The unfaithful partner experiences relief. It has been exhausting living a life of lies and duplicity. Everything is now out in the open.
The offender experiences impatience and just wants to move on. That is assuming it is like a gate or door that can be walked through and closed behind the couple. They need to know it is more like an open door that one moves through as a process.
There is also a chronic anxiety and also grief over the loss of the lover. Those working with unfaithful couples need to remind the unfaithful spouse to not expect the hurt partner to understand this grief.
There is sometimes justified and sanctimonious anger along with an absence of guilt. These two emotions go hand in hand. The unfaithful partner can appear shallow and self serving. Often the offender didn’t feel loved, appreciated, or cared for before during and after the affair. They are not sorry for the affair but rather for the hurt it caused.
Often there is a combination of isolation and hopelessness. Because of the isolation, they wonder who they can talk to. They can feel shunned but counseling can help stabilize that feeling. Their greatest fear is that they won’t be forgiven. They can feel like they don’t deserve to be loved and don’t deserve a second chance.
Finally, they can experience paralysis and self-disgust. There can be crippling shame. When the guilt progresses from guilt to shame, the unfaithful partner is less likely to work to be forgiven. If the partner experiences guilt, he or she is more likely to work to be forgiven. The unfaithful partner also usually experiences guilt over the children.
In order to help the healing and start rebuilding the unfaithful partner need to have a funeral to say good bye to the lover. There needs to be finality with no response, etc with the lover. The offender needs to write an apology. In the letter, the unfaithful needs to address the respective hurts of their spouse.
In helping couples, the hurt partner needs to look at responsibility. We can also help then normalize these and all responses.
Marriage counseling with a counselor who believes in saving marriages is essential. Helen Wheeler, is just that.
The Hurt Partner’s Response: An Avalanche of losses
The hurt party loses his or her identity along with their sense of specialness. The spouse realizes that he/she can be replaced. This is especially true if the affair happened locally. Did the spouse take the paramour to the couple’s favorite restaurant?
The offended party loses their self respect when they forfeit their basic values. They believe they have forfeited their basic values when they tried to get the other person back. Their self respect when they realize they didn’t acknowledge that they were wronged and didn’t confront the truth. There is often depression. Their greatest fear is that they will never feel safe again.
They lose their sense of control over their thoughts and actions. Often they become “checkers” checking phone records, Face Book, email accounts, etc. Along with that comes guilt that they don’t trust their spouse. They lose their fundamental sense of order and justice in the world. Their world is now filled with chaos.
If they are people of faith, they sometimes lose their religious faith; they ask “if God were good, why did he allow this to happen?”
Along with their connection with God, they also lose their connection with others. They question who do they tell? Do they tell their friends, parents, siblings, etc? There is a great sense of isolation. This is especially true when the offended party is a woman who has been close with her mother and/or sisters. Women tend to heal by talking and when that happens, men tend to feel betrayed.
The can become suicidal because they lose their sense of purpose. They feel abandoned and unlovable.
What needs to happen is to help the injured party feel normal. They need to acknowledge that they have been changed. They have to come back to knowing themselves. To heal, the injured party needs to talk about their losses and to normalize the shame and the shattered dreams.
They need to have the courage to forgive and the freedom to not forgive
Look for another blog on the response from the unfaithful partner
Helen Wheeler has experience not only as a counselor and teacher, but also as a mediator for the Family Court. She supervisors and teachers interns and practicum students for those seeking to become Licensed Professional Counselors