Stirring Things Up – Finding Meaning in the Affair

finding meaning in the affair“It’s time to move on.” “I know I screwed up and I know I won’t do it again.” “Digging up all these past wounds doesn’t do either of us any good.”

Have you heard (or said) any – or all – of these phrases in the past?

Of course you as the betrayed also want nothing more than to move on, but you can’t.

To the cheater, moving on means no longer discussing the affair. Usually this is because every time it is talked about there are emotions, crying, anger and pain. Things that they typically want to avoid.

The problem is though, that the betrayed spouse continues to think about the affair no matter how hard he/she tries not to. There are still so many unanswered questions…

“How could he have done this?” “What was missing in our marriage?” “Was she seduced by this other man in some way?” ” How can I compete with the other person?” “Why should I stay?”

Until the betrayed spouse is certain that both partners understand how and why the affair occurred, they can’t feel secure that another affair wouldn’t eventually happen again. Thus, they can’t move on.

If you’ have been able to somewhat move through the initial recovery stages following D-day and your life has been somewhat restored to normal, there aren’t quite so many angry outbursts, you’ve been able to take care of yourself and there isn’t quite the emotional distance in the marriage, why on earth would you want to stir things up now and talk about the affair?

It’s really quite simple…

As a betrayed spouse, you need to learn as much as you can about why the affair happened to restore the emotional security that is essential to rebuild trust and intimacy.

As the wayward spouse, you need to explore why the affair happened because it is what your spouse needs. For now, your spouse’s concerns take priority.

The affair shattered their security and threw them completely off balance. Figuring out why it happened is the only way to help them back on solid ground so that they can even consider whether trust and intimacy can be rebuilt in the relationship.

Now, certainly there are benefits for the cheater as well, such as understanding yourself better and making sure that you will not allow an affair to happen again.

It may be uncomfortable for both parties to stir things up, but a little discomfort now will pay dividends in the future.

One thing is for sure though and that is that coming to a better, more complete understanding of why the affair occurred is the most important stage of recovery – and probably the most difficult.

It’s called finding meaning in the affair.

It’s trying to make sense of a senseless act.

When trying to find the meaning of the affair, it’s important to be able to distinguish between reasons and excuses – and between understanding and agreement.

As the betrayed, there are no possible reasons that will excuse the affair (and if you’re the cheater, you probably shouldn’t expect to be excused for it either). You must understand why the affair happened but not agree with the decision to have the affair.

Understanding the affair requires looking at the big picture and examining all the factors that contributed to an increased vulnerability for the affair to occur. Now, to be sure, none of these factors caused the affair, as the ultimate responsibility rests with the cheater who chose to have the affair in response to whatever created that vulnerability.

Certainly there could have been many factors that may have made the relationship vulnerable to an affair, and whatever they are it is important to realize that they didn’t cause the affair.   Rather, they increased your relationship’s vulnerability to it.

Once you identify these factors, you’ll be in a much better position to decide whether, and how, to change things. Then you can choose to move forward – or not.

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The Cheater Must Become the Healer
“The Unfaithful Person's Guide to Helping Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair”

If you want to discover the 24 healing ‘tasks’ that the unfaithful spouse needs to carry out, then you should check this program out now.

Questions for finding meaning in the affair

Now, not every one of you will be ready or willing to accept the challenge of finding meaning in the affair, but if you are, here are some questions offered by therapist Tara Mills that may help you find that meaning.

Finding Meaning in the Affair

What did the affair mean to you?

Did the affair provide something that you felt you needed?

What did you get out of it that you weren’t getting in our relationship?

Where you getting some need met from this other person that you were afraid to ask me to provide?

Did you feel guilty?

Did you find anything new out about yourself?

Why do you think it happened when it did? Was there anything else going on in your life that influenced your decision?

I hear you blame the other person for the affair, is it difficult for you to take full responsibility?

What does it mean to you if you were to take full responsibility for the affair?

What made it difficult to stop?

Did the affair have anything to do with something you felt was missing from our sex life?

Did you ever want me to find out?

Why did you tell me about the affair?  -OR-  Why didn’t you tell me about the affair?

What drew you to this person?

Were you ever worried about losing me?

What do you want me to know about the affair?

How did you feel when I found out about the affair?

Did you want me to find out about your affair?

Did you think I would never find out?

What was it like to keep the affair a secret?

What was if like for you to have the two relationships?

What was it like to come home to me?

Did you see a future with this other person?

