“After he confessed to the affair, I couldn’t talk to him,” said Clarissa. “It seemed weeks passed before I could say a simple “yes” or “no” in response to his questions or statements. We’ve been married for over 15 years, and deep down, I want to save our marriage. He has already told me he will do whatever it takes. My struggle now is with how to communicate again at a level where we can move forward. I find that when we do try to talk, it quickly dissolves into my shouting out my anger, frustration and pain. I look at him and think, after what he has done, how can I believe a word that comes out of his mouth? I don’t know how to move past that.”
Communication between partners can be strained to the point of a complete shutdown after an affair has been revealed. As the injured spouse, you may be grappling with a range of disconcerting thoughts, such as:
1. Who is this person I’m married to?
2. How could the man (or woman) whom I love recklessly break his (or her) vows to me?
3. Will we be able to get past this, or is this the end of our relationship?
It’s no wonder that you and your spouse are struggling to communicate when questions like these hover around your relationship. Your marital bond has been stretched to the breaking point, and possibly beyond.
In addition, the cheating spouse may be grappling with his or her own questions, thoughts and feelings, and he or she may be having a difficult time expressing these concerns. This can be complicated by the impact of his or her poor behaviors. The cheating spouse may also still be caught in the behavioral pattern that surrounded the affair in the first place (more on that in a minute).
In this blog, I am going to share with you one of the most critical components that must be agreed upon by both partners in order to establish a strong communication pathway.
The Behavioral Pattern That Must Be Broken In Your Relationship
No matter what form the affair took: emotional, one-night stand, short-term, long-term or on-and-off, there is one particular behavior that the cheater engaged in that allowed this affair to take place unnoticed by you: dishonesty.
Your spouse did not share with you that he or she was engaging in meaningful, emotionally-touching conversations with a would-be paramour. Nor did he or she share with you any intention to meet up with this would-be paramour for dinner, drinks, or a more intimate liaison.
The cheater’s behavior is characterized by its deceitful nature, intended to keep disloyal and intimate intentions hidden. This behavior is dishonest, and the dishonesty itself interferes when you and your spouse work to reestablish communication based on trust.
It’s no surprise then that the injured spouse is challenged with open communication when it’s discovered that this level of dishonesty was covertly being engaged in. This is often why initial attempts to communicate after the affair are marked by temper flare-ups and accusations. There is hurt, anger, disappointment, and pain that the injured spouse feels compelled to express, while simultaneously attempting to save the marriage.
This is why it is crucial that you and your spouse, as you begin to engage in communication with the intent of healing your relationship and trying to work past the affair, agree on this one critical communication component: honesty. It may seem too obvious to mention, but I repeatedly discover couples “working” to heal their marriages with one or both partners continuing to be dishonest.
Honesty: The Cement of Your Communication Pathway
Once you and your spouse have agreed that you would like to work on your relationship, the communication pathway between the two of you must be improved and repaired. You need to work to find common ground again, to come together in unity to preserve your relationship.
Step 1: Understand that communication is a learned skill
You may have learned how to talk to your superiors or the people who report to you at work, how to engage in small talk with the cashier ringing up your food, or how to talk to the elderly. What you may not have received is guidance on how to talk effectively with your spouse-one of the most (if not the most) important people in your life.
Communication is a skill, and one that you might have taken for granted. You are married and think that this must automatically mean you know how to communicate. Your communication skills during dating were different than those you need in marriage, and still different from those you need in a long-term marriage.
Step 2: Agree with your partner there will be 100% honesty
To begin with, dishonesty was a major component of this crisis in your marriage. How can you seek trust and intimacy in a relationship where one or both of you is dishonest?
After an affair has been revealed, it may be very uncomfortable to talk with your cheating spouse, as Clarissa revealed above. You are simmering with a range of thoughts, feelings and confusion. You may not know whether or not to believe anything that your cheating spouse says. But if you want to get past the affair, the work begins with communication, and you will want honesty to be its foundation.
Step 3: Agree to share what you are tempted to lie about
The cheating spouse may be nervous about revealing anything that will further upset the injured spouse. He or she may be tempted to hedge a bit on the truth, the proverbial “little white lie.” You and your relationship will be better served to say, “I’m not going to answer that” rather than telling a lie.
You may want to establish a pattern in which either of you can say to the other: “I am tempted here to not tell the full truth because.” and then offer an explanation as to why. It will help move you toward honesty.
My best wishes for you as you learn to communicate effectively with your spouse on the path to surviving the affair.