What to do when a previous affair continues to be an issue in a relationship?
What do you recommend to someone who made the decision to stay in a marriage after
an affair, yet years later, they still can’t completely get over their spouse’s infidelity?
We asked Tracey Ashcraft, MA, LPC, a therapist specializing in relationships, what she recommends. She gave us some insight as to ways to move forward when an infidelity from years ago, is keeping you rooted in the past:
Let’s face it, you may not ever completely “get over it." Surviving an affair can be
traumatic to some, depending on the circumstances. For instance, if the cheated on spouse was blindsided by learning of the indiscretion, it could set up a cycle of hypervigilance. Insecurity, a need to control one’s world, and chronic anxiety are just some symptoms that can emerge from being blindsided. Still, there can be hope for the relationship. Here are some tips for moving in that direction:
Decide to be “all-in” in the marriage. If you are finding yourself waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop so that you can have a reason to leave, you are unlikely to get over the affair. If you are all-in, you are 100 percent committing to the relationship, flaws and all.
Adopt the attitude of complete trust. This one can be challenging if you havenot fully processed the betrayal. If you have decided to continue in the marriage,this step can really free you of suffering. It is a kind of “fake-it-til-you-make-it” process. Act as if you completely trust your spouse. Coming from a place of trust can foster a deeper connection between the two of you.
Assess your triggers. It is normal to have emotional triggers even years after an affair. If you have committed to staying married, assess if the triggers indicate a real threat of new infidelity or if they are triggering old hurts. If you suspect there is no real threat, then it becomes your job to process the emotions by self-soothing emotionally. One way to self-sooth emotionally is to notice the feelings that are triggered and write out what you are feeling. It can be helpful to process these feelings with a therapist that specializes in relationships.
Listen to your intuition. If you are noticing things that don't add up, pay attention. If you do suspect your spouse is cheating again then it is time to make a plan. Before confronting your parter, it could be helpful to speak with a relationship counselor. Get clear on how you would like to proceed if you do learn of another betrayal.
Forgive yourself. Forgiving your spouse is implied in the steps above. If you decided to stay in the marriage, you have most likely done some forgiving of your partner. What you may not realize is that you may be “beating yourself up” or blaming yourself for the affair. No one is perfect in a relationship. A lot of learning and growing happens over the years spent in a marriage. If you have concerns that you were not good enough in certain ways or that you may have caused your spouse to stray, it is time to let yourself off the hook. If your spouse has chosen to be in the marriage for the long haul, that is where they are choosing to be. Forgive yourself for times you were not at your best and continue to show up as your best self in the marriage from today forward.
To learn more about how Tracey Ashcraft, MA, LPC has been helping people have more fulfilling relationships and live happier lives since 2004, check out: https://bestlifetherapy.com/
Return next week for additional advice when recovering from a past infidelity in the relationship.