Recovering from an Affair
Every couple has a stated or assumed contract that determines what is and is not okay when attracted to other people. Cheating is when one member of a couple unilaterally decides to break or change the contract they have with each other instead of talking about it with the partner. Once the break is discovered, the trust between the couple is badly damaged. The result is a constant undercurrent of suspicion, anxiety, insecurity and even fear. The behavior of both people gets twisted.
I’m using the pronoun “she” for the following description of the consequences of cheating to couple dynamics, but it is just as likely to be a “he.” Men and women are equally capable of taking either role.
The cheatee, the person hurt by the betrayal of trust, is likely to become self-protective. She becomes hyper-alert for any indication that trust has again been broken. She may insist on going over and over what happened in her efforts to understand it and to be sure it won’t happen again. She may start to check up on her partner by snooping on his cell phone or monitoring his emails. She may shut down and become less loving and less caring. She doesn’t like herself for how suspicious she has become. She may hate that she is playing detective. But she doesn’t want to be hurt again.
The cheater also is on edge. She may become hyper-reactive to confrontations and accusations. She may minimize the behavior or hide it or rationalize it as the other person’s fault. Lies tend to multiply. Rationalizations are paraded out as “reasons.” She feels that every encounter requires walking on eggshells, so she becomes less available to her partner. If she does acknowledge the guilt, she may not like herself very much for hurting the person she most loves. She may try hard but feel like she can never do enough to win back the comfort and trust that once existed between her and the person she loves. She may feel that her only course of action is to pack up her emotions and leave.
When someone cheats, that is, violates their couple contract, the couple can end up in a negative spiral that looks something like this:
Person A cheats.
Person B finds out and is terribly hurt, sad and angry.
Person A denies, defends and rationalizes or apologizes.