After an affair, couples may experience some difficulties if they are “working on the relationship.”

By Linda & Doug

working on the relationshipRecently we were asked to review “Infidelity Recovery:  Marriage Makeover” by Dr. Robert Huizenga, and in the introductory section there was a story about a couple he was counseling that was having a terrible time after the husband had an affair.

The couple had resigned themselves to “work on the relationship,” but for some reason they were at an impasse.

The wife would try her hardest to make the husband comfortable when he came home from work.  She would affirm and welcome him. 

The husband explained how he tried to talk more, be present for her and meet her needs. He tried to make her feel more desirable and loved. Each was hanging on the other’s words.

In addition to a lot of tension that surrounded them, the couple was worn out emotionally and physically. There was little life in each of them and in the relationship.

Surprisingly enough, Dr. Huizenga’s advice to the couple was to stop working on their relationship.  After a week or so, the result was a new sense of relief and freedom, and the start of a new foundation for love and intimacy within their relationship.

The following are some difficulties that Dr. Huizenga says are typically experienced when a couple commits to “working on the relationship:”

1.  “Working on the relationship” often implies that each “should or must” act, feel and think particular ways to make their efforts successful. A “should” sets one up for failure and disappointment, for no one ever fully acts, thinks for feels as they “should.” An atmosphere of effort and grinding it out permeates the couple. And, each holds his/her breath, as they both believe that failure follows the next interaction. Talk about pressure!

2.  “Working on the relationship” for a huge percentage of the couples means being “nice,” accommodating the other and being on your best behavior. Conflict is seen as a catastrophe. Such a strategy, in essence, obscures and clouds the truth. The truth, which sets a couple free, is relegated to the background and buried under the surface.

3.  “Working on the relationship” often means trying to find a “middle ground.” There must be “something in common” that the couple has that will hold them together and make it better. Well, maybe there isn’t any “common ground!” And, just maybe that is good. Perhaps the differences, the extremes, give the couple fire and passion and create, together, that which each, at one level, is looking for.

4.  “Working on the relationship” often means working hard to meet the needs of the other.  I “sacrifice” my needs, or at least put them on the back burner, and intentionally go about “making my partner happy” by attending to his/her needs. This may work for a period of time but resentment at some point emerges since one or both believe that the need meeting is not being reciprocated to the degree he/she would like.

5.  “Working on the relationship” often is thwarted because there is not enough depth. Individual differences are not pursued with a curiosity and intensity that allows for maximum growth of the individual and therefore couple. “Issues” are not torn apart, looked at, marveled at, appreciated and seen as a resource for further self exploration and self disclosure.

6.  “Working on the relationship” often comes up short because a couple easily reverts to old patterns. They begin to “swirl” in the old communication patterns and ways of thinking, feeling and acting. When lacking adequate exploration of differences and avoiding conflict the couple easily slides back into that which was familiar, not pleasant or comfortable, but certainly known territory.

After the affair you shouldn’t merely want to “work on” the relationship, but you should want a total overhaul. After all, the infidelity crisis does provide a great opportunity to recreate and redesign the relationship, now that you are wiser.

Great advice!

Click the link to go to Dr. Huizenga’s website.

    14 replies to "Marriage Makeover: Stop Working on the Relationship"

    • D

      We have definitely gone down this uncomfortable and unrealistic road. After so much pain both of us just wanted to get off the rollercoaster. But now it does seem we are slipping back into the routine of mundane marriage issues. She seems to just want to forget the whole embarrassing mess and get back to the way it used to be (which, frankly, wasn’t all that bad.) Alas, that’s not going to work.

      But how do we create something new, that also includes all the great stuff we used to have, without “working on it?” It’s a quandary. It’s the hardest hurdle lately, but we’ve gotten over so much so far, it all comes down to faith and acceptance.

      • Doug

        D, In our case, we got back to do what we enjoy doing together, and always have enjoyed. It has brought us closer each time, and because we enjoy it, it doesn’t seem as though we are working on anything–other than enjoying ourselves–and each other.

