Who Said It’s Not Your Affair?: Part 2
No one is immune to an affair. They can happen in any marriage and – according to some research – do in up to 45 percent of them. Luckily, most marriages survive beyond the affair. Nevertheless, even after wounds are healed, trust violations leave behind a crack in the relationship’s foundation with the potential to reopen.
Interestingly, however, these marriages still often thrive. Crisis forces an opportunity to clean up the relationship and the pain can guard against future complacency. Sometimes it’s not until faced with the near-destruction of the relationship that people are willing to do the painstaking work of self-evaluation and behavioral change.
We all know that prevention is always easier than cure. Prevention involves awareness of risk and proactive thinking about what situations and mindset could put each of you in harm’s way. Other protective action involves collaborating to minimize exposure to risk, increase awareness of the beginnings of temptation, and plan ways to resist.
Grudges, unhappiness/walling off, neglect, and secrecy are common dangers to marriage. Relationships are easily taken for granted but require active attention, positive input, and care to stay alive. Unhappiness in either partner needs to be taken seriously and addressed with an active problem-solving approach. Talking openly does involve risk, but it is secrecy which destroys. If unhappiness is not resolved, it becomes walled off and insidiously contaminates the marriage, leaving it vulnerable to attempted escape through affairs or other acting out.
When trust is violated by having an affair, it shatters the underlying sense of safety in the relationship which, when in place, offers an intangible stabilizing shield. The secrecy involved in conducting an affair operates as an accomplice to carrying it out. Secrecy and betrayal are the hallmark of affairs and the central source of damage to the relationship.
Rebuilding the shattered foundation of the marriage is a prerequisite to working on longstanding marital issues. The key elements are: accountability, reparation, and restoring trust.
Accountability means acknowledging responsibility for one’s own actions and bearing the cost. Responsibility includes refraining from temptation to blame others. When a man has an affair, for example, the wife’s role in the failure of the marriage, if this is the case, cannot be addressed unless the man “owns” his behavior and understands its consequences. Women are equally vulnerable to having affairs, so this example does not mean to suggest that the man is always the cheating spouse.
Reparation involves understanding the need for making concrete concessions toward restoring trust and good faith. Reparation may include openness to scrutiny without defensiveness. This isn’t the time to assert “right to privacy” issues. Making amends includes honoring specific, reasonable requests that offer objective assurances, for example, allowing his wife to look at his cell phone.