“People cheat on each other in a hundred different ways: indifference, emotional neglect, contempt, lack of respect, years of refusal of intimacy. Cheating doesn’t begin to describe the ways that people let each other down.”
I know about affairs, I know they are destructive, emotional, painful, unbearably painful at times – but I also know that out of the darkness comes light, love, connection and above all truth.
Often after an affair a couple come to me, one hanging their head in shame and the other wanting to express their anger, disappointment and suffering. I take a deep breath and listen, I listen to their painful stories of hurt and betrayal, while the shameful one sits quietly, wishing for the session to finish, so that this sacrament of reconciliation is over. I say, we hurt each other, not because we want to cause pain but because we are in pain. I want to understand that pain and work with you both through the pain, this is not an easy process, it will take time and it will be draining, there will be highs and there will be lows but I will be here, to hold your hand and walk you through the darkness and into the light, the light of truth, honesty and understanding. You may leave together or you may leave apart, I don’t know which way you will go but I do know that you will know yourselves better, have a true understanding of each other, your past and how it impacts the present. How does that sound to you? Would you like to go on this journey?
Affairs are messy, they are like an open wound, people want to stick a plaster on to make it all better, but I want them to look at that wound and work out where is has come from. It is often like a sore; it has been under pressure for a long period of time and now the injury is beginning to show, in the shape of an affair. We cannot stick a plaster on it because that will be a short-term fix, we need to look at the cause of the sore, to make the necessary changes, so that the wound can heal.
Our past, our childhood, are the building blocks for our adult relationships, so I often begin at the beginning. I ask my couples about their childhoods, what was it like being in your family? Whose love did you crave the most? Who did you have to be to get that love? How was your parents’ relationship? So many questions, I am so curious and with every question I am building a picture in my mind of the child and how they were feeling. It is like making a puzzle, putting all the pieces together until there is a complete picture. The picture tells me a story, it might be a story of abandonment, of fear of rejection and pain, which ends with them withdrawing from their partner. It may be a story of inconsistent love, where they were desperate to be loved, became a difficult child and then an adult needy for love. The story can be hard to hear, it can be a painful childhood, where the child has been neglected, the adult that only knows pain and so, causes pain.
Coming out of the dark and into the light is always my favourite part of the process, it is that “ah ha” moment, that realisation that we are a result of our conditioning, the discourses and illnesses that run through our families and through-out our society. I move away from blame, blaming each other, our families, ourselves and instead I look at the discourse within. Our self-limiting beliefs and defences are a form of self-protection, but when we are protecting ourselves against the ones we love the most, we create a space, the space gets bigger and bigger until we cannot reach each other; we are adrift on our rafts paddling in the wrong direction. We need to take a risk, jump off the raft and dive deep to understand ourselves, be vulnerable and take responsibility.
Diving deep is hard, painful and draining, it usually comes right after the “ah ha” moment. It involves looking at our behaviours and being our vulnerable selves, being brutally honest and above all showing up. I am here, this is me, I am human, I make mistakes and I am sorry.
“I am sorry”, three words, said in a heartfelt way, can change everything. Acknowledging deeply the pain that has been caused, expressing the remorse and guilt for hurting the one that we love the most, lessens the power. Now with the newfound depths of understanding, they can validate their partner’s feelings and be present in their pain. Instead of justifying their behaviour they are accepting responsibility and listening, the space between them gets smaller and they feel more connected than ever before.
Affairs are heartbreaking but they can also be restorative, I often say your marriage will never be the same again, say goodbye to your old marriage and step forward into your new marriage. This is a marriage based on strength and resilience, you have had these conversations and now you have the knowledge and awareness to come out of your contrived illusion of safety and into a marriage that is connected, kind and, above all; honest.