In my many years of doing couple counselling, I am realizing that there are so many issues and difficulties that surround couples and relationships. And the issue of infidelity is just about one of the most difficult circumstances a couple can face. Despite the difficulty, though, there is a possibility of resolution when a couple is hopeful about staying together, willing to forgive human mistakes and wants to move forward in a more loving way.
A surefire way to act against your best interests is to "snoop" or spy on your partner if you're suspecting of infidelity. Why doesn't snooping work for any relationship? Because it involves invading someone's privacy and breaching trust. Human beings are territorial. We want our own space. When someones takes away what is ours, we usually react strongly, going into a defensive mode.
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This fact is one of the strongest reasons why you should not snoop. Think about it: it would be a useless cause to attempt to get facts or information by snooping, because the moment you present the "evidence" to your partner, he or she becomes aware that there was a breach of privacy and will react defensively — wouldn't you?. Defensiveness is coming from a "fight or flight" mentality and is not conducive to having a calm discussion about what you have found out in your private eye session (be it negative, neutral, positive).
On the other hand, if you are suspecting of an affair, you can actually benefit from suggesting having an open and honest conversation with your partner. Here are some tips to make it a fruitful discussion:
- Choose a calm and safe place that both of you agree on
- Choose a time when both of you are calm enough to have an open conversation
- Begin with expressing your concerns and fears, and explaining why you feel that way
- State that your intention is pure clarification; don't accuse
- Be specific about which behaviors from your partner made you feel nervous or suspicious
- Take a moment to step back and actively listen to what your partner has to say
- Reflect back what you have heard and understood from what your partner, so as to avoid confusion and misinterpretation
- It is extremely important to maintain a calm stance and tone of voice so both of you do not put yourselves into the fight or flight zone
No; fight or flight is not the place you want your conversation to come from. Both of you should want to come from a place of calm and compassion for each other's hurt and pain. It is important that recognize that you are each other's most valuable person in life, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time. Look at the discussion from a perspective that both of you are on the same team — and the team is looking to resolve a problem at hand objectively.
If, while snooping around, you find evidences to prove that your partner is guilty of cheating, work through your painful emotions first before you discuss them with your partner. Talk about your feelings with a trusted friend, or perhaps your therapist. It is important to acknowledge what you are going through, because it is in the acknowledgement you'll realize that you will be okay through the pain.
Emotional pain is not life threatening. It will subside eventually, but you need to ride it out. See your therapist to explore the many ways you can move forward. I've seen a lot of couples decide to stay together — even after infidelity. They seek couples counseling, work hard on rebuilding trust and explore other ways of relating with each other that works for each one of them. Don't be fatalistic if you find evidence of infidelity.
One of the challenges the couple will deal with, after the fact, is the issue of rebuilding trust. Trust is the most misunderstood concept due to the "all of nothing" mentality. If couples think of trust this way, it will be extremely difficult to rebuild trust. So stay away from making this mistake! There is such a thing as middle ground or grey area.
And as you work through these negative emotions with yourself and with your partner, you will slowly move away from the starting point, toward the middle ground and eventually reach your goal. It's a process. It is extremely important for the victim of infidelity to recognize that the partner is making an effort to regain back that trust. The offender should, in turn, make conscious attempts to prove to his/her partner that he/she can be trusted again. These efforts can be in the form of specific behaviors that the victim will recognize as evidences of increasing loyalty. These specific behaviors can be discussed in couple counseling to avoid vagueness and misinterpretations.
Having said all that, there is hope in even life's most difficult circumstances. And when it all seems unmanageable, know that sometimes, you can truly benefit from professional and objective insights.
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