observers.
Because they prefer certainty over confusion, the onlookers (including the betrayed partner) often seek black-and-white explanations. They do this to understand WHY this happened, or to present a convincing argument that will compel the wayward spouse toward sensibility.
One common explanation of an affair is that it is a fantasy—the experience of something that seems real, but isn't. This condition is also referred to as wandering in an "affair fog." While I agree that understanding the fantasy and fog nature of an affair may be helpful to the unsettled witnesses and victims of infidelity, it will not persuade the cheater to think differently about their experience.
It didn't persuade me. The flood of advice poured over me during my affair usually included a heavy dose of "you're living a fantasy" and "this isn't real love, you know." On some level, I understood those assertions. In the past, I'd said the same things to others. But these arguments have more power on the outside of an affair than inside of one.
You should avoid the "this isn't real love" debate with anyone claiming to have an emotional connection to their affair partner. Here's why:
1. You seldom change an emotional conclusion with a reasonable argument.
Betrayed spouses are frustrated when their partner fails to be convinced by all the anti-affair evidence presented to them. The strong case against their behavior, backed up with stacks of books and lists of websites, is easily rejected.
Unfortunately, the injured spouse often concludes that they must "try harder" to be convincing. But these attempts will only lead to more conflict, not resolution.
2. The feelings of an affair are real (and powerful).
During my affair, whenever a conversation turned to "this isn't really love," I stopped listening. It may not have seemed like real love to them, but it felt like real love to me. Attempting to convince me that my experience wasn't authentic was as effective as telling a crack addict their high isn't real. It was so real to me, in fact, that I had an addict's desperation to keep feeling it.
Even those who might occasionally worry about the permanence of their new relationship will continue to hold on to it for as long as the pleasure outweighs the pain.
3. There is evidence to the contrary.
The unfaithful person may acknowledge that affair relationships seldom last and even recognize the disastrous consequences caused by the infidelity of others, but evaluate their own condition by focusing on the exceptions.
Although fewer than 5% of affairs continue into long relationships, the 95% usually believe they are among the minority. They will point to whatever success story they can find as the example of their experience.
"You know Mike & Laura. Their relationship started as an affair and they've been together for over 20 years."
"Cindy left her marriage and she's still got a good relationship with her kids. Our kids are resilient, too; they'll be okay after they adjust to the change. And wouldn't it be better for them to have a mother who's happy?"
Without effort, they twist logic so that it fits into the belief that their affair will be a success story.
Then how should you respond to a spouse who claims to be in love with someone else?
1. Refuse to debate the issue.
You, standing on the side of reason, may have clarity that your partner is lacking, but you are the last person to convince them of it. They likely consider you as part of their problem, not their solution. Your carefully crafted arguments will pop like water balloons against their formidable defenses.
You won't win the debate, so don't even try.
2. Acknowledge their feelings.
I'm not suggesting that you accept or approve of your wayward spouse's "love," but recognize they may be experiencing something that feels so much like love there is practically no difference. In psychological terms, we call this limerence. Limerence is a state of mind resulting from romantic attraction that typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies, characterized by a longing to have one's feelings reciprocated by the person whom they desire.
What they feel is probably shallow and temporary, but if they claim their love is deep and eternal, why argue? Since you stand outside their experience, your denials of it will either be ignored or attacked.
Choose to take a perspective like this: I know what you're experiencing is real to you, so I won't waste time trying to talk you out of it. I'll be honest, it's hard for me to make sense of it because of our history, because of the person I thought you were, because it's hard for me to understand how healthy love can be so willing to hurt others. But this is something you're going to have to figure out on your own. I need to take care of myself.
3. Make smarter choices then your spouse is making.
If you start letting emotions dictate what is "right" for you to do (attack, beg, control, manipulate, etc.), then you will get sucked into a dysfunction similar to your spouse's. My Recovery Manual for Betrayed Spouses (especially chapters 3 & 4) gives specific steps for making healthy choices in this situation, but the bottom line is this: you have the choice to either focus on changing your spouse or changing yourself. Don't waste energy by attempting to change what is out of your control.
My affair ended many years ago. So did my first marriage. I know about consequences and regret. That is why I am passionate about helping others to minimize their regrets and move more quickly toward hope and healing.
Now I have a very different perspective of my affair than I did when I was in the middle of it. When people ask me, "Do you think you really loved your affair partner?" I think they want me to say, "No, I did not. It was nothing but a fantasy." But that wouldn't be the truth.
The truth is, I eventually started to love her. The initial "high" of that relationship seemed just as intense as any new romance I experienced, perhaps even a bit more-so because of the secrecy involved, but it eventually became more than that. That is a danger of infidelity—our compromises can lead us to places we never intended to go.
Here's what I can see now that I couldn't see then: our love was born out brokenness in each of us. The cracks in our foundation eventually started to cause problems. If we had stayed together, I have no doubt that we would have been another addition to the 95% statistic.
What I can honestly say is this: Instead of taking the perilous steps that led me into an affair, I should have risked the kind of vulnerability that could have changed my marriage. But once I gave my heart to someone else, I had little interest in taking it back again.
But what once seemed so intensely fulfilling became my deepest regret. Our longings can take us down many promising paths, but they don't always lead to a satisfying destination.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources. Twitter: @TimTedder