Did you ever think of leaving me?

Did you ever want to leave me?

Are you staying for me or are you staying for the children and our life together?

Do you think it will happen again?

Were you trying to get my attention?

 

Questions for Both Partners to ask

Do you think we can repair our relationship?

Do you think the affair has brought with it any good attributes?

Do you think you can move past this?

Do you still want me in your life?

If we were to walk away from our relationship what would you consider the biggest loss?

Are you staying for me or our family?

What do you see as the most challenging thing about rebuilding our relationship?

What do you consider our relationship’s areas of growth and strength?

What do you value most in our relationship?

Do you think you could ever trust me again?

What do you need to see for us to move past this?

What part do you think you played in contributing to the beginning of the affair?

 

Questions for the hurt partner to ask partner who had the affair

Do you understand how I feel?

Are you willing to be patient as I learn how to forgive you?

What would it be like if I had an affair?

 

Questions for the partner who had the affair to ask the hurt partner

Do you want me to stay?

Why do you choose to stay with me?

How can I begin to rebuild trust?

Do you believe me when I say I am sorry?

**For questions that the unfaithful spouse can ask of themselves, you might want to check out the Cheater’s Affair Inventory.


After working through the questions, you may still suffer lingering effects of the affair for a long time to come, or you may be able to use the crisis to identify certain changes that could be made to help restore the emotional security and happiness in your relationship.

Many marriages do wind up stronger after an affair because the couple responded to it by working through the process of finding meaning in the affair.

For more on the responsibilities of the unfaithful spouse in the healing process, you might want to check out our program, Healing from an Affair – A cheater’s guide for helping your spouse heal from your affair

 

 

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25 Responses to Stirring Things Up – Finding Meaning in the Affair

  1. Blue September 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Wouldn’t it be nice to get these questions answered honestly. I don’t think my husband is fully capable of honestly, maybe he says what I want to hear. As a BS, I don’t know if I could answer the questions honestly either to my WS- that I don’t know if I’ll ever really gain respect back for him, that I’ll never fully trust him knowing what he is capable of during and after the cold hearted deceit, that I still don’t know if I want to live the rest of my life with him. I’m lying myself because I don’t tell him this. I have a family that I’m trying to keep together, keep happy because the world’s unfair sometimes. I take it day by day trying to be loving and kind. Who know’s what the future will hold but I’m way stronger now- it didn’t kill me- just broke my heart….

  2. tabs September 12, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    Blue,

    I’ve actually asked many of the questions listed, but feel like I’ve NOT gotten an honest answer. It feels like the quick responses are ment to placate me. I also think my CS is not internalizing his problems and my pain. As a result, I constantly wonder what to do about my marriage. It’s been 3 years since Dday and my decision to stay married haunts me. However, I am still married and trying my best to make things work. Like you said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… even though we have a broken heart.

  3. Strengthrequired September 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    Tabs,blue, I too believe I only get told what I want to hear. I don’t think I have recieved complete honest answers, yet now I think about it, and what I do know haunts me, so I don’t believe I want to know any more. I would love to just move on, yet my mind is still processing everything. There is no meaning to all of this, it’s just senseless. How someone can hurt their spouse like this and then claim to love them, I don’t understand it, so to try and find meaning, i just can’t.
    I will be happy when the mind movies stop, and I can believe in my marriage again, so like the both of you, I’m here trying my best everyday, because I love my h, but also I have kept my family together, my children are have us both together. They are happy.

  4. Shifting Impressions September 15, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    Doug
    I’ve been making a list of questions since D-day (10 months ago) and realize most have not been answered. He is not ready for me to even ask them, let alone answer them……he wants to to focus on now rather than the past. I realize from reading and the above comments I am not alone.

    Perhaps I’m not ready to handle the answers either. I am wondering Doug, if you were resistant to answering Linda’s questions? If so how did that change for you and was it a fairly lengthy process?

    • Doug September 15, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Hey Shifting, Oh boy, sure, I didn’t want to talk about stuff or answer questions either. I’d venture to guess you’re going to get that same answer from about 99.99% of unfaithful spouses. There can be lots of reason for why they don’t want to talk about stuff…because the conversations aren’t pleasant for one, there could be shame that comes into play, they may need to avoid uncovering more lies, etc. But for me, the short story is that Linda made it clear that she was stuck and our marriage may not survive if I didn’t start answering her questions – honestly and without getting all frustrated and stuff. She needed to understand why it happened. Unfortunately, because I was an idiot, it probably took several months (I’m horrible with remembering timelines) before I figured things out.

