You no longer trust your spouse. That’s the crux of the problem. When he goes to work you wonder whether or not he is in contact with “her.” When she goes out dancing on the weekend with her girlfriends you wonder if “he” will be there.
When your spouse is home late from work without calling, it sets off a series of paranoid images that flash through your mind like a horror film. When you call his cell phone or office and there is no answer, you automatically assume he is at her place .
You’re suspicious. And it’s eating you alive.
This unwelcome change in your psyche is an unfortunate but absolutely natural outcome when you have suffered from an affair. You have been lied to so regularly for so long that you can’t help but wonder whether or not anything your spouse says or does is genuine.
What’s worse, you may feel as though you don’t even have a right to these suspicious feelings. You may imagine that your feelings are wrong or unjustified. You may worry that “it’s all in your head” and that you are only creating more problems in your marriage by having such horrible suspicions.
I remember one client who described her suspicious feelings this way:
“When he’s late from work I just know he’s with her. When he says he’s going out for a drink after work with his friends, I assume he will be having a rendezvous. Even when he goes out to the garage to do his woodwork on the weekends, I imagine he is sneaking calls on his cell.
These days he’s actually pretty good about inviting me along for drinks after work. And he’s handed over the cell phone records for months now. But I just can’t seem to escape from my suspicions.
It’s hard to admit this, but I actually spy on him sometimes without telling him. I go out to the garage to ‘bring him iced tea,’ but what I’m really doing is checking to see if he’s talking to her. Once I even drove by the bar where he has drinks with his friends to make sure his car was there.
I don’t know what to do with these feelings. I worry that I’m doing more harm to my marriage by having them, but I don’t know how to overcome them.”
Do you ever feel like this? Are your suspicions eating you alive? Do you worry they are doing even more damage to your already difficult marriage?
If so, you certainly aren’t alone. Most people who are injured by an affair have suspicious feelings after the affair. Often such feelings continue well after the cheater makes positive changes in his or her behavior.
Feeling suspicious is a natural reaction to being betrayed and learning how to cope with these feelings is a critical part of the healing process. That is why I cover these suspicions as the third building block for a transparent relationship.
If you learn how to utilize your suspicions for the good, they can help you make another step on your journey to recovery instead of adding more stress to your marriage.
Here is what I recommend you do.
Transparency Building Block #3: Using Suspicions to Zero in on Problems
The key to overcoming your suspicions is not to bury them away. Instead, you need to learn to use your suspicious feelings as a positive force in your healing process. You need to look at your suspicions instead of deny them.
When you do, you can use your suspicions to help you zero in on problems in your marriage.
Try this. Create a “suspicion filter” for yourself.
Use this mental filter to help you sort through your suspicious feelings before you act on them. Your mental filter will help you draw a line between suspicions that probably aren’t realistic and those that are.
Use your mental filter to catch unrealistic suspicions so you can let them go without addressing them.
Suspicions that make it through your filter should be discussed with your spouse as soon as practicable. Ideally, you will share your feelings and together come up with potential solutions so you can lay those suspicions to rest.
As you develop your suspicion filter there are a few things to keep in mind.
Tip #1: Assume a Rational, Adult Perspective
Anytime a suspicious feeling comes up, the first thing you want to do is become your most rational adult self and look at the situation through that lens.
For example, if you call your spouse at the office and he or she doesn’t answer immediately, consider the likelihood that he or she is out with the paramour. Could it be your spouse is simply on another call? Maybe he or she is in the middle of a meeting. Or perhaps there is an important deadline that needs to be met so your spouse turned off the phone for a little while.
Assess the probability that your spouse is engaged in some illicit activity. If you “think” about scenarios that give the benefit of the doubt and these seem reasonable, that will lead to a lower probability of a problem and your concern should be “trapped” by your filter.
Will this bring up worries that you are being duped again? Will it make you worry that you are being naïve just as you were during the affair-a feeling you promised yourself you would never allow again?