    • Toni

      I’ve told myself to also quit trying to show my H that our marriage can be better and work on it on my own. I’ve acted like the OW doesn’t exist when he’s home and it seems like its been smoother around the house with him and this week he spent more time at home with me then with the OW. But after some comments my H said to our friends I have found out that the OW has no intentions in ever leaving my H and she has been pressuring him to move in with her or move me out. Supposedly, he told her that he’s not moving in with her or moving me out (I told H that I’m not moving until everything is absolutely final) So, it sounds like that my H will probably continue living two separate lives until I give him an ultimatum. Do ultimatum’s work in this situation? I want him to make the decision himself but I’m not sure that’s really going to happen. I’m also not ready to hear whatever answer he gives.

    • Jennifer

      I disagree. Why does “working on the relationship” mean you have to ‘sacrifice’ your own desires? Maybe its specific to each person. For me, what has got me uplifted recently is acting like a good wife and emphasizing the ‘benefits’ of being married. Pleasant conversation, doing favors for him, etc. I feel more giving, he is more responsive and I am happier because I don’t feel like I have to ‘cold shoulder’ him just because I may be feeling upset. Once I start ‘acting’ nice, I start to feel nice.

      I guess maybe this “work” could backfire if one lets it be an all-consuming drive in the relationship. I do it to make myself happy. The benefit to the relationship is icing on the cake. At least that’s the way I’m looking at it. So far, it’s working so I won’t complain. 😉

    • Roger

      My girlfriend and I have gone through a year and a half of struggle and pain since my emotional affairs with several women. We have “worked” on our relationship but she feels I have not worked hard enough. She wants me to read more about what I’ve done and how to get through it.

      • Doug

        Roger, So is that something that you are willing to do?

    • Brian

      I am wanting my wife to start to care more about my needs and wants to help me through her affair with another man. She started to do an amazing job right after the discovery( about a week after ) then I had an emotional melt-down and she stopped as she said me being unstable scared her ( my emotional mess and random attacks have last for almost 2 weeks straight – nothing violent it was the fact I could go from what was a sort of normal to emotional mess. ) And that has her pushed away, as she is scared of what is coming next from me. I was angry that she pulled away and it made the emotional roller-coaster harder on me and her. She tells me if I can just get stabilized and just have some peace around the house, I might be surprised at how she would react to what I was asking from her. I have been hesitant in this as it was upsetting that I am the one that has to act first when I was the one so very wronged. But I know I want my family ( 2 young boys ) to stay together and to see if we can come out of this stronger than before. But for me to be stable I can not speak of the feelings surrounding this and give peace and after some time has passed we can talk about it, but for her she said ” lets talk more about us and make us better, not about what happened” To me sometimes it feels as if she wants to sweep it under the rug and move forward, but it has only been just over a month since confirmed affair that lasted for a year and a half. I am struggling to find peace in myself right now. Any suggestions or wise words would be helpful.