      • Shifting Impressions September 15, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

        Thanks, Doug
        As I read the comments it’s somewhat comforting hearing that this is a common response….it helps me not take it quite so personally. And Tabs that not remembering thing is happening around here as well.

        I have been trying really hard to take the “backing off” approach….so very difficult!!!!

        My intellect knows it’s the right thing but my emotions are having trouble with it. I’m really a very visual person and I suddenly had a picture of me drowning in turbulent waters…..flailing and gasping for air! That’s how I have felt since D-day…continually struggling, struggling and struggling some more. Panic is lethal for someone drowning. The words “BE STILL” keep resonating through me. For the first time I am starting to understand that Being Still or Backing Off would be as helpful to me as they would for my husband. All the panic, struggle and questions are causing me to sink.

        So for now……for me and for our relationship, I’m trying to give us some breathing space. But I do believe, eventually the questions need to be answered….baby steps.

        • Doug September 15, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

          SI, You’re right. Your questions will need to be answered or you won’t heal completely. Those questions will always be in the back of your mind. If you wait too long, your husband may consider the issue closed and may never answer them and/or become very upset when asked.

          Try this (if you haven’t already): The intent is to move toward your husband lovingly and honestly and not in an attempt to change him, not to convince him to change his mind, but just out of a sense of strength to say, “I want our marriage. I’m willing to invest in this. I’m willing to do what needs to be done. There are things I need from you, and I invite you to the process.” And let him make that choice without feeling the pressure of it.

          I would think that would be hard to say no to. At the very least, it’s gonna start some conversations.

          • Shifting Impressions September 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

            Doug,
            He has made the commitment to be part of the process but just doesn’t seem to get how badly I need those questions answered….and trust me there have been plenty of those kinds of conversations.

            I am reading the book “After the Affair” by Janis A Spring and I am finding it extremely helpful.

            We have been married for forty years so I think he knows me well enough by now, to know that I will never be content to just sweep this all under the rug.

            I just want to say again that your site is a lifeline for those of us who have been thrown into the turbulent waters of infidelity. It is something I never saw coming….thanks again, you have taken your own painful situation and are making a difference in many lives.

            • Doug September 16, 2014 at 9:26 am #

              SI, Thanks for the kind words. That is a good book. One of the first we purchased. I know you’re a Higher Healing member and there are also a couple of audios with Janis in there that are quite good. I didn’t get how badly Linda needed her questions answered either at first. She finally did a little tough love and sort of drew her line in the sand. Perhaps you should try something similar.

              • Shifting Impressions September 17, 2014 at 2:20 am #

                Doug,
                I’ll be sure to check that out. Janis talks about giving the relationship some “breathing space” and I’m really giving that a try.

                Something we have found helpful is to have scheduled conversations with a time limit on them. The breathing space or calm between these conversations seems to be helping both of us be more open.

        • tabs9 September 15, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

          SI,

          I have “Backed Off”, perhaps too much. It’s probably the reason I don’t feel any closer to healing, even when I’m three years past Dday. My therapist told me never to expect a reason for the affairs. However, I am finding that I DO need reasons. Does anybody agree with my therapist? …I’m thinking of getting a new therapist.

          • Shifting Impressions September 17, 2014 at 2:07 am #

            Tabs,
            I know I need reasons as well. I am of the opinion that it is a process and am trying to find the balance between backing off and asking questions and knowing which to do when.

    • exercisegrace September 16, 2014 at 8:33 am #

      SI, my husband did this as well. I finally told him I was scheduling an appointment with our counselor, bringing my list of questions, and she could moderate the discussion. I very calmly told him that if he expected me to forgive him, I had to know exactly what I was being expected to forgive. I had to see the full picture and know the truth. ONLY then could I begin to heal and move forward. A huge side benefit for me was realizing in the end that the truth was far, FAR more benign than what my imagination had conjured up. He resisted at first, insisting we needed to “focus forward” and “this won’t help” and “what do you expect to gain”. My answer was always TRUTH. I was simply no longer willing to live in the dark. Either I knew the truth of what happened in MY life, in MY marriage, etc or I was out. I had to be able to hear it to deal with it, and deal with it to be able to move on.

      • Tabs September 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

        SI,

        Well said. You’ve written what I’ve been thinking. But unfortunately, from what limited information my H has told, the truth is far worse than my imgination.

