Show Transcript for Episode 292: Healing After An Affair

Laurie Watson 00:02
George, we’ve got a serious subject about something that’s so painful. And we want to talk about helping couples heal affairs.

George Faller 00:10
Tough work, that can be really transformative work too.

Laurie Watson 00:15
Okay, let’s go. Well, welcome to Foreplay Radio, couples and sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller 00:25
And I’m George Faller, a couples therapist.

Laurie Watson 00:27
And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller 00:33
Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart, and the body.

Laurie Watson 00:43
So, you know, a couple calls us – one of the things that at my counseling center I try to do is get people in within 24 hours, because it’s such a crisis when an affair has been discovered. You know, it’s so painful, often to both people, which is hard for the person who feels betrayed to hear, but a lot of people who have affairs, it’s not a good solution, but it is a solution to something that they don’t feel they can fix in any other way. But oftentimes, it’s against their own value system. And, you know, when it all comes crashing down, they’re faced with huge problems that have just been made worse in the marriage.

George Faller 01:22
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the big challenges as a couples therapist… How do you hold the two truths? That one, the person who portrayed has broken their vows and needs to accept responsibility for that, that’s the starting point. But also expanding the frame to try to get both partners to look at the dynamics, the context of the couple’s relationship. That always influences, you know, there’s always things that have happened, it’s not the relationships fault, I mean, this person made a decision. But the more that you try to look at those dynamics, you’re trying to replace it, the repair work is about creating a positive cycle. It’s not about returning to a marriage before the affair, it’s making a better marriage, right of marriage have deeper communication, it’s learning lessons from the affair. And to do that, you really got to look at the context of that relationship.

Laurie Watson 02:14
Right? Sometimes I I tell people, you know, maybe that marriage is dead. And so you know, the decision is, do you want a different and a new marriage? And it’s really hard what you’re saying, because I agree, affairs don’t happen in a vacuum. Usually, they happen within a context of problems. And that doesn’t mean that it’s the relationships fault. But on the other hand, I think people are responsible for the marriage before the affair happened. And they’re responsible for it afterwards, you know, to decide, okay, why did this happen to us? What was going on between us? What was missing? Why did my partner feel like this was a solution? I mean, I think it’s so easy to say, well, that partner was just wrong and bad. And it can feel that way to the person who was betrayed. I mean, it really can feel like I know who you are, you know, we were going along great. Sometimes it’s a big surprise.

George Faller 03:10
Yeah. And that’s the time and has to be right. I mean, for a lot of people, they can’t look at the relationship dynamics, because they have PTSD. I mean, it’s so traumatic, the world gets turned upside down. They don’t deserve what has just happened to them, right, they’re not ready to look at it, and you need to meet them in that place, and contain them and make them feel safe. And you know, that it’s, it’s helpful for me to see affairs as PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.

Laurie Watson 03:36
I agree, I tell people when they call, don’t be surprised if you get lost driving to the grocery store. I mean, it’s just so upsetting to their world, it’s like, you know, the whole world kind of crumbles. And the person who was betrayed is saying, I didn’t deserve this. And the person who acted out as often saying, I’m not just a bad person. I mean, both people need to be seen and held during that time. And, it is difficult.

George Faller 04:04
And that’s why it’s helpful to put structure in the process. To understand you have to really do triage in the beginning, you just kind of got to pull people out of this drowning water that they went. And then as they’re on dry land, then it’s a little easier to stop putting in into a cycle, stop putting in to help people protect themselves. Start kind of putting it in a larger framework than just the details.

Laurie Watson 04:28
Right. I mean, I think as therapists it’s just such a time, if there were ever a time for therapy, that’s the time for it. And you know, and we’re there to help manage the rage and the pain and just the world falling apart. And I think the person who acted out their sense of shame, often humiliation and pain and their anger, you know, like maybe I haven’t been heard and all these other ways, and now you’re listening to me finally, and it’s just it’s a volatile time. I would say, you know, one thing not to do is tell everybody you know what happened. And don’t tell your kids what happened, not in the beginning, you know, it’s like, try to wait until the waves have stopped crashing a little bit before you make decisions about who to trust with this information, who to tell. You know, I think people are just flinging about, and they don’t realize that there’s an afterwards where they might want their privacy, you know, they might want to calm down a little bit and that their children probably don’t necessarily need to know about the marital content.

George Faller 05:35
Right. That’s the balance of a lot of people who have been betrayed will obsess over the details, right? And that hyper vigilance is a sign of posttraumatic stress, right? But really what they’re looking for is meaning, like, what were the motives? Why did my partner do this? They’re trying to answer the why question. Because if they could understand the why, and they could understand what needs to change, they can start trusting that it won’t happen again. And they’re looking to do that through all these details.

