Don't give in to toxic resentments.
A woman named Lisa was desperate to know if her husband was cheating.
She told me he comes home late and sometimes stays away for days at a time without calling. When she calls him, he angrily tells her not to bother him.
She found a box of 12 condoms in his car — and 2 of the wrappers had been opened and were now empty.
Even with what seems like such clear evidence, he denies all accusations and can offer a justification for each of the matters — although when she questions him at a later time about the same issue, he comes up with several contradictory explanations, adding to her suspicions.
I asked her what she would do if she does indeed find what she considers to be proof that he is having an affair.
She responded, “What can I do? We have 3 kids and I don't earn an income, so I can't leave. But I will make his life miserable."
I then asked what she would do if she does indeed find proof that he is NOT having an affair, and never has.
She said, “That won't happen, and I will never trust him."
So Lisa is stuck in her misery — torn apart by her suspicions of an affair, and determined to remain miserable and untrusting regardless of whether or not it turns out to be true.
Lisa’s husband is also in a terrible predicament.
If he is acting out because he is upset with Lisa, but not actually having an affair, he is certainly making her miserable and she is making him even more miserable in return.
If he is having an affair, she is on a mission to find out, and vows to make his life a living hell whether he stays with her or not.
And then there are the 3 kids, who are also victims in this family war.
The major dilemma lies in the fact that the only future Lisa sees is misery.
She refuses to envision any potentially positive outcomes — whether to work towards a loving and trusting relationship if he is not having an affair, to communicate clearly, forgive and rebuild the relationship if he is having an affair, or to leave the marriage and open the possibility of a healthy, trusting and joyful relationship in the future, either alone or with another man.
If Lisa, or anyone else in a similar situation, chooses to follow these 5 steps, positive outcomes in the wake of cheating ARE possible.
1. Get clear about what you want in your relationship.
Have a conversation with your partner regarding which boundaries are negotiable and which are absolute limits within your relationship. For those you decide together are negotiable, clarify the terms, and for those you decide are non-negotiable, clarify the consequences of lines being crossed.
If the only consequence Lisa's husband receives for having an affair is to be the recipient of more angry behavior on her, he will gladly spend more time away from home — with or without a lover — and feel a sense of righteously having done the right thing by getting away from a wife who cannot be pleased.
2. Communicate fully what it is about those negotiable and non-negotiable boundaries that matters to you — verbally as well as in a written letter or email.
Ask your partner to respond to your concerns with his or her thoughts and feelings about your requests and terms. You can use language such as the following:
“I enjoy seeing you happy when you take trips with your friends. I'd like to be part of the decision-making process, as well as know I will able to talk with you while you are away so I can feel connected with you and share your joy. Not telling me, going on a trip and not contacting me for days is NON-negotiable, this behavior means to me that you don’t want to share your life with me and therefore ends our relationship."
3. Share your thoughts and feelings about how your partner's absence and avoidance affect you.
Try something along the lines of:
“When I see a box of condoms in your car, knowing we haven't used condoms for many years, and when I don’t experience any desire from you pursuing me to be intimate, I think you are having sex with another person. This makes me sad, fearful, and angry — at you and at myself. I lose trust in you and lose faith in our relationship and feel like I want to run away. I feel the loss of many years of our life together and the loss of the essence of our family. I feel sad for our children, and scared by the thought of raising them without you."
4. Take responsibility regarding the ways in which you are also accountable for creating the cold space in your relationship.
“I know I've contributed to us growing apart as well. I've been focusing on our kids and have grown angry with you for not realizing how tired I am. I now understand how my anger and resentment have played a role in destroying the closeness we once had."
5. Express a clear vision of the future as you see it, or as you would like to.
A few options include:
“This way of being in a relationship is not OK with me. If you are having an affair, we need to end this relationship."
“If you are having an affair and are willing to stop, I am willing to work on our relationship with a counselor in order to do the work necessary to make it healthy again."
Then, request a specific time frame for your partner to provide you with a response:
“Please think about my request and let’s talk again in a week to see which future vision we will pursue."
Typically, people don’t like to be confronted and will experience multiple emotions when faced with an angry person.
Most people continue to deny having an affair, even if they did, but many do stop the affair due to the fear of losing their spouse, family and lifestyle.
Unless both partners become responsible and accountable for the unhealthy state of their relationship, work together to create forgiveness and healing, formulate a mutual vision for their future, and build solid steps toward a healthy relationship, chances are this pattern will only continue to resurface as the years pass by.
Get help. You can do it.
Dr. Foojan Zeine is an International Speaker, Author, Psychotherapist, successful Life and Executive Coach. She is the originator of Awareness Integration Model. Her expertise is in Intimate Relations and Addictive Behaviors with extensive experience treating Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, and Domestic Violence.