But what’s the alternative? If you’re moving forward with your marriage and trying to heal your relationship, what choices do you have?
Yes, you are exposed to danger. I won’t deny that. And it is possible that the fears you are facing will come true like a nightmare come to life. You do expose yourself to such possibilities when you are trying to recover from an affair.
But are you really going to go down to your spouse’s office to check and make sure he or she is there? Are you going to worry obsessively day in and day out every time your spouse leaves for the office? Are you going to attack your spouse as soon as he or she walks through the door for not answering the phone the minute you called?
This is no way to live your life, and acting on suspicions like this may cause further damage to your marriage.
So you let these suspicions go and hope for the best.
Tip #2: Be Wary of Egregious Behavior
Of course, there is a flip side to this. There may be cases where you take the rational, adult perspective and say to yourself, “Hey, this is WAY out of line. I’ve got to do something about this.”
Let’s look at a different example. Imagine you are walking down the street with your husband. A good looking woman walks by and you notice she is giving him the eye. You see that he notices it too, and the next thing you know your husband winks at her and nods his head.
He’s flirting with this woman, and when you flirt you are inviting a response of some kind. This is pretty suspicious behavior, and it’s behavior that could lead to some serious problems in your marriage.
The issue is not that he is going to have an affair with that particular woman, but that he is still inviting flirtations. If he does this when you are around, what might he do when you are not? Character is about what you do when no one is looking and when you think you won’t get caught.
In situations like this you need to discuss your feelings with your spouse and understand how each of you feels about and thinks about flirting. Then, you can talk to each other about possible solutions. I recommend that you go for the behavior that is most protective of your marriage. In this case that would be no flirting-even when you won’t get caught. You don’t get to and he doesn’t get to.
It may be that he tries to minimize your feelings or defend his actions by saying things like “Oh, come on! It was nothing,” or, “Don’t overreact. You always do that. It was just a little wink. Who cares?”
If so, you may end up in a more intense discussion or even a confrontation. That’s okay. You still need to address situations where your suspicions are honestly suggesting that your marriage is in danger. You want your spouse to join you in making a statement about how important it is to protect your marriage.
If you don’t, you leave the door wide open for the possibility of more pain.
If you do address what boundaries you want to set for your relationship, you may just be able to work together through the pain caused when one of you overstepped the boundary.
Tip #3: Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt . Within Limits
The real point of this whole discussion is pretty simple. You want to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt within reasonable limits.
If you have seen real change in your cheating spouse, then it may be time to let some of your feelings go by thinking through the situation. Developing a suspicion filter will help you do that by allowing you to think about your suspicious feelings instead of feeling them first or trying to bury them or shut them away.
When you’re pretty sure the scenario you are imagining is improbable, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. It’s a good symbol that you are reinvesting in your relationship.
But if your spouse’s actions move beyond a threshold you are comfortable with, it’s time to address the issue.
The more areas of real suspicion you address in your marriage, the more likely it is you will be able to work out solutions together that will help mitigate your feelings. I am assuming that you will do this together as friends. This will ultimately help you trust each other more.
However, addressing these problems isn’t easy. Conflict may arise if you think of each other as enemies. When it does, I suggest you use a comprehensive conflict resolution program like the one outlined in my book How to Survive an Affair. In that book I teach you how to cope with conflict so arguments dissolve before they even start.
It’s also important that you learn how to communicate your feelings in a way that your spouse can hear them. This is a subtle and sophisticated process, but with some practice, you can learn and use it.
My program for emotionally connected conversation and using “I” statements can be found in the guide I wrote on forgiveness called How to Forgive and Let Go of the Past. If you’re having a hard time talking with your spouse (especially about the tough issues), I suggest you take a look at that program to help you manage your conversations with greater ease.
In the meantime, let me know how it goes with you. I’d love to hear about your marriage.
Have you been overwhelmed by suspicious feelings since the affair?
How have you been coping with them?
Have you tried any of my suggestions outlined above?
How did they work for you?
Post your comment to this blog by clicking the comment link below.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,