Laurie Watson 06:03
They’re looking for the why, but they often ask the what questions What happened? Where did you do it? How many times? Did you do it? How many times did you go down on our I mean, all this stuff that they think if I can just know these things, then I will feel more solid. You know, this is the mystery. This is what I can’t see. This is the black box. So they’re trying to see into the black box, to hope to get some sense of why it happened. But I do often tell people like, you know, try to stay away from the details, because it makes it more and more vivid for the person who was betrayed. It’s like now it’s a film that plays over and over in their head.

George Faller 06:41
Yeah. And I think that’s the doorway is the details, but don’t get lost in the details.

Laurie Watson 06:46
What do you mean there?

George Faller 06:47
What is? So if somebody’s wanting to know, How many times did you go down? I’m going to talk about well, what are we looking for the answer to that question. Right? If you understand the play by play, that’s going to help you feel what what’s the emotion driving the question. That’s really what we’re trying to get answered. So it’s using the details. I’m not gonna say no, no, we’re not gonna talk about the details. Because that’s the hope of somebody that says, if you’re willing to talk about something difficult like this, I feel like I can start earning trust with you. I know it doesn’t feel good to say these things. But you’re being honest with being honesty is what I need to start repairing. So there’s there’s really good longing in wanting the details, the dynamics at a detailed conversation, because about, but oftentimes people don’t know the risks of those details of getting things stuck in their head, right of hearing information they can’t unhear. And so it’s that balance-

Laurie Watson 07:46
Wait, you’re saying something really important. You’re saying you don’t tell people don’t tell the details? You examine the question first to try to figure out what the meaning is behind the question. So that, then they get the answer that they’re looking for really like so if it’s, how many times did you go down on them? You know, maybe it’s about how intimate did you feel with them? How safe did you feel with this person? How much did you risk sexually? You know, did you do something with them that you don’t do with me? I mean, there’s, there’s lots behind it versus but you know, when they’re alone? just answering that question, kind of baldly, I think, may not get to the meaning that their partner has behind it. But I understand what you’re saying. I think that’s a really good point that not to necessarily just carte blanche, say Let’s not talk about that. It’s like, let’s talk about it. But get you the answer that you’re really looking for.

George Faller 08:41
Most people don’t recognize why they need to detail so much. And that’s why they need the space to really try to in a non judgmental way, say, What are you really looking for? What’s the longing drive in the question? There’s an emotional need there that they most often can’t articulate. But if you get curious about what is it about going down, like the details of that, yes. All the things that you’re saying? Did you do things with your partner that this other person didn’t do with me? Did you access new parts of yourself that you haven’t? They’re important questions.

Laurie Watson 09:15
Yeah. Yeah, they are important questions. And they do reveal kind of the relationship problems between the primary couple, right? Hmm, just as you say that, I’ve sat with so many people who have had affairs and I can just feel that today on my shoulders, the pain of all of it. I know how painful it feels and how betrayed they feel. And it’s so much easier to say, well, you’re just a bad person. If you can’t understand further, why this person did this and in context of your own relationship, I mean, it really leaves it unstable to continue on with them.

George Faller 09:57
The two big questions that I think most affair offended partners are looking for and to be answered is one, do you think your partner understands what this is done? Right? Because if they really get how it turns your world upside down, right, when you can look in your partner’s eyes, you see reflected back, they’re feeling your pain, you start to feel like and that’s why they want to go into the details. They want to get a sense that you did. They’re not alone in this pain. And two, to do you think your partner would do it again? You really need that question to be No, I think my partner has learned, we’ve learned from this, like that this wouldn’t happen again. And that takes time.

Laurie Watson 10:43
Right, right. Let’s come back and talk a little bit more about those two questions to explore further… Hey, I just want to take a minute to thank our Patreon supporters. I am very grateful for what you’ve done and we’d love to invite the rest of you in on our mission

George Faller 11:01
Your support means more than you realize and it keeps this project moving forward and we’re really hoping to reach greater heights

Laurie Watson 11:10
Find a link on www.foreplayRST.com and we are so thankful for your support!

