It’s been an extraordinary year – if there was ever a time to go a tad kooky, it’s now. I am therefore getting in ahead of the ‘silly’ season of Christmas and New Year.
If we do get to indulge in a little festive fraternisation, this does mean greater opportunity to go too far with regretful consequences. It may well be easier to throw caution to the wind at the time, however acting on feelings harboured throughout the year such as resentment or lust can get you in a right pickle!
The infamous “Life’s short, have an affair” website, Ashley Madison, has continued to prove it doesn’t take a festive season for people to want to step outside their marriage. Ashley Madison reported a continued boom – despite their 2015 setback, when client names were revealed by hackers – and a recent interview quoted the Chief Strategy officer boasting increased numbers amidst the pandemic. They are attracting 17,000 members per day, up from 15,500 per day last year.
Here’s the reality:
- Infidelity has and will always manifest through lineages and the ensuing devastating repercussions that impact generations. Why lineages? In my experience, far too many couples recovering from affairs in my counselling room are the result of examples set in their ‘family of origin’, such as parents or grandparents. We can’t underestimate the value of the legacy we leave for the next generation.
- It is not catastrophising to say that discovering an affair creates a crisis! Both partners can experience feelings such as hurt, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, shame and guilt. For the unsuspecting “injured” partner, any sense of security and safety has been shattered – it is a devastating threat to your partner’s security and attachment needs. Consider the extreme emotional adversity and vulnerability from isolation and separation, miscarriage, death, and life-threatening illnesses. Infidelity is not dissimilar. The aftermath can cause poor physical health, fuel alcohol and substance abuse, create symptoms for post-traumatic stress disorder and even result in suicide.
- Many people mistakenly think that infidelity isn’t really infidelity unless there is sexual contact. An emotional affair may have you feeling that the other person “gets you” more than your partner – they dominate your thoughts and you share difficulties about your current relationship with them. They become your “go-to” person when something exciting happens or you have news. You find you redirect your attention and create reasons to spend time with the other person, often at unusual hours. You lie. Lying by omission counts. If you’re omitting information and deleting messages, chances are you have something to hide and you probably know it is not ok.
Often, it is the lack of expressing your desires or being validated or acknowledged that leads you to the arms of another person.
“Will we ever recover together?”
Like many extreme traumatic life events, couples can recover when there is demonstrated commitment toward remorse and forgiveness.
- Injured partners often have intrusive memories, flashbacks and can alternate between feeling numb and becoming hyper-aroused and accusatory. Normalising the swinging pendulum of these reactions is a welcomed discussion in the counselling room. We collaborate on skills to manage flashbacks, obsessions and triggers and talk about the difference between reconciliation and forgiveness.
- We then commence with understanding who the betrayer sought to “become” and what needs they yearned to fulfil?
- A usual pitfall for couples in recovery is for the betrayer to downplay what has happened in their efforts to repress any shame and guilt. This causes the injured partner to repeat questions and concerns again, with more fervour. It creates a painful cycle that traps them in isolation and pain. The more the betrayer represses, the more the injured partner obsesses.
- There is an expectation of a demonstrated commitment that includes an acknowledgement that a primary relationship rule has been broken.
- We focus on the requirement for transparency, patience, reassurance and validation to repair the broken trust.
It can take up to three years for trust to be re-established. In therapy, affair recovery recognises the needs of both partners, their longings and desires versus repeated shame for the betrayer.
The greatest outcome is that couples build a stronger, shiner, new and improved city of a relationship, far better than the one that was rocked in the earthquake of the affair. If couples decide to part, it is so important to unveil any resulting skewed beliefs about themselves or trusting others that can inhibit future relationships.
May I highlight that while it may seem appealing to get fun and flirty in the Christmas season, remember the consequences of doing it with the wrong person.
Joanne Wilson is the Relationship Rejuvenator and author of Renovate Your Relationship – All The DIY Tools For Your Most Important Project ($29.99). She is a neuropsychotherapist inspiring the community for thriving and dynamic relationships that impact generations for mental well-being. Find out more at www.relationshiprejuvenator.com