Affair Recovery: Contribution vs. Blame
When you discover that your spouse has been unfaithful, most people ask themselves “What did I do wrong?”
The answer is that the betrayed spouse is not at fault. He or she may have CONTRIBUTED to problems in the marriage but he or she didn't chose to go outside of the marriage for the solution. There is no excuse for an affair. It is a breach of a commitment. Please, betrayed spouse, do not BLAME yourself. Unfaithful spouses are often ready with a list of grievances of how unhappy they were and can readily tell us what the faithful spouse did to cause their affair.
I often hear from the betraying spouse: "I DON’T LOVE YOU – I LOVE YOU BUT I’M NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU – I’VE NEVER LOVED YOU."
One woman’s husband told her that in all the years they had been married, he had never once loved her, not even when he asked her to marry her. They are often referring to infatuation-like love that is common for 16 year olds and is portrayed in the movies, not the deep love of commitment, friendship and shared lives.
Unfaithful spouses can convince themselves of this to give themselves permission to have affair/s, because otherwise, they would think of themselves as a “bad” person. “If I love my spouse and I have an affair anyway, then I must be a bad person,” they subconsciously reason.
In addition, their thinking gets distorted. They rewrite their marital history in their minds. Bad memories become bigger, and the good memories, the loving feelings, they once had are wiped out.
To every betrayed spouse: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE AFFAIR.
To every unfaithful spouse: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR AFFAIR.
PROBLEMS IN MARRIAGE DO NOT CAUSE AFFAIRS; rather, there are healthy ways to deal with problems in marriage. There are many marriages today with problems, and it is true that these marriages are more vulnerable to affairs than marriages that are happy.
IDENTIFYING THE "WHY" OF THE AFFAIR
There is no time like the present (working through the devastation of an affair) to look at what could’ve been better in the marriage, but if we label these as the causes, we’re going to be missing significant factors that led to the affair. This thinking is the reason why there are so many repeat offenders. If you don’t find the REAL root, it may happen again. If you over simplify the answer, you’re going to make some improvements, but be missing the big picture.
Usually when the betrayed spouse asks the unfaithful spouse, “Why did you do this?” And the unfaithful spouse answers, “I don’t know.” They are telling the truth. They don’t know yet. You are going to discover this together.
When couples are in counseling, they may discover things they did wrong in the marriage and how they damaged and wounded each other. More importantly, the unfaithful spouse must look inside him or herself to address issues that had little or nothing to do with the faithful partner. He (or she) may have to recognize how he may have been wounded in your childhood, how this affects him today, and how he can work to heal the wound.
If you are the betrayed spouse, and you are less than 6 months from the day of your discovery of the affair (d-day), please don’t push yourself to look at your contribution to problems in the marriage. It’s too painful. Do it when you’re ready. At some point, though, looking at your contribution, ways you may have failed your spouse in the marriage is an essential part of the healing.
It’s so important that we separate marital issues from affair issues. They must remain 2 separate issues if the marriage is to be healed. If they are not kept separate, the betrayed spouse struggles for ongoing years with unhealthy obsessiveness, that goes something like this:
Am I pretty enough? Are we having enough recreational companionship? Are we having enough sex? Enough sexual 10’s? Am I being a good enough father? Is the house clean enough?
The list is endless, and living with this list, believing it’s directly connected to the possibility of your spouse having another affair, is like living with a ball and a chain around your leg. You may as well be in prison. No one can live this way.
I’m all for spouses working towards meeting each others needs and being conscious and intentional about their marriages. I highly recommend it, but not when we attach, “And if you get it wrong on any given day, I might have an affair.” No one gets it perfect all the time. I need permission to fail sometimes and know that my spouse will seek a healthy way of dealing with his dissatisfaction, not that my failure to get it right is going to lead to the pain of betrayal.
I hope this serves to clarify the important difference between taking responsibility for ways we may have failed our spouse vs. taking responsibility for the affair, and seeing the faithful persons failures as the cause of the infidelity.