Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
Last week, I met with several new couples who are in the beginning stages of recovering from an affair. Affairs are so hard on couples to work through, but not impossible. One research study reported that 70% of couples who experience an affair are able to work through the effects successfully.
There is a common theme among those who were unfaithful … “let’s move on” and for their partners it is “we have a lot to talk about.” So … the question for the therapist is often “how long DO we have to talk about the affair”?
The answer, of course, is different for each situation and couple but generally there are some guidelines:
Talk about it until all of the “who, what, when, where and why questions” have been answered.
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Many therapists agree that one of the hardest parts of the affair is the secret that occurred between the two who had the affair and from the spouse. In order to heal that damage, the secret must be revealed.
A willingness to talk, no matter how painful, is an important way that trust can be rebuilt. Answering questions and listening to a partner’s pain is an important way to say “I have no more secrets from you. There is nothing that you can ask that I have not or will not answer.“
Until that happens, those who have been betrayed will find that they cannot let go of the questions and worries. Once questions have been answered then the obsessions can subside.
The hurt partner should guide the conversation and information flow. He or she will know how much that they can handle at that moment in time. The one who had the affair should be open and honest. While it may feel cruel, it really is not helpful or protective to hide information.
Talk about it whenever the hurt partner needs to … for the first few days.
After that, find ways to limit the conversation to much smaller amounts of time in order to allow the relationship to heal and recover. Once all of the basic information has been uncovered, it is good to step away from affair talk and focus on rebuilding the friendship. The friendship is what brings couples together in the first place and that is what forms an important part on the path toward healing.
Be sure to find time on a regular basis to continue the conversation but limit that time to no more than 20 minutes a day early on in the recovery. Later, have increasing amounts of time between those conversations.
If putting a limit on it is too hard to do; find your way to a therapist’s office who specializes in affair recovery. The therapist will be able to guide you along the path toward healing and the controlled environment can make it easier for the conversations to occur.
Talk about it as long as is needed, without asking for an ending date.
For many it will take months … or even years Most people report that they never forget about the affair; however, over time, they accept, forgive, grow, learn and move forward in their marriage.
Experiences, memories, places and events can all trigger thoughts, questions, flashbacks and feelings. The betrayed person must be able to ask questions or share those thoughts and feelings without being scared that will be the end of the marriage.
It is also a very healing thing for the person who betrayed to periodically check in, open up the conversation and ask about how their spouse is feeling and what he or she is thinking. Feeling mentally exhausted from constant repetitive thoughts? Take our repetitive thoughts test to evaluate the impact of repetitive thinking on your overall well-being.
Talk about it until the hurt person feels like their spouse has a full understanding of how hurt, disappointed, sad, betrayed and angry they have felt and are feeling.
This will take sometime. The person who betrayed is often consumed with their own feelings and, while they certainly feel bad for what they have done, the scope of their spouse’s experience is often too much to bear.
Over time, with conversations, possibly letter-writing and a lot of listening and acknowledging, this can happen.
Talk about it until a sincere and honest apology has occurred and been acknowledged.
Punishment is not the goal, recovery is most important. When both spouses are in a calmer place, feelings have been recognized and understood, amends made and an honest and sincere apology made and accepted, couples are ready to stop the conversation about the affair.
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