There’s been an affair!
Some up-front advice: If it was a sexual relationship, do not ask for, or share, explicit, sexual details. It burns a movie image into the brain and can be very difficult to remove. If you’ve already heard the details and are stuck with disturbing images, it may make sense to try some Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy… Also, you need to have a conversation about sexually transmitted infections right away…
We can spend time analyzing and being angry or in pain about the type of affair: emotional, physical, or about how physical it was.
Or we can look at the meaning or symbolism. Why did this happen? How did this happen? Why didn’t I see it coming? What led up to it? What caused it? Was this a way of getting out of a relationship with me?
Or we can look at the effect: betrayal, broken trust, breaking up a family. Why me? Can I ever trust again? All of these are about me, the “victim.”
Or, we can look at discovering why a person would leave the relationship without moving out of the house first…
Many people think an affair is about sex. It isn’t. Affairs don’t happen because of sexual boredom. They happen because people are no longer attached/bonded to their partner. They don’t feel special anymore. When someone comes into their life and makes them feel special, it wakes up a deep desire and memory of “that” feeling. People can feel lonely in their current relationship. It may be hard to grasp that a person in a relationship can be lonely, but without a solid emotional attachment to a partner, it becomes easy to wander. All it takes is a smile from someone at the office and you feel good. You imagine what it would be like to matter to someone again and you’re off and running toward an affair.
We are a species that needs attachment/connection/bonding. For years, we’ve had scientific evidence that infants need it. It turns out that adults do to. Our need for attachment is why we pursue relationships at all. It’s when the attachment becomes damaged that we will go find it somewhere else…
I’ve heard many people argue that men are not meant for monogamy because they stray and they are biologically built to spread their seed. The truth is that more women wander than is believed, but I think men wander for “reasons” related to sex.
Men tend to get their attachment needs met through sex. Women get a fair amount of their attachment needs met from girlfriends and family. Most men I’ve worked with have the aspects involved in attachment all twisted up and fused together; mainly because they aren’t taught very well about emotions and connections. When a man fuses 1) attachment, 2) love, 3) sex and 4) intimacy together and then one of those is off a bit, he will typically think the entire relationship is dying.
So, one goal of therapy is to work toward separation of those four things, on emotional and intellectual levels, and learn that one of the four can be low, and that the others are fine and the relationship is not dead and improvement is possible.
Talking about an affair has to be done carefully. The speaker needs to talk slowly, be kind, empathetic and compassionate about the effect on the listener. The listener has to be curious, and listen carefully, without getting highly emotionally reactive. If one person gets heated, that person needs to take a time-out. You need to breathe, slow down, and express emotion gently.
Why can’t a person speak the unhappiness or disconnect when it’s first noticed? A person could just say, “You know, I fantasize about having a romance or a sexual relationship with another person. I think that means something big about our lack of connection or something, and we need to work on this.”
That is precisely how communication should be.
We need to be fearless when we are communicating in our most intimate relationships.
Many couples therapy sessions begin right here…