It was just after 2:00 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep.
Something Doug said earlier that evening just didn’t sit right with me.
He’d also been acting quite strange lately.
I had a gnawing feeling in my gut that something just wasn’t right.
I quietly slipped out of bed and tiptoed downstairs and checked his cell phone. What I saw made my heart feel like it dropped to my toes. There they were in black and white…
Scores of texts and phone calls from a strange cell number. I stood there motionlessly for what seemed like an hour…
In a confused panic, I scrambled to collect my composure. “What’s going on?” I asked repeatedly…noticing the fear that had crept into my voice. But I received no answer.
So I dug deep and summoned some courage…I called the number…even though it was after 2am.
I got voice mail…
Hi, this is “Tanya Smith” (not her real name) and thanks for calling…”
My heart continued to race.
I hung up and quickly ran upstairs
My heart was pounding. I was breathing like I was running a 100 yard dash.
Finally, I get to our bedroom and I blurt out to Doug…
“Who is Tanya Smith and why are there hundreds of texts from her!?”
He was startled and still half asleep yet says…
“Just someone I work with.”
“We’re just friends…”
My… no… “our” living hell had just begun!
Perhaps you have lived through a similar earth-shattering experience such as the one I described. Your seemingly tranquil, normal, happy life is suddenly tossed out the window like a piece of useless trash.
You are lost. You have no idea what to do. Where to turn. What to think.
Surely he wouldn’t be cheating on me!
He wouldn’t do that to me – would he?
Think about the signs.
Trust your gut!
You are about to get RIPPED from your comfortable reality and transported to a new world. Not a physical location per se, but a “new world” of feeling worthless, seeing hurtful images and experiencing more pain than you can imagine.
There’s a decision you must make. A decision that virtually everyone who has experienced infidelity must make.
DECISION: You can either refuse to fight like crazy to save your marriage and your sanity and suffer aimlessly through the heart wrenching pain, and “hope” that things will work out okay …
…or you can dive headlong into fighting for your marriage, recovering, healing and eventually getting over this mess.
It’s like you can either take the blue pill and you wake up in your bed and never want to get out. You have no clue what to do or who to turn to.
Or… you take the red pill, you dig in and let us help to guide you through the most painful and challenging experience you will ever face!
It’s up to you!
Since our site is called Emotional Affair Journey – and you’re presumably following our journey as we save our marriage from an emotional affair. It seemed only natural then to have a post where we take you on a journey.
A small one at that — but enough of a journey to help you understand a little bit about what’s going on and hopefully gain some sense of hope along with it.
We want to help you move towards affair recovery and healing, whether the infidelity was an emotional affair or a physical one, and whether it happened 2 years ago or 2 days ago.
Truth is…though your situation is certainly unique, it is probably similar in many ways to most of the rest of us who have traveled this painful road.
Achieving affair recovery, personal healing and saving your marriage is difficult and takes a long time, and there is no absolute step-by-step plan for which to accomplish these things.
However…if you follow much of what we’ve learned from our own experiences, and avoid making the mistakes we made along our journey, you will find that your recovery will happen faster, more efficiently and with improved odds of a better relationship.
And let’s be perfectly clear…This is a journey that you both must take.
Though you can certainly be successful at healing the pain from infidelity on your own, we sincerely believe that there is no way you can save and heal your marriage, as well as heal yourself without you both working together.
You may be able to get the ball started on your own, but at some point you’re going to need the help of your spouse to ultimately be successful.
Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.
A Quick Story…
We’d like to share a quick story with you…
Both of our daughters are in college, but back in high school they played club soccer at a fairly high level.
One of our daughters, Rachel (not her real name) was a forward who is quite speedy and somewhat of a prolific goal scorer.
During a hard fought game she had managed to wrestle away from a defender while trying to chase down a loose ball in front of the other team’s goal.
It was now a race for the ball between her and the rather large goalie.
Rachel sprinted towards the ball – as did the goalie.
She lunged for the ball as the goalie simultaneously dove for it. The goalie wound up crashing into Rachel while scooping up the soccer ball in her arms, both of them tumbled into a tangled heap on the hard ground.
It was a rather violent collision to say the least.
One that Rachel did not get up from.
She was on crutches for a few weeks and a brace for several weeks after that until she was scheduled to begin PT.
PT, in case you don’t know, is short for physical therapy, but our good friend who is a therapist likes to joke that it really stands for pain and torture – because that’s about what it is!
As the upcoming high school season was drawing near, Rachel had the decision to either do the painful exercises necessary to regain a range of motion and strength in her leg, or she could avoid the pain and torture and give up on a sport that she loved while never really regaining the dexterity, strength or speed that she naturally possessed.
The only path available to regain her physical abilities and play again was to go through the pain.
Some would say, the pain did in fact, have a purpose.
Recovering from infidelity can be a similar journey…
And our journey in recovering and healing from infidelity certainly was a long and painful one.
We made a lot of mistakes along the way and there were times when we felt we weren’t strong enough to continue.
