“It was devastating.” These were the first words she replied when I asked Julie sai about her divorce. “Of course the divorce was difficult to handle. But it was the deception of the affair that really tore me apart.”
After only three years of marriage, Julie learned that her husband John had begun having an affair. It had been going on “right under her nose” for at least 6 months.
“I was so angry,” she explained. “I felt violated, humiliated, and stupid for ignoring the signs. I experienced a full range of emotions when I learned about the affair. But the feeling that was foreign to me was the desire to hurt someone.”
“I’m not a violent or angry person by nature,” Julie assured me. “But I was so angry that I lashed out at anyone that came anywhere near me. Since John wasn’t around, I took my anger out on my friends, children and co-workers. Then, when the people wouldn’t tolerate my anger any longer, I began taking it out on myself.”
Damage of Affairs
Julie isn’t alone. In a country where almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and [a huge number of them] involve an extramarital affair, it wasn’t difficult to find people like Julie to talk with.
Cheryl, a manager of a local retail store stated, “Honestly, I just wanted to kill him.”
Gerard was someone everyone believed to have ‘the perfect marriage’ for 20 years. He adamantly stated, “The affair was the ultimate betrayal. I’ll never trust anyone again.”
Of the people interviewed for this article, the comments maintained a common thread of betrayal, loneliness and distrust. Julie admitted, “In a time when I needed people the most, I pushed them away. I started to realize that if I was wrong about trusting my spouse, then who else was I wrong about? I got to the point where every relationship I had was severely affected. This was because of my inability to put my trust in anybody else.”
Julie never dreamed that the people she could not trust would ultimately include herself. Julie stressed, “This world is impossible to operate in with a total inability to trust your own judgment. When you go through this type of betrayal, you lose your direction. And the results have some pretty severe consequences.”
The Children of Affairs
Unfortunately, another common thread within the people interviewed, was the ability to tell themselves, “Hey, kids are just kids — right? They’re young, and they bounce back. They don’t really understand everything that’s going on anyway.”
Amazingly, nearly every individual I spoke with admitted that while they were going through the ‘hell’ of the extramarital affair they found it easier to tell themselves the above statement about their children. This was despite the fact that they knew it to be completely untrue at the time.
“If I could go back,” Gerard explains, “I would have tried more to help my children cope with the pain that my wife’s affair had all of us. But I was so focused on my own pain during the divorce, that it was hard to focus on anyone else.”
Gerard’s son Jason, now a 21 year old victim of his own parents bitter divorce states, “Marriage is stupid. You just wind up choosing someone else down the road anyway.”
Not surprisingly, many children are affected just as dramatically as the parents when a divorce ends due to an extramarital affair. The lessons these children learn from their parents’ actions are scary. They learn how to lie, how to deny problems, how to be selfish, and ultimately, how to never trust.
The feeling of betrayal extends to all participants of a divorce due to a cheating spouse. Is there any wonder why children of affairs and divorce have a hard time with future relationships?
Why do Spouses Cheat?
According to family counselor Jeff Parziale, “Most people don’t want to have an affair. Spouses cheat for a variety of reasons, with a big reason being boredom in their marriage.”
What seems amazingly contradictory to Dr. Parziale’s statement is a series of well-known surveys conducted between 1990 and 2002 by the University of Chicago. They revealed:
• 30% of all adults who say that their marriage is not too happy report having an extramarital affair.
• 17% of all adults who say their marriage is pretty happy report an extramarital affair.
• And a surprising 10% of all adults who say their marriage is really happy , also admitted to having an affair.
With over 50% of the participants of this survey admitting to extramarital affairs, it’s hard to believe that having an affair isn’t a conscious decision making process. So, if people don’t actually want to have an affair, why do these affairs actually happen?
“Today’s marriage take work”, Dr. Parziale explains. “There are many factors in today’s society that influence the success of a marital relationship. Many people cheat because they did not ‘intend’ not to. To avoid affairs, we must have strong boundaries in place to avoid sharing too many intimate details with friends or coworkers. In other words, cheating for many is more about ‘not’ having a plan on how ‘not to’ cheat.”
Shirley Glass, a well-known psychologist who strove to redefine the nature of infidelity prior to her death in October 2003, wrote articles, books and appeared on television programs. She did this to examine how the emotional intimacy of the workplace and the Internet had led even people in successful marriages to slip into emotionally intense relationships. They are ones that could easily lead to affairs.
Dr Glass said that even if these intense relationships did not lead to sex they were a threat to marriages. They are a part of what she termed “The new crisis of infidelity.” The reason is that the emotional intimacy with the friend gradually supplants that with the spouse.
Avoiding the Betrayal
As many of us already know life is not a fairy tale. For Cinderella, the first kiss was all it took. And the relationship then lasted for hundreds of decades. But, for those of us in today’s world we’re still looking for the magic answer to keeping our marriages alive.
Upon researching this article, the answer to a successful marriage doesn’t appear to be as complicated as one might expect. And the answers may just be in looking at what made your marriage happen in the first place. It was the dating period!
Can you honestly say to yourself, “My priorities while the dating my spouse is exactly the same today, as it was then?”
Once deemed courting, today’s dating has become similar to a “cat and mouse” chase. Once caught, it is soon determined by many that the chase is over.
To maintain a successful, happy marriage, it’s important to realize that “dating etiquette” isn’t just for dating anymore. It’s also for keeping marriages in bloom. Keeping a marriage positive, making your spouse your best friend, and having fun together are important. Also, keeping an even balance between “talking vs. listening” with your spouse, is an important deterrent to extramarital affairs.
In today’s hectic world it is more important than ever to keep your marriage fresh and alive. Your spouse should be your best friend. He or she should be your confidant and the one person you know you can trust.