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Laurie Watson 12:20
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George Faller 13:35
Exactly the sorry, is a tricky word. Because most people who are the offender, their sorry, is really saying, I don’t like how I feel. And I don’t want to feel this anymore. And I want to get this over as quickly as possible. And then there’s remorse there. And that’s shame there and they feel bad, but it’s really it helped them. That’s why the word sorry, is oftentimes not enough. It’s the emotional state that the story is delivered in that matters the most. So if my sorry, if I betrayed you, right in my sorry, was focusing on your pain, then that’s our real story that starts to stick. Right? It’s the empathy in the sorry, that says I’m willing to feel this pain because I caused it. I don’t want to leave you alone in it. Whenever you want to talk about it, I’ll show up for you there because I don’t want you to face this alone. Right? That’s a sorry, that’s a patient sorry. Which, it’s a setup for both people. The offender wants this to go as quick as possible. And the person’s betrayed. It’s slow, because it’s gonna take time for them to trust. So it’s a slow process. And that’s why there’s such a mismatch in these conversations. When you can get the offender the buy in to recognize that, you know, there’s an opportunity in this pain. There’s an opportunity in the empathy for you to have levels of connection that you’ve never had before to show up for your partner. way no one else ever has before. And that’s why couples that learn to have these conversations, you know, afterwards, it’s crazy when it’s happening, you would never think it’s possible, but afterwards can say things like, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us, we have a degree of intimacy we’ve never had before, you know, and having these conversations.

Laurie Watson 15:18
Yeah, I’ve heard this said andd I think it’s true, you know, that marriages can actually be stronger and better after affairs. And you think when something of that magnitude hits a marriage, you know, it would forever be weakened. But actually, the rebuild process maybe repairs, things that, you know, never have been challenged and repaired in the past. And so there can be a strength and a new beginning.

George Faller 15:46
Yes,

Laurie Watson 15:47
I think that’s the most helpful thing. You know, everybody, right? When they get married, they say, this is the line in the sand. If you ever cross this line, I’m just gonna leave ya. And then they’re faced with that. And they don’t necessarily want to leave the marriage. And the person who was betrayed feels ashamed of that, that why should just leave, I’m weak, I’m foolish, you know, I was fooled. And now I look ridiculous for staying in this thing. And it’s hard. But I think the helpful places, you know, most people don’t leave when there’s an affair. And if they actually go through the process of rebuilding, there’s hope, you can have something better, more true, more real than that you had before.

George Faller 16:30
And there’s real science behind how couples can repair and forgive, and actually create a positive cycle that might not have been in place before the affair happens, right. And that’s the opportunity, I always encourage couples, I mean, it’s it’s everyone’s personal decision on what they want to do. And some people just can’t face life, it’s changed too much. And they go their separate ways. And, you know, that’s their call to make sure, but I always I always, like, give it a shot, see, if you could learn, redeem that what happened there to create something you’ve never had before. And if you can’t do it, you can let go and, you know, hold your head up high that you just couldn’t overcome, you know, the damage to this. Right. But I really respect this is such hard work. And, you know, when when couples are willing to kind of try that, I mean, it really inspires me.

Laurie Watson 17:23
I agree, it’s hard. And I would want to say a little note here, you know, affairs are about sex. And they’re also often not about sex. You know, it’s more complicated than just sex, although I think, a sexual opportunity, right is something that many people maybe haven’t felt, and the temptation is, is pretty strong. And they go for it, and then they’re in it. But they kind of get into it unconsciously. They haven’t examined, you know why they’re vulnerable to that moment. All of that examination, in retrospect, is helpful to develop them and figure it out. I almost think though, the worst case scenario is the person who says, Well, I’d never have an affair and kind of is blind to all the risks out there. I think that they’re more vulnerable.

George Faller 18:15
Yeah, it’s a good point. And again, those little lessons that could be learned in these affairs, that most of them do start out is just interest in good conversations. And you know, it’s a slippery slope, because I like the statistic that the partner in the affair gets 90% of your levels of engagement, but only 10% of your time. I mean, they get all your passion, your energy, all that good stuff, by the way, that affair, and then your partner at home gets 90% of your time, but 10% of your engagement, your falling asleep, you’re watching TV, I mean, we’ve always talked about the secret of any relationship is based on the QUALITY of the engagement. Well, yes, if your engagement levels are really low, if the distance in your marriage is really great, you’re more at risk of somebody else coming along, who’s interested laughing at your jokes, stinks. You look good. And you know, before you know it, you start, you know, your body doesn’t care about the values of the morals and it starts to kind of turn in that direction. So again, I think it is important to learn, you know, what was working in that affair? So I can kind of rekindle that with my partner. And again, it’s not giving an excuse, it’s just trying to learn lessons.