  5. Tabs September 15, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Doug,

    For me, It’s been three years since day. I’ve tried to get answers so we don’t make the same mistakes. However, when I do try and get answers, the responses are more of the “I don’t remember” kind. Does the cheater really forget? Or is it just more reluctance to talk about the affairs. I guess I can understand forgetting details, but some of my questions are broad and general. Now it feels like my H is trying to forget everything as if nothing’s happened. I dont know what upsets me more, forgetting the entire affair or cutting the conversation short and not answering any questions.

    • Doug September 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

      Tabs, You are correct. Certainly there can be some forgetfulness of details, timelines, etc, but broad stuff should be remembered. He’s just avoiding your questions for whatever reasons. Just curious, can you provide an example of one of your broad and general questions that he won’t/can’t answer?

      • tabs9 September 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

        Doug,

        One question I’ve asked a couple of times,in my most civil and sincere tone, was did he every think of me when he was with her. And, did he ever think of her when he was with me? I’m afraid the real hesitation in answering may be that he thought of her more than he did of me.

        • Doug September 16, 2014 at 9:11 am #

          Tabs, I’m afraid you are correct. I’m not sure you will ever get a real answer to the degree of whether he was thinking more of her than you, but when he was in the depths of infatuation and excitement, I’m sure he was mostly consumed with the OW. Other than that there probably wasn’t a whole lot of thinking going on. Cheaters often don’t think about what they are doing.

      • tabs September 15, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

        Doug,
        I’ve asked questions like: What was it about her that attacted her to you? Or, When did you meet? which was answered with the “I can’t remember” excuse. I have also asked a few, very specific questions but the response usually is “Talking about this won’t help”.

        Three years is a long time to be dealing with my H’s affairs. My therapist has told me not to expect a reason for them either. It’s hard to heal when I can’t seem to figure out the cause.

        • Doug September 16, 2014 at 9:15 am #

          Those are indeed pretty basic questions which should be answered quite easily. Obviously, he hasn’t committed enough to the process if he won’t answer those questions. He’s probably going to keep avoiding the answers until you finally give up asking the questions. I think a little tough love may be in order.

  6. Tryinghard September 16, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    Did someone say tough love????

    I thought I heard you calling me Doug 🙂

    Yeah, well ok, no they all “don’t remember”,” not sure”or “probably”is the answers. They all want to “move forward” and “opening up old wounds won’t help” and “lets not dwell in the past”. We know all the cliches 🙂

    The only one those questions don’t help is the cheater. Cheaters for the most part lack empathy so it’s terribly hard for them to put them selves in our position to humble themselves enough to answer the questions. They are also on some continuum of narcissism.

    You guys are not asking tough questions. They are basic and logistical questions because we betrayed need to know if any of our memories are real. We need timelines and what was going on during those timelines.

    I’m three years out and I still have questions but they are the same ones I asked before and have gotten the same answers to. What I’m hoping for is a different answer like it didn’t happen!!!

    I don’t agree with the backing off but sometimes the constant questioning gets to a point of spinning your wheels and going no where. If you back off they rejoice and think whew dodged that bullet.

    Like EG said, tell him look pal no one wants to move forward from this shit show more than I BUT I need some answers. And when he answers you can’t over react or lose it or he will clam up.

    He’s embarrassed and ashamed like the nasty little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Your job if you really want answers and not just a launching pad to show your disgust, anger and hurt it is imperative that you keep your cool during those question conversations.

    Doug is right. Time to tell him what you need and NOW.

    You have to be strong, YOU have to be stalwart in this process. The one thing I didn’t realize is how much the ball was in my court. Use that advantage but most of all remember you may not like hearing all those answers. So be careful what you ask.

    You are in charge of your happiness and well being not him. He has no power over who YOU are. His affair said nothing about you or your marriage but it said everything about who he is.

    Good luck to all of you.

    • Doug September 17, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      Yes, I think you need to change your alias to “ToughLove” or “LovingHard” or something like that! 😉 Thanks for your perspective by the way!

