|By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, March 1, 2017|
Learning that your spouse has had an affair is a jarring, traumatic emotional experience. For the foreseeable future after the discovery (or your spouse’s confession), you’ll go through a deeply painful mourning period. Everything you believed about your life before this knowledge may be shattered, and you may wonder if you’ll ever be able to trust your spouse again.
Picking up the pieces after infidelity is incredibly difficult, but it can be done. The question is, can it be done if your spouse isn’t willing to dig into the why behind his or her actions?
WHY WE WANT TO KNOW
If you’ve been betrayed by your spouse, you’re most likely trying to figure out why they made the choice to have an affair. You’re probably asking yourself questions like:
It might feel tempting to try to answer all these questions (and more) at once. After all, infidelity will rock your marriage to the core, and if you’ve recently learned of an affair, you’re probably trying to decide what the future has in store. Will you be able to work it out? Will you need to end the marriage? What’s going to happen?
It’s normal to want to know what to expect going forward, as much as possible. For this reason, you might be inclined to question your spouse to get to the bottom of the issue. If you can learn the reasons behind the affair, you believe, perhaps that will help you determine your next steps–especially if the two of you want to work toward saving your marriage.
Learning the reasons behind an affair can also be a powerful form of closure. Perhaps you feel like you can’t forgive completely or move forward unless you’ve gotten all the answers from your spouse. But often, spouses who have been unfaithful don’t want to dwell on details of an affair, much less get to the bottom of the reasons why it happened.
If your spouse is holding back or avoiding conversation about the affair, it can create tremendous anxiety for you. Shouldn’t your spouse be willing to open up and answer all your questions? After all, he or she is the one who’s in the wrong…right?
WHY YOUR SPOUSE WON’T DIG DEEPER
When infidelity has occurred, spouses who have committed adultery often aren’t very articulate about what has happened, and don’t have a deep sense of understanding about the internal factors that drove their decisions to engage in the affair. If your spouse is avoiding these conversations, it’s likely he or she lacks insight into the “whys.”
Another motivation he or she might have is shame regarding the series of decisions that led up to this situation. Your spouse isn’t proud of what has happened, and it’s not something they want to repeat. At this point, they’re so bogged down by the shame of what they’ve done that they have a deep desire to move forward rather than wallowing in the past. Answering questions dredges up emotions, mental images, and more questions that your spouse probably doesn’t want to deal with over and over again.
The future seems very, very bright compared to what you’re going through right now. Your spouse is craving that brighter future, away from the dark season you’re in.
All these factors can compel your spouse not to look deeper into the situation at all; they just want to move forward and put all this behind you. The problem is, you might be left feeling like you’re in the dark.
MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER
Can you and your husband or wife move forward without dissecting the reasons behind an affair? Absolutely. But only the two of you can determine whether this path is the best for you. Healing from infidelity is very tough, no matter how you and your spouse choose to approach it.
What matters most is where you’re headed as a couple, not necessarily understanding everything about the past. You can choose to put it behind you and move forward without digging into the details, but it won’t be easy. (Bear in mind that, after an affair, every path to recovery is difficult in its own way–and the answers are different for each couple.)
While it may be possible to heal and move forward without delving into all the reasons behind an affair, keep in mind that lack of open communication can make it more difficult to reestablish trust. If you feel that your spouse’s avoidance of the topic indicates a desire to hide the truth (whether that’s their motivation or not), that’s likely to raise your suspicions and feed resentment.
If you don’t have an open license to discuss how you’re feeling with your spouse or ask him or her questions about what has happened–and have them honestly answer–trust may not be reestablished in your relationship. Infidelity wreaks havoc on the emotions of the injured spouse, and one important avenue to healing is the ability to freely express how you’re feeling and ask questions. This is not to drag your spouse through the mud over what he or she has done, but rather to reach forgiveness and the closure we talked about earlier.
Agreeing together on a commitment to openness will allow your communication to flow more freely. This is key to healing from the affair that has hurt your marriage so deeply. If you are unable to reach this agreement at first, take heart in knowing that it is possible to move forward regardless. But we strongly recommend finding a way to open those lines of communication between the two of you (seeking out a professional counselor can help you to do this).