Hi Suzie, my name is Cecile and I am from France, originally but I live in Ireland. My partner recently found out that I had an affair around the time our daughter was born and he’s willing to reconcile.
But he’s saying that any reminder of that time (like photos from when my daughter was small) is really painful for him.
And he cannot look back at that period of our life without suffering. And he would like some (we would like some) idea of what we can do about this. Thanks!
First of all, thank you, Cecile, for taking the time to share your question with our community and reaching out for the help you guys need. You’re in a challenging situation. I feel it for you and I feel it for your partner for what you guys are going through.
A couple of things come to mind right away.
One being that I don’t know the timeline, so I don’t know where we are in terms of when this happened. (And today…I don’t know whether you’re three months in, six months in or one year in…So I’m just going to give you the general information).
It takes about 18 months from any kind of data discovery or triggering event for the brain to re-write any adversities.
It might be that some of what’s going on in your situation is time-related.
Because when it comes to healing, time is always a part of the conversation. So I don’t really know how much of a factor it is that this might be early wounding for your partner.
The other thing is that the timing of the affair is coinciding with another really emotional time: the birth of a child.
There’s never a good time to have an affair.
However, there are some times that it just really carries more weight. And usually, this would be when there are other big emotions going on. For example…a birth of a child leads to many intense emotions, as in your case.
But I’ve worked with clients where the affair was happening at Christmas…it was happening at someone’s birthday….the affair partner was met at a funeral.
Those two big emotions can sometimes kind of caboose.
You know, like a train does, where just kind of gets all connected together.
And I’ll talk a little bit more about how we unhook those two experiences. The thing that did come across (to me) that you said, which I really one of zero in and put a spotlight on…is the fact that you said he’s willing to reconcile.
This is so huge…
…that we have someone that is willing to look beyond the hurt and choose something bigger– his family, his wife, his commitment. And so I really want to commend him for the willingness. You know, I really believe that willingness is the secret ingredient in every reconciliation recipe. If there’s willingness, I can almost work with any other difficulty. Willingness just makes it workable. It’s the fundamental key. So I’m really glad to hear that you say that he’s willing to do that… Because with that willingness, we can really move mountains.
Speaking of mountains, here is the trigger.
When looking back at the images of the birth, now it is being hooked up to the affair. Triggers are very challenging for all of us. All human beings experience triggers when we have high emotional times. A trigger is just when a certain sequence becomes anchored to a particular stimuli.
In his case, it seems to be visual because you used words like “picture.” So when he sees pictures, we know that part of the trigger sequence for him is seeing something.
Now, that’s an important thing because it’s also going to be part of what’s going to help us… (to help him…) to neutralize some of those triggers. There’s several different things that you can do. Some of them are very behavioral-driven to help neutralize or dial down the negative emotions associated with a trigger.
There is exposure therapy.
This is where you let yourself experience the thing over and over again. So (for example), he can sit down with the pictures of the baby and go through them and play good music, put himself in a good state so he can re-associate some positive experiences to those images. That’s one approach.
Another approach is to allow himself to unhook the two experiences. So, to make a mental compartmentalization between the two. The birth of daughter, and the wife’s affair…(should mentally become) two completely separate things. And again, there’s a lot of behavioral things that you can do to simulate that.
Now, I’m a person that believes in what you call self signaling.
So, a classic example of self signaling would be me recommending for a client who is experiencing shame around their affair to buy a product (with the word “purity”), or simply find a way to put the word “purity” somewhere in their bathrooms. I just want them to signal to themselves (at an other-than-conscious level) that they are still pure.
In this case…
It might also be helpful for your partner to put little pictures of his daughter in the bathroom and put the word “innocent”, or put the word “joy.” (These are my choice of words. Maybe ask him for words that he’d want to reframe of that time, so that nothing is tainted or ruined… That way, there’s no narrative in the mind that he can associate with that picture by coming up with the opposite words.).
Hopefully, I’m making myself clear.
I want you to understand a little bit about the process. The goal here is to get the other-than-conscious mind to shift… Because unfortunately, triggers are not conscious. They’re occur within the nervous system. You know, they function in that other-than-conscious place.
And so, putting things out visually and self-signaling seems to be helpful in that way. So, I would certainly say that’s that’s a couple of things to do.
One of the things that you also mentioned is that he hasn’t been able to look at the pictures without suffering. And those two words… “without suffering” … are the key to healing. The real definition of healing is to have a memory without suffering.
To wrap up where we’re going….
You may be wondering…what is the destination is for your partner or what does his true healing look like?
A true healing for him will be when he’s able to look at the pictures and have the memory without suffering.
Now, I wanted to give you that language so that he understands what the destination and the goal looks like. How he gets there? There’s a lot of different ways. When he gets there? Some of that is up to him, and some of that is just up to time.
I hope that you found something helpful in what I said for the both of you… And that your family can heal and actually grow as a result of this.
Thank you, Cecile. Take care.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!