Written by: Caitlin Edwards
Many of the couples I work with tell me that their relationships no longer feel safe after infidelity has been disclosed. This makes sense: what partners thought they had agreed to with their partner has been violated. Without predictability, safety is hard to come by. Therefore, to re-establish safety and trust the relationship must come to feel predictable again. Partners need to feel as though they know each other, as learning about infidelity can leave you feeling like you are living with a stranger.
So, how do you re-establish safety and security in your relationship? Primarily, the partnership must become transparent and honest. The unfaithful partner must resolve to stop the affair. Ideally, this would mean a clean break. While grief over the loss of the affair partner is normal and natural, it is unfair to both the affair partner and the current partner to continue contact as it sends the message to both that one is still interested in pursuing the affair. It is essential that the unfaithful partner be open and honest about any contact from the affair partner. As painful as this is, it is essential to re-creating predictability and safety in the primary relationship.
It is possible that contact with the affair partner is unavoidable, for example, if you work with your affair partner. If that is the case, it is essential that the unfaithful partner and the betrayed partner communicate openly and transparently about the parameters of what it looks like to work with the affair partner. This situation has occurred with quite several clients I see. As such, I took their recommendations on how to make this work:
- Limit contact to business only
- Do not talk about your marriage to your affair partner
- Share all unavoidable encounters, no matter how trivial
- Volunteer information about any encounter before being asked
- Be accountable to your partner
In my experience, it is the last three on this list that people have the most trouble with. For the unfaithful partner, it may feel ridiculous to say ‘I saw so-and-so today from across the office’ if that is all that has occurred. Yet, by doing so, the unfaithful partner is providing transparency and predictability. The betrayed partner begins to learn ‘they’ll tell me about all of this, no matter how small, that means I can trust them again.’
It may also feel hard to volunteer information. I encounter this with my clients when the unfaithful partner does not want to hurt the betrayed partner more than they have already been hurt. Yet, by volunteering information, the unfaithful partner is again saying ‘I know I’ve hurt you. We are in a hard place right now, and that means I need to be open and honest with you about what is happening. This is what is going on and I want to be with you as we process it together.’
Finally, it may feel exhausting for the unfaithful partner to be held accountable for their behaviors and their whereabouts. I often run into this when the betrayed partner needs to know everything that the unfaithful partner has done; it can feel smothering and excessive. Yet, by being accountable to your partner you acknowledge that they have experienced a traumatic shift in the relationship. Rather than feeling under a search light, accountability should be collaborative. Dr. Glass, who has written extensively about affairs, frames it as “I’ll help you check up on me.” By helping your partner check up on you, you are helping to recreate security, safety, and trust in the relationship.
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