When Suspect An Affair
While you have your own responsibilities in keeping your marriage alive, you cannot control the actions of your spouse. It’s important to realize that if your spouse is cheating, it is not your fault.
A popular, but inaccurate notion is that the non-involved spouse should have to change to recapture the involved partner. A common belief is, “if only the wife paid more attention to the husband, or looked more sexy, or had sex more often, then the affair would have happened.”
If you suspect an affair, but do not have confirmation the affair is taking place, there are several things that must occur. Most importantly, avoid accusations. Inaccurate accusations can destroy a marriage just as quickly as an affair can. Instead, talk to your spouse. Try to determine why you suspect him/her of having an affair. Without throwing out accusations, seek to solve some of the “symptoms’ that there might be something more going on.
If your concerns are with working late—address the issue, not your assumptions. If your concerns are with a change in your sex life—talk about it. And if you and your spouse are unable to solve the issues together, then seek help from a qualified professional.
Trying to Manage Alone
“Too many people try to manage this situation by themselves,” explains Sharon. She is a survivor of a marriage on the rocks. “The only place you’ll see a list of ‘The top ten signs that your spouse is cheating’, is in Cosmo [Magazine]. And the list isn’t meant to help you. It’s meant to appeal to our emotions and sell more magazines.”
Sharon suspected her husband of 18 years of infidelity. “All the Cosmo signs were there,” she confides. “He was distant, and was always working late. Our friendship seemed non-existent. And our sex life was completely dead.”
Sharon and her husband Jim struggled through accusations and arguments. They distanced their relationship even further. Finally, they both sought professional help. “Short of a lie detector test, there was no way I could prove my loyalty to Sharon,” Jim explains. “But that didn’t mean I hadn’t thought about it.”
“It was so tempting to find another friend,” Jim states. “While Sharon was constantly nagging at me, I started justifying that if I was going to be accused of doing it, then maybe I should.”
“It wasn’t until I started thinking about why I was considering an affair, that I realized how bad it would be for all of us if I actually had one,” Jim commented. “If you seek out someone else because things are going bad at home, then it’s only going to make matters worse.”
Jim and Sharon were one of the fortunate couples that sought professional help before things got out of control.
Obviously, the best way to rebuild your marriage is to talk to your spouse. Talk to him or her about your needs, wants, and thoughts. Notably, the best way to prevent affairs in the first place is precisely the same. The best thing to do is to add more positive emotional contributions to your marriage. When efforts toward communication and positive contributions fail, seek professional advice.
After an affair
An extramarital affair is the most difficult situation that can affect a marital relationship. It eliminates the emotional bond between spouses. It also violates the basic trust of each partner. And it jeopardizes the health and well being of both parties.
Dr Glass made an impact among marriage therapists. She stated that “betrayed partners often suffered from post-traumatic stress. This is similar to that experienced by combat veterans.”
According to Dr Parziale, an affair is not only a sexual event. It is an emotional event. It is usually a consequence of the emotional distance between the married couple. In a paradoxical manner, the extramarital affair may temporarily create more closeness between the couple. But it will ultimately sends the relationship into a terrifying tailspin.
Usually, poor relationships result in people seeking extramarital affairs. If the relationship has drifted into stagnation, lack of emotional contact, constant conflict, or emotional distance, then the affair will eventually put the final nail into the coffin.
Probably the most important factor in aiding a marriage to recover from the affair is to rebuild trust. In most cases, it’s a rare event. And statistics are less than 2% for marriages to survive the affair. Rebuilding trust usually takes a long time and a lot of patience. It helps to know that the non-involved spouse will have “relapses” into distrust. There are many exercises for trust rebuilding. Letting down defensive behavior, despite the fear, is only one.
Affairs Lead to Divorce
“Most people don’t realize that infidelity is biblical grounds for divorce,” stated one infidelity victim. “Many people at my church just didn’t understand. They hadn’t been through it.”
It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re from. Extramarital affairs are an equal-opportunity disaster. “Finding support, and understanding the grieving process can be challenging”, Dr Parziale explains. “For both parties, it is like grieving the death of a loved one.”
“For the initiator of the divorce, there are distinct stages. They include alienation, breakup, looking back, mourning, and disentanglement. The letting go process starts early in the disappointments and disillusion of the working marriage. It still requires attention long after parting of the ways has been accomplished.”
For the non-initiator the stages are: shock, grief/rage, distancing, and indifference. The crucial phase is distancing. This is where the non-initiator begins to restructure his or new life without the partner.”
Both parties involved in a divorce go through a grieving process, although it feels and looks much different. Understanding the process for you and your ex partner is important in the healing process.
A Note From the Author:
When I began this article on infidelity I wanted to portray the anger that both spouses felt. It was in talking with the victims of infidelity, that the true nature of this indiscretion came into light. The wounds inflicted ten or twenty years ago are spoken with vehemence. It appears to the non-informed as if the pain occurred just yesterday. Clearly infidelity and divorce shatters lives. Some of the wounds and losses take years to heal. Some never do.
The scope of this topic exceeds the boundaries of the word count that my publisher allows. This is understandably so. Children, parents, families, siblings, friends, co-workers, and neighbors are all affected by an affair. Bonds of trust are broken, in many directions. In many cases they are never re-built.
If you’re considering a “fling” consider the consequences it will bring. Ask yourself, “is this sexual encounter really worth all the complications it will bring?”
This article was featured in the February 2005 issue of the “Good News Tucson” newspaper. The title of the original article is: “Affair Proofing” Your Marriage. It is written by Jennifer Boughton. (All the names in this article have been changed to protect their identities.)
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Filed under: Emotional & Physical Affair