Kyle and Rachel have been married (mostly happily) for eight years. Rachel is a hairstylist and Kyle is a successful real estate agent. They have a boy and a girl, ages four and six. They look like a picture perfect family of four. But lately Rachel has noticed a change under the surface. Kyle started to grow distant a few months ago. He spends more hours at the office and has become increasingly less interested in sex with his wife.
Rachel began to suspect something was amiss, especially when Kyle stopped speaking about Ashley, a new woman at the office with whom Kyle had formed a fast friendship. Kyle had told Rachel about the common intersections he shared with Ashley — they both liked football, she vacationed where he grew up, and how they were co-listing a property together. But recently, she was absent from his conversations at home. When the phone rang last weekend, Rachel picked it up, but the person hung up on the other end.
Rachel spoke to her husband about her fears. She even asked him point-blank if he was having an affair. Kyle seemed shocked and horrified she’d even ask, so she dropped it. But after the phone call, Rachel knew something wasn’t right. Then one afternoon when she was in town running errands, Rachel saw Kyle and Ashley coming out of restaurant together. They were miles away from their office, so it wasn’t a meeting. And they were laughing and holding hands.
That night, when Rachel confronted Kyle about what she saw, he first denied it. He said he’d been at the office the entire day. Rachel was livid. But she gained control of her feelings to keep at the discussion. Finally Kyle admitted he was having an affair. He started by confessing that the affair was “just a few kisses” here and there, but eventually admitted it was more: they’d slept together multiple times in the last several months.
Rachel was crushed.
Kyle vowed he would end it. After several hours of hurtful and painful conversation, Kyle and Rachel agreed to cool down. They’d talk again in a few days after they had collected their thoughts. Then they could discuss the affair further.
After the Affair: The Importance of Sharing Your Story
It took awhile – days, weeks, and months, in fact, to unpack the narrative after the affair. Dr. Shirley Glass, an infidelity expert, contends that this sharing of the story is a critical step toward healing the fall-out from an affair. Glass writes, “A vital part of trauma recovery is telling the story of what happened… This applies to the trauma of an affair, too. If you don’t know the story of the affair, you may recover but you will not heal – the wounds will always be there.”
Telling the story after the affair is a cooperative act. In a survey of more than 1,000 betrayed spouses, what is paramount to staying married is when couples engage in honest conversation after the affair. Then they must work together cooperatively to tell the story. Glass writes, “The final story of the affair must be co-constructed by both partners to account for all of the secrets, unanswered questions, and contrasting interpretations and attributions.”
Why it Helps to Talk Honestly After the Affair
It’s extremely difficult for both spouses to tell the story after the affair. For the betrayed partner, it’s hurtful to hear how and why the affair began and was conducted. Glass comments, “It can be humiliating [for the involved spouse] to discuss actions now perceived as wrong.” It feels like talking more will make it harder to heal. But telling the story of the affair can actually re-build intimacy.
Here’s how: Honest discussion after the affair will help the betrayed spouse understand the story. This is vital to his or her healing and recovery. Glass says that “telling the story of the affair replaces a fictionalized account with the truth.” An affair grows on lies and secrecy. To re-establish trust, both partners must truthfully explore the story of the affair together. They must “get out their calendars, discuss the receipts, and review the cell phone calls.” This allows the one who has had the affair to clear up misconceptions and rebuild trust.
Secondly, telling the story of the affair allows couples to reconfigure marital intimacy. Sharing the story – though it hurts – actually re-creates trust by bringing in the injured partner into the details of the affair. Glass comments, “It’s hard to be truly close to someone when you’re hiding something of significance from him or her… Sharing the details is an act of positive demolition. The involved spouse dismantles the structure that kept the injured spouse outside in the cold and replaces deceit with hope.”
In our example, when Kyle shared the story with Rachel, it allowed him to begin recovery, too. He had to articulate why and how he let himself get involved with Ashley. He realized at the other end how small decisions weakened his marriage vows. Glass concurs, “Involved partners need to tell the story of the affair for their own recovery… Letting the secrets out of the bag helps them detach from the affair partner and dissolve the romantic fantasy.” When partners share the story after the affair together, this doesn’t only help the betrayed spouse recover from trauma and get details. It also helps the partner who has had the affair to end the infidelity by breaking ties with the affair partner and allows them to begin to recover intimacy and trust with their spouse.
Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help Post-Affair Recovery
Rebuilding a marriage after an affair can feel impossible. The journey of recovery is hard and will take effort and empathy at every step. Many Christian counselors have seen marriages experience an increase in intimacy after an affair. Trained Christian counselors in Spokane can help spouses communicate clearly and thoughtfully as as they share the story of an affair together.
“Secrets,” courtesy of Ivan, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Stand by Me,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Time to Talk,” courtesy of Kaboompics//Karolina, pexels.com, CC0 License