She Said, He Said: It takes courage for couples who want to reconnect after a marital disconnect from affair
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I have been through several significant rough patches in our 16 years of marriage. A year ago, I learned he was newly involved in an affair. While it was a shock, I also recognize there were ways in which I hadn’t been showing up in the marriage. He cut off communication with the other woman, and we agreed we wanted to stay together. However, we can’t seem to really reconnect. We care about each other and work well logistically in managing our home and the kids, but it always feels like we’re on eggshells. We just want to get back to where we were before the affair. How do we get back there?
Get It Back
Lori and Jeff: We have great respect for any couple who is willing to dig deep and work through an affair. It takes wisdom to notice your contribution to the discord and courage to admit it to each other.
Lori: The affair in your marriage was the manifestation of a deeper illness, and the place you’re trying to get back to is an illusion. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t love and connection, but clearly it wasn’t as blissful as you’re imagining it to be now. More than likely, you were both white-knuckling through — holding it together just enough until your husband threw up an emotional white flag and sought solace somewhere else.
Although you’re both evolved enough to own your respective responsibilities, there’s an obvious need to grow emotional intelligence as a couple. I can only imagine that you’ve both gone through 16 years of continuously “getting over” a full range of relationship transgressions, only to let your feelings fester in a benighted lockbox buried deep within. The reality is we can’t pick and choose which emotions we feel. If you haven’t been willing to sit with frustration, anger, sadness or hurt with each other, then feelings of love, joy and contentment won’t be accessible either. The connection you’re seeking lies in each of you building a deeper relationship with your own feelings, then creating a safe space to experience them together.
Jeff: When a house gets destroyed by a catastrophic event like a hurricane or fire, the best practice is to rebuild it in such a way that prevents the same kind of damage from happening again. A stronger foundation, storm shutters, metal roofing — whatever improvements that can create a more secure structure are required. This is the concept of resilience. It’s not just “weathering the storm” but getting through it having gained a better understanding of how to adapt and grow so that the next one lands with less impact.
The previous version of your marriage was destroyed by the affair. Now it’s time to build a new version with the tools and materials that can be acquired by taking a deeper look at what created the storm and asking the difficult questions about what was missing from the original building plans. Many couples don’t have the courage to face these more challenging tests, but as we tell every couple in your situation, you’re going to have to do this work at some point — because the unresolved issues that led to this transgression are likely to rear their ugly heads in the next relationship, regardless of whom they are with — so you might as well do it now.
Lori and Jeff: The solution isn’t recreating the past; it’s taking the pieces that have survived and filling in the gaps with what was previously missing.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.