Marriages are often in crisis due to infidelity. Let me present a common scenario. The husband has been unfaithful to his vows and has had several affairs. The wife is extremely upset and struggles to cope with her feelings of betrayal and anger.
The wife has been searching the literature for information about infidelity in hopes of better understanding what has happened to her and her marriage. She has been further upset by what she has read. All of the information she has seen has been discouraging. The authors have offered their opinion that the problem of infidelity is not fixable. They predict her husband will continue to be unfaithful.
The husband in this case has assured his wife that he will not stray again, and yet the trust is so poor in the marriage that the wife is naturally skeptical.
I have seen this scenario repeated many times. Infidelity creates a huge crisis for a couple. It is true that many marriages do not recover from this problem; however, it is important to note that others do.
Any crisis in a marriage is an opportunity to take stock and make some necessary changes. A partner who suddenly announces that she is unhappy and wants to get a divorce will deliver a severe “wake-up call” to her husband who did not realize that things were as bad as they are.
Perhaps an affair is another version of this “wake-up call”. It has been my experience that affairs tend to happen to weak marriages. This does not mean that it is the wife’s fault that her husband cheats on her. His unfaithfulness is his responsibility, as many people can become unhappy in a relationship and not act out in this way.
However, when a marriage is functioning well there is little time or energy to develop an outside relationship. Also, in a healthy marriage, there is a strong bond of loyalty that will help prevent trouble.
With any couple affected by the results of an affair, my counselling focus has been on the marriage, not the affair. To focus on the infidelity and the person involved is to give that person and the relationship more importance than it deserves. The critical issue is the marriage and what can be done to help it “rebuild”.
Frequently, a couple will not be talking much with each other or doing things together. Or, they may indeed be doing a lot together, but the conversation is sporadic or superficial. The husband, for instance, may be guarded in what he shares as he does not like to cause conflict or hurt.
If a marriage can be rebuilt it will be necessary to look at the frequency and quality of conversation. It is absolutely necessary that both partners feel free to say what is really on their minds. Such talk can generate unexpected emotion, but this is normal.
Management of emotion within a marriage is often a key issue. Perhaps, a husband will not speak up because he does not want his wife to get angry or hurt. Yet he has something important to say and she needs to hear it. If both partners know how to manage their feelings when they arise in a discussion, they are going to feel more confident in being open about positive and negative topics.