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Answers and Advice for Wayward Partners

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Help for Wayward Spouse to Understand

Question
I’m the wayward spouse needing help to understand. It’s been about 8 weeks since D-Day. The first few weeks, we were working together on the pain and recovery, but about 4 weeks ago, it was like a light switch went off. She has since told me, “I will never forgive you and you will never have me again.” She put herself on dating websites and started dating several weeks ago. We had a very deep love, and it seems as if it’s just being dismissed, along with the kids, house, business, etc. I am in individual counseling and am doing everything I can to deal with this; I want to have hope that this will pass with time, when she starts really facing this pain. Can you help me understand what’s going on? Thank you. 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Let’s address your concerns, beginning with the process of recovery a betrayed partner goes through after infidelity. You see, just like grief, recovery after infidelity does have its stages and symptoms. Your wife, for example, appears to have gone into “fixer-upper mode”, where in the aftermath of the discovery, a couple’s first reaction is to find what went wrong and fix it as soon as possible. People who react like this will instantly go into counseling, have lots of sex, start doing a lot of the things they didn’t have time to do before. The intensity and emotions run high as they try everything to fix the situation. The challenge is that you can’t really sustain that fixer-upper mode for long… because the problems can’t be fixed fast enough. So, eventually, they run out of energy… and that’s when it becomes apparent that recovery is not a sprint — it’s more of a marathon.

The moment this reality dawns…

Some people go through a process of discouragement, a feeling of hopelessness and debilitating doubts on whether they can or are able to recover from this. And if the doubts persist, they may eventually move into resistance and become uncooperative with the recovery efforts.

What’s happening here?

To help you understand, let’s take a note from the video gaming industry. Today’s video game designers are in a constant battle to achieve the perfect balance between making a video game easy enough for the player to keep on going, yet challenging enough to engage the player, so he doesn’t get bored — but not so challenging that the player becomes discouraged and loses faith in his own ability to win. Why? Because they know we humans are only motivated to play games we believe we can win, and the moment we believe that we’re doing something “in vain,” then we tend to abandon it.

Now here’s the connection between this and your wife’s process…

From your description, it seems your wife started out on the road to recovery thinking it was something she could handle, something she could fix, something you guys were going to be able to work out. And then somewhere along the road, she lost that optimism — she lost her faith in you and in the process. So, it seems that she lost the belief that “you guys” could still win as a couple, and unfortunately, this type of doubt is more cruel than any lie… because it’s often what causes highly intelligent people to give up mere seconds and inches before they achieve their goals. And if this is your case… it’s made your wife move into resistance, resentment and revenge as a result.

When you think about it, within the context of all that’s happened to her, maybe you can begin to understand how recovery from something like this can seem so impossible from where she stands. As a matter of fact, one of the most common questions I get from betrayed partners is, “can a marriage really survive this?” But what they’re really asking for is reassurance that it can be done, and that it has been done. Why do they seek this type of reassurance? Because that cruel voice of doubt is whispering in their minds… that it’s impossible… that their efforts will be in vain… or that history is going to repeat itself, so they might as well just give up now and cut their losses… before it’s too late.

 And as an Infidelity Recovery coach…

Part of my job is to help couples lower the doubts and fears long enough to give the recovery process a chance to work. Because like I said, this is a marathon and not a sprint, so the “will to keep going” is a key component to successful recovery. Sadly, it seems your wife lost some of that will pretty early in the process.

So, here are a couple of things for you to keep in mind.

Being blindsided by betrayal is like being in a 9.0 earthquake — it shatters that sense of certainty and the feeling of control that you thought you had. And when that happens, the most urgent need is to find a way to recapture that sense of certainty and control.

There are many different strategies people will use to attempt to do this. However, there are basically only two types: healthy strategies and dysfunctional strategies. And from your email, it appears your wife has chosen one of the more dysfunctional ones… revenge.

What is revenge? 

  • Revenge is a coping strategy for dealing with offenses and offenders.
  • Revenge is anger with a plan.
  • Revenge is the urge to even the score and win back control.
  • Revenge is a method of punishment designed to deliver maximum pain and suffering to the offender. 

When people move into revenge, it’s usually because they arrive at the conclusion that it’s the only way they can “win back power” or “take control” to ensure that offenders suffer for what they did. So, basically, the thinking is: to end my hurt… I must cause them to hurt.

And the statement she made “I will never forgive you, and you will never have me again,” is characteristic of the revenge coping strategy. Think about it.

