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Surviving the Bomb: First Steps After the Affair

Finding out that your partner has been unfaithful has the potential to be one of the most devastating experiences a person can encounter in his/her life.   A common and appropriate reaction, given the circumstances, is panic.  There is generally nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions, and as a result, many couples do unintentional damage before they can seek help.  This is to be expected as no one tells you what you should do in the immediate aftermath of an affair.

The main goal is to limit the destruction in the time between finding out and getting help.  Here are some crisis control tips to follow until you can get some additional help:

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10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Throwing In the Towel on Your Marriage

Making the decision to stay or leave your marriage may seem overwhelming in the wake of a revealed affair or other traumatizing event.  It’s normal upon hearing that a spouse has been unfaithful to assume the marriage is over and that the love you once shared is gone forever.  Both partners may feel highly emotional and perhaps hopeless about their future together.  This is a good time to put on the brakes and slow things down.  Rushing into a life altering decision such as a divorce may actually compound the problem and prolong the hurt you and your partner are experiencing.  Before making any life changing decisions, allow yourself a brief waiting period, somewhere between 8 to 12 weeks, to think things through.  Your decision will have far reaching effects for you, your spouse, and your children.Wasatch Family Therapy Couples

Read through the following questions and share your answers with your partner, a close friend, or a therapist.

  1.  How will my life be different if we get divorced?
  2.  How will our children’s lives be different?
  3.  What first attracted me to my spouse?
  4.  What are my best memories with my spouse?
  5.  What will I miss the most about my marriage?
  6.  Down deep, do I still love my spouse?
  7.  Are my partner and I generally compatible?
  8.  Is my partner a generally dependable and trustworthy person?
  9.  Am I able to explore vulnerabilities in our marriage?
  10. Am I willing to work on my marriage?

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How Much Should I Tell My Children About An Affair?

The answer is as little as possible.  Children may require an explanation if they see or hear evidence of infidelity or if they are going to read about it online or in the media.  In some situations, talking with your children is the only way they can understand what is happening in the family.  However, children should never be told details of an affair and asked to keep it secret.  Share only with your children what you are comfortable with them sharing with friends, teachers, and relatives.  If you and your spouse are working to repair your relationship rather than separating or divorcing then it is usually better to keep the matter discreet.

Consider the psychological and emotional burden it would place on a child to overhear his mother accusing his father of loving another woman.  Imagine a father, feeling hurt and betrayed, blurting out to his children that their mother is having sex with a coworker.  Exposure to such information can create fear, confusion, and insecurity for the child.

There are times when parents do find it is necessary to say something.  For example, your children may ask, “Why are you and dad going to counseling every week?” or “Are you and mom getting divorced?”  When this happens, it is best to sit down with your children together and answer their questions simply and honestly.  Here are a few examples of age appropriate responses:

Preschoolers: “Mommy and Daddy have a problem that has nothing to do with you.  We both love you so you don’t have to worry.”

Grade-Schoolers: “What have you noticed that has made you worried?”  “Mom and Dad are having difficulty getting along, but we still love each other and want to work things out.”

Teen and Young Adults: “Yes, your mom and I are going to see a therapist every Monday night for the next few months.  I made a mistake and got too friendly with a woman at work, but your mother and I love each other and want to stay together.”

What children want to know most is that their lives will not be disrupted and that they can count on their parents to be accessible and responsive to their needs.  By limiting exposure to details, discussing fears, and constantly reassuring children of your love and commitment to them and your marriage, you create an atmosphere of safety and emotional security for your children.

For further information, a book I frequently recommend to my clients on this subject is “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity” by Shirley P. Glass, PhD.

 

 

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