I remember everything about my husband’s extramarital affair. I will never forget it, and neither will anyone else who’s been through it. It is not possible to forget something as significant as the betrayal of the one you love the most in the world. However, when I remember, I no longer have pain associated with the memory. This is a sign of true healing. How did I get there?
1. I got here by facing the issue head on, not attempting to shove it under the rug and pretend it isn’t really bothering me. I didn’t try to bury it, “forgive and forget,” “just suck it up and get over it.” These things don’t work when it comes to healing from extramarital affairs. Trying to just forget about it and move on would be like breaking your leg, and not bothering to go to the hospital to have it set and a cast put on. If you did not take the proper steps to heal a broken leg, your leg would never heal properly, you would always have pain, and you’d likely never be able to walk again. Emotional pain is no different. It must be treated.
2. I healed by learning about the affair and extramarital affairs in general, by coming to understand the truth. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I healed by getting answers to my questions, by learning to understand that I did not cause my husband to have an affair. It was the weaknesses in his character that allowed him to get to this place. I am not at fault for something, when I had no opportunity to participate in the decision of whether or not it was going to happen. Sure we took a look at our marriage, and I found things I could’ve done better as a wife (and there is not a wife out there with a faithful husband who couldn’t also find things she could do better, too). My imperfections as a human being and as a wife did not force my husband to have an affair. There are healthy ways to deal with problems in a marriage. Having an extramarital affair is not the answer. My husband tells me today that, even if I’d been a perfect wife, he still would’ve had an extramarital affair, because he says, the affair had absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with his weaknesses, what he didn’t know and the choices he made. (Note! He did not say that right after his affair. It was a process and took time for him to see this.)
Note! Healing from the pain and reconciling a marriage are two different things!
In order for our marriage to be healed, my husband had to be willing to answer my questions and be completely open and honest with me. If he’d been unwilling and insisted that we never discuss his extramarital affair, we would’ve missed out on the amazing marriage and passion we have together today. I still would’ve healed myself, but reconciliation would not have been possible.
3. I overcame the pain, by seeing the extramarital affair for what it really was and putting it in context of the grand scheme of things in the world. I was not part of the “unfortunate few” who had something wrong with them. Many, many, (if not most) spouses are betrayed by the ones they love at some time. It’s sad, but true. And many people have other pain in their lives, like losing loved ones, dealing with chronic illnesses, problems with abuse and addictions of loved ones. No person is exempt from pain and suffering in this world. The good news is if we look for solutions, we can overcome our problems and challenges.
It was also helpful to put it in context of our marriage as a whole. Peggy Vaughan had 7 years of pain where her husband had extramarital affairs. Had she divorced him over it, she would’ve missed out on the other 43 years of living with the man she really loves. My husband’s affair was only 2 months long. If I’m fortunate enough to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary one day, “Am I really going to allow two months to ruin a lifetime?”
4. I overcame the pain by working on myself, embarking on a journey of personal growth, finding purpose, meaning and fulfillment for my life that takes me beyond the problem, by living my life for something greater than myself. I allowed my crisis to make me a better person and to spur me on to take more risks, forget about what other people think, and start reaching my full potential as a person.
5. I overcame my pain by helping others. This gives meaning to my pain. With the same comfort I have received, I now can comfort others. Knowing first hand how incredibly painful extramarital affairs are, I like being able to help others. I especially love it when we see amazing successes. You can help others by starting a Beyond Affairs Network (BAN) support group in your area, or volunteering to help with one that already exists.
6. I overcame the pain by giving myself time, and giving myself permission to feel all of the necessary emotions, especially the sadness, anger and grieving of my loss. Some people believe negative emotions are bad. When expressed in their proper context, they are not. Allowing yourself to “feel” these emotions helps you to heal. When necessary, sadness and anger are good for you, because they help you to process pain. We all wish there was a short cut, but there’s not. Everything of real value in life requires you to pay a price, not always in dollars and cents, but sometimes a part of your life.
7. I overcame my pain by sharing my story. It is important to avoid suffering in isolation. You cannot and should not carry this burden alone. Every time I shared my story, my pain diminished until I just didn’t feel the pain anymore.
8. I overcame my pain through persistence and determination, a will that said, “I will not have anything less than healing from this pain.” I will not allow my negative past to define my future. I did not become a lesser individual because this has happened to me. I read books, I got counseling and I attended healing seminars with a tenacity that said, “I will heal.”
9. Perhaps most importantly I moved beyond the pain, because I believed it was possible.
“The only thing that stands between a person and what they want from life is the will to try it and the faith to believe that it is possible.” – Richard M. DeVos
When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show with 5 other couples in May 2005, the producers said to us, “Anne, we know you’re healed, but for the sake of our audience could you try and go back and relive those emotions,” so I did my best. But really I just wanted to jump up and down and shout, “Yeah! I’m on the Oprah show!” There were other couples who were more years beyond the affair and yet clearly not moved beyond the pain. This is why it’s worth whatever it takes to heal, and if it takes the expense of a healing seminar and some travel, it’s really a small price to pay for a future of happiness, healing and passion in your marriage.
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