But we did and we were able to do so because we did it together.
That’s not how our journey to healing began though. Doug wasn’t really of the mind to help so much at first, but we’ll get into that in just a minute…
Let’s talk a little more about pain…
We believe there are two stages of pain.
Stage one of pain is involuntary. It comes as the result of something that happens to us – like Rachel breaking her leg. In time the initial pain fades.
Enter stage two of pain. Stage two is where personal choice is exercised. In our story this is where the choice for Rachel to go to PT – or not – comes in.
How we respond reveals a great deal about us in that moment.
- Try to avoid the pain
- Try to numb the pain
- Try to transmit the pain to someone else
- Ignore the pain
- Work through the pain
- Let the pain control us
- Accept the pain
Obviously, the pain created by infidelity is one of life’s worst.
It is a pain like no other.
As you’re coping with infidelity and the pain it brings, you may try to numb it through alcohol or drugs.
You may try to transmit it to the person who hurt you (that one doesn’t work very well).
You may try to ignore it and pretend it’s not there (but it is and if you keep it bottled up it will come out at a later date – possibly many years later)
Or, you may try to avoid it (but if you’ve already been hurt, there’s no way to avoid what’s already happened).
When recovering from infidelity or any other pain, an alternate choice is to walk through the pain by accepting it, grieving it, and allowing it to transform you and your relationship into something better and stronger.
We think the final solution is by far the best, but that’s just the first step.
The second stage is where our CHOICE becomes a part of the equation. Once the initial pain begins to subside, we have to decide how to proceed. (This is where Rachel’s physical therapy began).
In recovering from infidelity, you have to choose to take the risk to re-engage within your relationship.
You have to be willing to take the risk of hurting again.
You need to be willing to let yourself have a life.
If you don’t, your life will be forever trapped and controlled by the betrayal and at some level, you’ve made the choice to allow it to be so.
There is a better, more loving, more fulfilling way for you to heal and not remain incapacitated by the pain you’ve experienced.
We’re not suggesting you place yourself at risk by re-engaging with someone who’s not safe – physically or otherwise.
If the cheating spouse’s heart isn’t soft and if they’re not doing what’s necessary to heal the relationship, or if they’re not taking responsibility for what they’ve done, then they may not be safe and you may not be in a safe environment emotionally.
But, if your spouse is remorseful, is trying to love and does “get it” or is at least trying to “get it” and is trying to be safe, there comes a point when you’ve got to decide whether you want to live again or keep your heart shielded while trying to avoid the pain.
You have to be willing to take a leap of faith (like this guy below!)
Linda was doing most of the work
As we started to say before, early on in our journey Doug didn’t “get it.” Yes, he was remorseful and to some extent was helping Linda heal and save their marriage.
But most of the work was being done by Linda.
Here, Doug had created all this pain and threw the marriage under the bus and Linda was cleaning up his mess.
He didn’t want to talk about the affair, and if he did he would release the details in bits and pieces. He would get angry, frustrated and had outbursts that were truly uncharacteristic of him.
There were many other things that he did or didn’t do that slowed our recovery, but one of the hardest to get past was him doing the internal work to understand why he did what he did.
Why did he feel the affair happened? What issues were present in him that caused him to betray Linda?
Once he figured that out, things changed and our healing took off at a much more rapid pace.
He threw his heart and soul into doing whatever he had to do to help Linda heal and to save our relationship.
So you may be wondering to yourself… “I understand all this, but how do I get my spouse to do this?
He/she thinks I should just get over it and move on. I can’t do that. I’m in too much pain!”
Well, the answer is you can’t make your spouse do anything. But you can create an environment or catalyst for positive change.
So at this point you may be wondering how on Earth you can stimulate positive change in your spouse so that he/she is willing to assist with the recovery and healing.
After all, he/she seems to have no desire to help and instead expects you to move on. He/she made a mistake. What’s in the past is over. Get over it already.
In our own situation Linda went through a period when she was “flying solo” and was doing most, if not all of the work on the relationship and on herself.
Doug was basically in la-la-land and was of no mind to do any work. He was still trying to “figure things out.”
At one point Linda came to the conclusion that this had to stop. She wasn’t going to put up with Doug’s crap anymore.
Either he had to step it up or Linda’s healing would stop all together and the marriage would be in jeopardy.
Linda’s words – but more so her actions – had an impact that resulted in a change in Doug and in his actions.
He saw the light in a sense and made positive changes to become an active participant in the healing process.
So what did Linda magically do to stimulate such changes?
Well, first let’s take a step back…
Flying solo during affair recovery occurs when either the hurt or unfaithful spouse is unwilling to get help or address the problems created by the infidelity. Experience tells us that this is usually the cheater – but not always.
If someone’s best choices have brought them to a place they never intended to be, why would they think that continuing with the same beliefs and behaviors will now somehow get them out of there?
Regardless of the reasons, it’s not uncommon for one spouse in the marriage to refuse help and/or refuse to seek help.
This leaves the other spouse alone in their attempts to save the marriage.