She said, “I will never forgive you,” meaning “I am withholding my forgiveness to punish you.” And she said, “you will never have me again,” meaning, “I am rejecting you and depriving you of my affections to cause you to feel the same type of pain and suffering you caused me.”

Notice…

Revenge isn’t about justice; it’s about punishment.
Revenge isn’t about healing; it’s about evening the score.
Revenge isn’t about love; it’s about ego.
Revenge turns law-abiding citizens into vigilantes… causes loving people to become cold, cruel and calculating… turns victims into vicious perpetrators… and turns a once peaceful home into a battle zone.

So, the way I see it, there are four key questions you need to be asking yourself right now:

Key Question #1: How do you handle revenge when you’re on the receiving end of it?

Key Question #2: What, if anything, can you do to neutralize that urge for revenge?

Key Question #3: How do you motivate her to reengage, rather than abandon, in the recovery and reconciliation process?

Key Question #4: And what can you do to inspire her to believe in “us” again?

Now, my friend, those are questions worth asking and worth pondering in the coming days. The good news for you is that… you’re already working with a counselor, so maybe that’s a great place to begin looking for answers.
For now, here are some tips to get you heading in the right direction:

Communication is the key.

You’ve got to use words and phrasing that inspire cooperation and lower resistance to healing. For example, you can say to her… “I’m not asking for your forgiveness right now… maybe at some point we will get there… but that point is not now. Recovery is a process and it has to be taken in steps… we don’t want to try to run before we learn how to walk again.”
Notice: you’ve placed the thing she’s resisting (forgiveness) in the distance… at some time in the future, so that right now, she has nothing to resist.

Put revenge in proper perspective.

One the most common advice you can find among the GFN (girlfriend network) is that the way to get over a man is to be with another man. Of course it’s not true, but it can be effective… in the short term. While a new relationship is absorbing and may give the impression that you’ve moved on, the fact is, all the pain, hurt, anger and bitterness have just been suppressed. Pain, however, is like a vampire — try to bury it and it rises again. And this is why the negative baggage from previous relationships always finds its way into the next relationship.

You could say to her, “Revenge isn’t healing… it’s resistance to healing. Revenge doesn’t solve problems… it keeps you circling the problem like a buzzard. Revenge won’t make you feel better… it only turns you into a bitter person. Revenge doesn’t even the score… it brings you down to a lower level. Revenge won’t satisfy your need for justice… because two wrongs can’t make it right, just like how drinking sea water won’t quench your thirst.”

And you could remind her that even if you and her don’t make it, you wouldn’t want her to drag this hurt around.

Offer to atone, mend fences and make amends in healthier ways.

Here’s the thing. Even if you and her don’t make it, I think it’s important for you to do your part to make things right. So, with that end in mind, try to seek ways to make amends.

Don't try to force forgiveness.

Don’t try to make her feel guilty, and don’t try to act as if you’re entitled to forgiveness. This is a very important thing to be aware of because forgiveness, like love, can’t be forced upon anyone. It’s not a “right,” but a privilege. It’s not a favor; it’s a precious gift that must be given without conditions. In other words, she must voluntarily move into forgiveness or not at all.

The take away here for you is this…

While her need to retaliate, hit back and find ways to punish you are unpleasant for you to deal with, they’re also a part of the messy process of recovery after infidelity.

This is where you must not lose faith.

This is where you must not allow her actions to discourage you. This is where you must learn to lead under pressure. This is where you’ve got to be willing to stand in the storm — especially when you’re the one that sunk the boat. You must be willing to ride through the waves of negativity. You must continue to hold on to the belief that you can make it. If you already have my 7-Step Home Study Program for the Wayward Spouse, I want you to go back and listen to steps 1 and 2 again (Damage Control: What To Do When You’ve Been Caught Cheating and Standing in the Storm). These will become your mental toughness “crash course” that’s going to give you the tools and coping skills to help you weather this storm and make sure you don’t crack under the pressure so that you both come out on the other side stronger than before.

Final thoughts.

Here’s the thing… when moments of dejection, frustration or overwhelm try to take over… just remind yourself that recovery after infidelity is a marathon, not a sprint. Remind yourself that “normal” doesn’t return in one grand gesture — it returns slowly, in inches and seconds. Remind yourself that the road to reconciliation isn’t a straight and narrow highway, but more of a winding country road filled with lots of rough patches, twists, turns, stops and starts.

But… that’s no excuse to give up… because what you’re working towards is too important to allow doubt and discouragement to win. Tell yourself that all the painful, messy and unpleasant moments are just like childbirth — it will be worth it. Let me know how else I can help.

I wish you all the best.