I lived this myself, now I help couples through the process, so I ask, is recovery really possible?
Is it really possible to recover from the pain, shame, and anger related to infidelity? I have to look at this from a professional perspective now. As a relationship coach to couples, I frequently have to help them find a path to healing, or find a peaceful ending to the relationship. However, usually if they come to me, they intend to work through it and stay together. But, is forgiveness possible?
When confronted with this question 20 years ago, I was a different person. A young mother, with two children and very committed to my then husband and family, I thought I would lose my mind. The pain and anguish took a toll on me not only emotionally, but mentally, and physically.
When I look back, I realize that in spite of the emotional devastation I was going through, the whole time I wanted to work it out. I wanted my ex-husband to say "I'm sorry. It was a terrible mistake. I love you and the kids more. Let's work this out." In fact, I practically begged him for that option. That never happened. In our case, he wanted out for good. Therefore, was it a lost cause? Now, twenty years later, with peace between us, he admits it could have been worked out. He states he should have worked it out with me. Wow! So how do couples work it out?
The couples that come to me seeking a path to heal the relationship are not asking the question "Is it worth saving this relationship?" They have in their hearts already asked this and found it is their desire to keep their family intact. So we won't look at that question here. I am focusing on the couples that choose to move forward. Can they do it?
My experience with couples that are trying to heal after the shock and pain of infidelity has led me to believe that five basic conditions need to be met in order for the couple to recover.
- Forgiveness. Although this tops the list, it's easier said than done. Forgiveness is not "forgetting". Forgiveness is about seeing your mate as human, imperfect, and subject to mistakes, and yet wanting to be with them "Til death do us part". Forgiveness means committing 100% to loving each other enough to learn from this experience and believing it has not and will not lessen the value and sanctity of the relationship.
- Respectful Silence. It is important that once a decision to stay together has been made that each party put the issue into a category I like to call "Respectful Silence". That means you respect each other enough to be silent about the situation except when going to couple's therapy sessions. Respectful silence on the matter will have to be reached sooner or later if the relationship is to survive.
- Dreams. Couples who are successful at recovering from infidelity usually still have hopes and dreams of things they aim to do or enjoy together. If you love each other enough to still envision yourselves going to Hawaii next year for your 30th birthday, or spending your golden years entertaining grandkids in Florida, you have greater odds of recovering and healing.
- Hobbies. Couples who have rich individual lives filled with common and independent activities seem to do much better during this process. Individuals that enjoy golfing, knitting, book clubs, or any other social activity outside the marriage have something to hold onto that helps them see themselves as worthy, strong, independent individuals. This helps one feel that they are in the marriage of their own free will, not because it is all they have. They are together out of love, not neediness.
- Family. This is probably the second most important factor in recovery. Extended family has created a vision of you two as a couple, and they are usually supportive in keeping that vision alive. Family will also listen to both of you with an open heart. If you are lucky enough you will also have non-judgmental support in your decision to heal the relationship. Family is okay with seeing us cry, holding our hands through it, and helping us bounce back.