In that circumstance can one person really make a difference?
The answer is absolutely!
In fact in most cases, it’s changes made by just one of the partners that brings about marital change.
If only one person changes the relational dance the other partner has no choice but to adapt in response to that change.
For example, if one partner withdraws and stops engaging their mate they effectively change the dance of the marriage.
If one partner chooses to adopt healthier habits and patterns or to eliminate destructive habits and patterns, the marital dance has to change.
The person flying solo in recovery from infidelity isn’t powerless; rather they’re the only one willing to make a difference.
Going it alone isn’t about trying to control or manipulate one’s mate into change; rather it’s about taking responsibility for their own behavior and choosing to alter their own response patterns to ones which promote health.
Read that last sentence again…We’ll wait.
Please understand that attempts at changing your husband or wife have little if any effectiveness in improving your marriage.
However, the person who is flying solo can certainly explore how to grow into the person they want to be and how to alter their response patterns that help to promote health and safety regardless of their spouse’s behavior.
It’s these positive changes made by the person who is working on their personal recovery that challenge their spouse’s perspective and begin to create new hope that things could be different.
If at the very least the person flying solo will use the crisis of the infidelity as a catalyst for change, then personal transformation will occur and they will develop a deeper capacity for love and compassion.
This is exactly what Linda did and it made all the difference.
She changed from being in crisis mode and working her butt off at being the perfect wife and trying to “win” Doug back, to shifting her focus more on her own needs.
She worked hard at regaining her self-confidence and self-trust. She changed how she reacted to certain situations. She read and researched and became well versed at relationships and personal improvement.
And much, much more.
Her focus shifted from the details and events of Doug’s affair and how he was acting to understanding that she could not control or change him but could only control and change herself.
Doug couldn’t help but notice and eventually it created a massive “A-ha” moment for him. Basically he got his head out of his rear end and realized he had to get busy.
So the ball was in Doug’s court
He knew it was time for him to step it up!
Just after discovery of the affair, Doug didn’t help a bit. He was in no frame of mind to be able to.
Eventually that changed and he showed that he was committed to the marriage.
So it wasn’t as if he wasn’t trying hard (eventually), and even Linda said he was doing the right things.
He simply wasn’t doing all the things she needed in order for her to heal.
Linda was stuck.
Thoughts of the affair didn’t invade her mind nearly as much. The affair triggers were occurring far less frequently and when they did, their effects were minimal. We were getting along great. Yet something was holding her back.
At that point, we had a heart to heart conversation where Linda basically laid it on the line.
Something had to change or this marriage wasn’t going to make it.
We tell this story because chances are something similar is playing out in your own marriage after the affair.
If it hasn’t yet, it most likely will.
The most prevalent underlying reason for this feeling of being stuck is the lack of consistent help and effort from the cheater to do the things that the betrayed spouse needs them to do in order for them to be able to recover and heal.
That‘s a mouth full to say, yet it seems like such an easy thing to do…
…But for some reason the cheater either refuses to give the betrayed spouse what it is they’re most longing for or they simply just don’t know what it is they need to be doing on a consistent basis.
Hearing story after story from victims of infidelity where this lack of effort on the part of the cheater was very evident, we became very frustrated.
There were many instances where we wanted to reach through the computer or phone line and knock some sense into these unfaithful people.
Instead, we felt that we needed to help guide cheaters and victims alike offering ideas, advice and strategies to help couples move closer to complete healing and recovery from infidelity.
In our opinion, the key to healing from an affair and saving the relationship is primarily in the hands of the person who was unfaithful.
What that person does or doesn’t do dictates almost everything.
So…What Does the Cheater Need to Do to Help Their Spouse Heal?
By this point, you are probably wondering what specific things the cheater needs to do in order for the betrayed’s healing process to progress.
From experience and interaction with others in the same boat, we have been able to identify certain behaviors on the part of the cheater that can either lead to success or failure at recovery and healing from an affair.
We came up with 24 key points that need to be addressed in order for the cheater to become a healer. They are:
- Stop all contact with the other person – forever
- Be sensitive when your partner suffers from a trigger
- Stop being so selfish
- Take responsibility for your actions – and inactions
- Stop trying to always be in control
- Have some patience
- Be trustworthy
- Talk about things
- Be honest
- Show remorse and apologize
- Acknowledge the depth of the pain that your affair brought to your marriage
- Educate yourself about affairs and relationships
- Figure out for yourself why you did what you did
- Be thoughtful and reassuring
- Stop being so defensive
- Be loving and supportive
- Stop thinking that the grass is always greener somewhere else
- Listen – really listen
- Stop blaming your spouse for your affair
- Make your life and everything you do an open book
- Check your anger at the door
- Get some counseling or therapy
- Ask your spouse what he/she needs from you on a regular basis
- Gratitude or gratefulness
Chances are (if you are the betrayed) you need the exact same things from your spouse.
Linda sure did!
And if you’re the unfaithful spouse and you kind of “get it”, you now have a checklist of action items for you to get busy working on.
Doug eventually did!