As a counselor that works with infidelity a lot, I see the gamut of experiences from folks. Some heal quickly, some don’t heal at all. But much of the work in infidelity counseling for couples is based on rebuilding trust and attachment in the primary relationship, which also means it is largely focused on the non offending partner. And although it’s not often talked about, and probably shouldn’t be in the couples setting, the offending partner is left to grieve and experience their own emotions entirely on their own. So, if you had an affair, this article is for you.
If you have looked up affairs or infidelity on the internet, you have likely gotten an onslaught of information, largely related to how bad the affair partner is, how their moral compass is off, and the oldie but goodie, “once a cheater, always a cheater” nonsense. But if you are the person that had the affair, this tends to be less than helpful and can make you cut and run, leading to further distress. While this article will certainly be difficult to read if you have been betrayed, this may be helpful for the person who did the betraying. And no, I am not going to lean into the dialogue that the affair has a shared responsibility in the original relationship (although it does) Instead, I am going to talk about grief and affairs.
Regardless of the reason’s you entered into the affair, and regardless of if the affair lasted 3 months or 3 years, you likely have some feelings about it ending. Many people, are so focused on the shame or guilt of being caught, or ending the relationship that they forget they are experiencing a complex wave of emotions too. I often see people that experience, what I am calling the double grief paradigm. On one hand they are grieving the end of the affair relationship. This may be grieving the loss of excitement, of spontaneity, of sex, or might be grieving the loss of someone they loved. But because this is an affair, it is ambiguous. Society doesn’t give then the ability to truly grieve the loss of the relationship “that should never have existed” All the while they are grieve their original relationship. Sometimes this looks like their original relationship ending. But sometimes this is a re-engagement in a relationship that was unsatisfactory to begin with. Other times it is grieving the change in their relationship, perhaps less autonomy, or the exhaustion of the trust building process. This is also sometimes ambiguous, as many times people keep their affairs hidden from friends and family due to shame or embarrassment. What this means for the person with the grief paradigm is that things get complex and sticky. And one minute they may be crying and sad for the loss of the affair partner, and the next they may feel immense shame for having had an affair to begin with.
This paradigm creates the need for individual therapy. It creates the need for healing on multiple levels and understanding from their partner or friends that this stage is confusing. This creates the need for self compassion, and deepening an understanding. The bottom line, is that the grief won’t just go away. It will come in waves, and hit you at times that you most wish it wouldn’t. The only good news that comes from this, is that the grief will create growth. And growth can never be a bad thing! Call today id you experience the affair grief paradigm.