  7. Kimpage September 17, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    I want to report to all of you that I have been successful!! At last!! It’s ironic that this list of questions was posted last week because I have been waiting since April for my questions to be answered and I had made a list and when I read this list it mostly parallelled mine. Since d-day I got all the same BS like “you just need to let it go and move forward” or ” I am not going to tell you anything that will cause you more pain” or “I know this is hard for you and I would do anything to take away the pain I have caused but I can’t”. I got the basic info right away – “it happened 8 years ago, it was just sex, we were not having any sex back then, I was always a big flirt and this time someone called me on it and I stupidly didn’t say no,it lasted a whole summer I think?, I don’t remember, probably, etc. etc. etc.”. One day after several heated arguments that ended with several days of total avoidance he came to me and said ” I know this is hard on you but it’s hard on me too. I am so very ashamed and sad. I never ever wanted you to know; I love you and never meant to hurt you. I have spent the last 8 years trying to forget this awful thing and now I have to think about it all over again and try to explain it and make sense out of non-sense or I know you will never be able to forgive me. So this is want I suggest: for the next 2 weeks you won’t read all that online stuff that gets you upset and we won’t talk about this at all. Lets just spend time together and enjoy each other and if after those 2 weeks you still need answers I will tell you anything you want to know.” I of course agreed. And those 2 weeks were wonderful; like when we first met 35 years ago. And when it was over I started writing out the questions I thought I wanted to know like who, what, when, where, how and I ended up crossing out over 1/2 of them because I realized I didn’t really need those. But the others I kept. And I went to him and told him that if he ever expected me to be able to trust him again that he needed to trust me with the truth of whatever I asked, no hesitation. It started off slow because he got on the defensive even though I was very calm (all that waiting really did help me to accept the reality and make me strong enough to hear about it) but eventually as he realized I was not backing down and it really was ok to tell me everything he totally opened up!!! He even told me stuff I didn’t ask. I was able to see him as a stupid man instead of my enemy. And the truths he told me were so much less than what I thought. I actually felt empathy for HIM. Even when he told me about the sex I heard the pain in his voice but I just sat there and listened and strangley enough it didn’t hurt. All this time I was waiting for answers I was educating myself about affairs and addictions. I did some intense inner inspection and found myself lacking as well. I had already grieved the past and started to forsee a great future, if only I could get these answers so I could know exactly what I was going to have to forgive.

    And when we finished we both laughed at how easy that was as compared to how terrible we had both imagined it to be. And I thanked him for giving me what I needed even if he didn’t agree with it. And then I actually said to him I was glad this horrible thing had happened to us because if it hadn’t we would still be just barely living, going through the motions, but this whole process had reminded both of us just how lucky we are to still love each other even after this and want to be together. And then I asked him if he had forgiven himself and he said no, that he probably never would. And I told him that I forgive him and that if I could do that, he certainly could too. And my heart lifted from the weight. And I don’t think about it anymore in a bad way but as a blessing that brought us back together. In our 35 + year history this is just a far off blip that is fading a little bit more every day. We are strong again, we are having fun again, we are making wonderful love again, we can’t wait to be together every day and night, we don’t like to be apart, ever. And this is all because I had the courage and desire to wait past the initial storm and he had the courage and desire to do what little he could do to right his wrong and make “some sense out of the senseless”. Whenever you can, breath and close your eyes and try to think of your spouse as just a person who screwed up bigtime! Try searching for that different perspective to try to understand the nonsense and then try to see it as just utter stupid nonsense that shouldn’t cost you both so much pain and loss.

    I hope you can. I never, never thought I could but I have and it is wonderous.

    • Strengthrequired September 18, 2014 at 3:10 am #

      Congratulations kimpage, that is wonderful news.

  8. Patsy50 September 17, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    I have asked many of these questions and have gotten some answers. Some questions I really didn’t care to ask.

    I think at the very beginning of finding out about the EA, my first question was “Do u love me?” His answer was always “yes”. Although I could not understand how u could love someone and cheat on them. My next question was “Why”. Why did you do this? His answer, it was purely sexual. He was sexually attracted to his co worker. She was 30 years younger then himself, great body and a blonde. He said there was never any love involved.

    He had let go of his self control and stepped over his boundaries. Now it was established, he did have an EA and we agreed to stay in our marriage and see what was missing in order to rebuild and start healing. There were many cracks, in this long marriage of then 39 years.

    I asked many questions, not all at one time, probably over a two year period but my main question was answered early on. It was, what it was, “an affair”. Didn’t matter to me whether he thought of her more then me, etc. I accepted the affair for what it was. Now it was time for both of us to start to repair our relationship as we both wanted to stay in our marriage.

    He realized how much he was going to lose for a “fantasy”. We will be four year past DDay end of Oct. We have grown stronger in our marriage so it’s harder for infidelity to creep back in but that doesn’t mean I still don’t keep my eyes open to it.

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