      • Xterra

        Hi Brian,

        I know exactly what you’re going through and believe me, you will feel every emotion as you try to make sense of all of this. January 24 will be the first anniversary of when I discovered my wife’s Emotional Affair. Those emotions are natural and you have to cope with them as best as possible, especially for your kids sake – don’t worry too much about your wife just yet; just do not get violent.
        You need to take care of yourself first and foremost – make sure you eat right, get enough sleep, and don’t dwell on it every minute of the day. I did this and it nearly drove me crazy! Take some time for yourself, do a lot of reading on this site as there are many people on here who’ve helped me get through the tough days with their great advice. This is going to be a long road with many ups and downs, so if you’re willing to save your marriage, you’ll need the energy.
        You will see a term on this site called “the affair fog” – many cheating spouses who get recently discovered are in this fog for a period of time. During this time, your wife may feel more attached to the other man; it’s like they’re addicted to them and can’t seem to go a day without contact. If your wife wants to work on your marriage, she has to be snapped out of the fantasy and brought back to reality. If she wants to help you heal, she has to have no farther contact with the other person or there will be consequences – you have to draw a line in the sand and tell her if she doesn’t follow your rules, she has to go. Now it’s your way or the high way!
        You have to realize that this is not your fault! Many cheating spouses try to blame their spouse, but it’s a selfish act and they’re just concerned about their own satisfaction. If your wife snaps out of the affair fog, you will both have to figure out why this happened. My wife has told me that I was spending to much time working, she felt unappreciated by me and my kids, and she just wanted to feel the excitement and emotions of having someone take an interest in her and ask how her day was going and that she looked beautiful, etc, etc.
        I admit, I didn’t put as much work into our marriage as I should have. Believe me, marriage is hard work – you have to make an effort everyday. It will take time, and you are only beginning the journey, that I personally feel was the toughest road I’ve had to walk so far. Take the time to grieve the marriage you’ve had up to the point of discovery, as that marriage is over and going forward, will never be the same.
        If she’s willing, get your wife to read some topics on this site there are resources for her as well. She has to realize the hurt and damage she’s caused and she has to play a large part in your healing.
        Hope this long response gives you some help. Sorry you are here, but like I said earlier, there are many people here that have gone through what you’re going through now. They are here to help. Take care and best of luck!

        • Brian

          I appreciate your response and have more to day and will pose some things to you later when I have more time. Thanks for the answers and advice.

    • Brian

      My biggest issue right now is to let things settle down- I am having a hard time with that, and that is what I have to work on for myself, kids and to have a future in this marriage. My wife might be in a fog but it is not in the act of continuing the affair. I am 90% sure it has stopped, I would say 100% but right now as I am sure you can understand, nothing seems to be able to reach 100% in my mind.

      My wife does not want us to be over with, and she says she is committed, but can not move forward to working on us, until I get my roller coaster / stress under more control, as it is not a peaceful setting to reconnect, and for her to give her all to it, if I will turn around and blow the emotions up again.

      I am just struggling with the idea of not having her give me her all in the commitment to make it better, while trying to calm down. I have asked that she give her all to help me with the up and down stress struggle, and it worked for a few days but I blew up and that all stopped.

      I guess I need to focus as you said on me and get the stress and emotions under more control. At that point I can not longer be part of the reason it is not moving forward, and find out if this is going to truly move forward or not.

      My problem about me is I like to know the agreed goal and both sides work on it, and if one side makes a mistake we focus on getting back on the right path. But it has been so rough it has all come to a pause. I am not a fan of pause – the unknown drives me crazy, that is my issue to solve, so that is my first focus.

      Thanks for listening just typing it has helped me.

      • Xterra

        Hi Brian,
        I think it’s a load of BS that your wife won’t talk or try to work on things until your calmed down! She’s the one who had the affair, she’s the one caused all of this! You have every right to be angry and all the other emotions you are feeling … All because of her. She needs to realize that this is all her doing and that she has to help you heal and work with what you are going through. Sorry for sounding harsh, but if my wife had acted like that, I probably would have thrown her out.
        Feel and experience all the emotions you are going through. You don’t need to act on them around the kids, you can remain calm for their sake, but let your wife know when you’re angry, when you’re sad, when you’re you grieving … She should be reaching out and helping you get through this if she wants you to forgive her. Get her to read some of the topics on this site. Good luck!

    • Rachel

      Brian,
      I was told the same thing by my ex. He was mad because I was infuriated, i had so many questions and wanted answers.
      He wouldnt explain. He hated that I was in therapy and always had a new question . Eventually he made me pay for my sessions because I was the one with the problem.
      He told me to stop acting like the victim. Hmmm…
      Good luck, stay strong.

    • Gizfield

      I totally agree with xterra. most cheaters who are discovered and not put out of the marriage will become emboldened, if that is a word. Lol. All the blame shifts to you. It’s your problem you are mad, hurt, crazy, etc. THEY are the victim, NOT you. your wife just didn’t want to deal with the consequences of what she had done. So they direct the blame to you, if you let them.

    • Gizfield

      Xterra, I WISH I had thrown my husband out, with the way he was acting. Creepy. My biggest regret in this entire mess.

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