Laurie Watson 19:28
Right, exactly. It’s hard to compete with that energy. And, you know, sort of the constant best foot forward, sneaky time away and only talking about the good stuff. Other than, you know, sometimes in a marriage, you need to do that you need to prioritize that. I often think if the person, you know, if couples would put into their marriage, maybe 25% of the good stuff that one person puts into an affair. You know, like, I didn’t know there was time to go out. I didn’t know there was money for hotel rooms and lingerie and all this stuff, it’s like just put 25% of that into your marriage right now, you know and see a big turnaround.

George Faller 20:09
Right. One of the attractive things about the affair. And we keep stressing in this podcast, the importance of vulnerability… when you’re willing to break your vows and the person on the other end is willing to sleep with a married partner. There’s vulnerability in that. Right? There’s shame, there’s a lot of emotion that that affair couple deals with and talks about with each other. So again, how do we bring that more alive back into the marriage? If you just stopped the behavior, but You know, you don’t deal with the distance, it just goes back to a similar dynamics.

Laurie Watson 20:48
Right. So healing – the first person has to own responsibility and express regret, and really feel the hurt of what they’ve done. And without defense, it’s like, this is this is so hard when we’ve hurt somebody to feel their pain, you know, we just want to move away from that. I don’t want to see myself as somebody who could have hurt somebody else.

George Faller 21:13
And it’s a great move when that offending partner can be more proactive. They can initiate the conversations, you know, if they had an affair in New York City, and a couple’s headed to New York City, they say, Hey, I know this is a hard place to go to. There’s gonna be lots of triggers here. But you know what, we’re gonna make new memories. And you could talk to me whenever you want. It’s that proactive nature, the offended partner. It’s so counterintuitive, because they don’t want to talk about they don’t want to feel it. But when they see the opportunity to be there for that partner in a way no one else has before it’s empowering for both.

Laurie Watson 21:45
Absolutely. And the person who had the affair is just hoping that their partner won’t POTUS you know, that, that the movie, you know, there was an affair in it and you know they just heard their neighbor had an affair. It’s like, everywhere people turn after there’s been an affair that’s impacted them, they see it, it’s everywhere.

George Faller 22:05
That’s such a great move. I love your example of the movie, you know, when the offender comes out of the movies, initiates and says, Wow, that must have been hard for you in that scene in the movie, it’s like, Yes, thank you, I can talk about this.

Laurie Watson 22:17
Right, I don’t have to hold it inside and be alone in my pain.

George Faller 22:22
And those are the moments where the couple starts to see the opportunity for deeper intimacy through the doorway, the affair, that’s the irony here. And then it starts to build that safety, it starts to repair that trust. But ultimately to heal. The person who’s betrayed is going to have to ask for help. When that fear comes in that pain comes, and it feels so counterintuitive to ask for help with that person who’s hurt you?

Laurie Watson 22:48
It does, because that requires trust, and they don’t trust their partner. It’s like, why would I rely on somebody who has hurt me when I need them so much. They’re the one who understands my pain the most but so hard to reach out and say, you know, look at I got triggered, you know, in this repair process, you know, I need you to put your arms around me, I need you to tell me you’re never gonna do it again, which I agree a false or a quick sorry, doesn’t help. But on the other hand, it’s going to be current for a long, long time and learning to say you’re sorry, a lot, you know, says I’m thinking of it, if you’re the person who act it out, I’m thinking of it. So then the person who is hurt, doesn’t always have to carry the burden of thinking about it and remembering it alone.

George Faller 23:36
Exactly. And a lot of times people want to go that way too quick. We usually wait later in the process to ask for what you need. Because you have to get everything else more calm down and structure in place and understand the cycle dynamics and the details, all that stuff. Just take some time to build that trust slowly to get to the point where you can jump off the cliff and have your partner catch you and really ask for that reassurance. That says, you know, when when I think about the affair, I go to a place where I feel unlovable, I feel unworthy, I feel not attractive. Right. And I need you to kind of believe that we’re going to get back to that place. Yeah, that you’re going to do whatever it takes. And when they can ask for that. And that partner can give it and they can start taking in the partners response. That’s when you know, the couple is on that really strong path towards recovery.

Laurie Watson 24:30
Right. And recovery is when the relationship becomes the safe haven again, for both parties. Thank you for listening. We know this is a tough subject. We know many of you have struggled with this. You have our hearts, our prayers for recovery. It’s tough. We’d also like you to again invite you to follow us on Instagram: @foreplay_radiosextherapy. We will probably post something about affairs on there too, a nice graphic so thanks for listening.

George Faller 25:01
Keep it hot.

25:04
Call in your questions to the Foreplay question voicemail dial 833-MY4-PLAY and we’ll use the questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor. This podcast is copyrighted by Foreplay Media.