An affair can be difficult to forgive and nearly impossible to forget. Even the smallest things might bring up painful memories: seeing an affair on a television show, or meeting someone with the same first name as the ex-paramour.
But one of the most heartbreaking situations is when the cheater and the ex-paramour have a child.
For the wife whose husband has cheated, this is constant torment. An affair is bad enough. When there’s a child, the situation becomes overwhelmingly complicated.
There are ways to cope. There are ways to lessen the pain and make life bearable, even happy, again. There is hope, and you can heal. But it does take work.
First, let’s look at that initial trauma. Finding out about an affair is shattering. The pain is so intense that it can become physical. Add in finding out about a child, and the anger, denial, and grief seem to come in endless waves. So what can you do?
The Cheater Must Never Be Alone with the Ex-Paramour
When a baby is not involved, it is simpler for the cheater to end all contact with his ex-paramour. He can avoid her in social situations. He can refuse to take her calls. He can tell her, point-blank, that he will not be seeing her again.
A child however, adds a level of complexity that cannot be avoided.
The father of the child must be responsible. But for the wife, the idea of her husband “co-parenting” with the ex-paramour is completely unacceptable, and there are some situations where the husband completely gives up all parental rights and responsibilities except for financial ones.
Does the Baby Give Him More Opportunities to See Her?
It is normal to feel concerned that the baby could give your husband’s ex-paramour the perfect excuse to see him. And when they are alone.cheat again.
These anxieties are understandable.
They are totally natural. And the husband must do everything he can to make his wife feel completely confident that the affair is over.
That means absolutely zero “alone time” between the husband and his ex-paramour. When he goes to pick up the child, his wife should be in the car. If possible, a relative or friend – not the ex-paramour – should bring the child out to the car. It is essential that contact is limited.
Joint parental decisions can be made by e-mail with the wife reading and contributing to the exchange. Or, these can be made by telephone with the wife listening in.
The husband must take action to restore his wife’s confidence and self-esteem. As I’ll discuss in the next section, she should not feel like a fool or a doormat. Those feelings are common, but they also can stand in the way of rebuilding trust.
You Are Not a “Doormat”!
When you found out about the child, anger, disbelief, confusion, and grief may have kicked in all at once. You may have thought: How could he do this to me? And you may have wondered Am I a doormat for wanting to work things out?
I hear that question often in my office. In fact, in my system How to Survive an Affair, I’ve identified it as one of the “Nine Shockwaves,” or nine most common questions you will struggle with when you find out about the affair. Sometimes, when I hear this question, I ask: “A doormat for what?”
Understand that I am not trying to make light of the situation. Wanting your marriage to work does not make you a doormat. Feeling that your love is worth preserving does not make you a doormat. Even if there is a baby involved, wanting to rebuild trust does not make you foolish, and it does not make you weak.
If you, as the injured party, decide to stay in the marriage, you will want to come to an agreement about preserving your relationship. It will probably not surprise you to learn that in this situation – as in all marriage-rebuilding situations – communication is the key.
Let’s look at some ways you can truly begin talking again.
Use Communication to Rebuild Trust
Feelings of betrayal and anger can fester until they are unbearable. This is particularly true when a child compounds the pain of the affair. Without communication, the cheater cannot ask for forgiveness, and the injured party cannot offer that forgiveness.
Here are 3 steps you can take TODAY to open those lines of communication.
Step 1: Agreeing to Be Open and Honest. Honesty is the number-one rule. This means being completely transparent, and that is not always easy to do. If you are the one who cheated, you might be tempted to tell “little white lies.” You might reason that those lies are preserving your spouse’s feelings..
Don’t do it. Why not? Because the affair has already created distrust, suspicion, and worry. Your small lies and half-truths only add to this sea of negative feelings.
Additionally, lies cover up important issues. If you’re avoiding a topic because it seems too painful, that is probably exactly the topic you should be discussing with your spouse. If your marriage cannot survive honesty, then you may want to consider moving on. When it comes to your marriage, you and your partner are essentially one entity. Hide from your partner, and you are hiding from yourself.
In How to Survive an Affair, I go into great detail about honest conversations, and I also discuss the 3 dangers that honesty creates. Once you understand how to be honest and open, you are ready for the next step.
Step 2: Learn How to Talk and Listen Well. Open conversation is key, and so is a thoughtful approach to that conversation. I call this “The 2-Stage Method for Conversing with Your Partner and Connecting in Ways You Never Thought Possible.”
The first stage allows you to listen to your partner, and then to demonstrate your understanding by reflecting what they said back to them. This moment of reflection ensures that you and your partner are on the same page. An early misunderstanding can derail an entire conversation. This simple step helps keep you both on track.
In the second stage, you practice empathy by placing yourself in a situation similar to the one your partner is describing. This is particularly useful for the partner who has cheated. If you need to understand why your spouse is so frustrated with an issue in your relationship, it helps to put yourself in her shoes.
From page 160 to page 170 of How to Survive an Affair, I explain each of these two stages in detail, with real-life examples from couples who have used my system to rebuild their relationships.
When you have these honest discussions, it’s important that you create a time and space for them. Let’s explore that next.
Step 3: Setting Aside a Time and Place to Talk. Conversations about rebuilding your marriage are perhaps the most important conversations you will ever have. Therefore, you need to set aside a time and a place for these talks.
This is a time to talk about your relationship – not a time to talk about getting the car’s oil changed, how your kids’ report cards were, or whose turn it is to cook dinner. Here are some things that might be beneficial to talk about:
> What changes do you want to make in your relationship? (Be careful not to place blame on your partner for specific problems.)
> Is there something you can share about yourself that your partner might not already know? (Or, is there something you’ve shared in the past that would be worth restating now?)
> Without making promises, what changes do you want to make in yourself, and how will these changes make the relationship better?
Choose a time and place for the conversations, and stick to that schedule. Life is busy, and it’s all too easy to find excuses to avoid difficult conversations. You owe it to yourself and to your marriage to have these talks.
These are 3 steps that you can take RIGHT NOW to open lines of communication. They are the first 3 steps of my system “How to Talk: An 8-Step Program for Learning Better-Than-Ever Communication.”
If you’ve not yet begun my program, I encourage you to follow this link: How to Survive an Affair. You’ll find more than 270 pages of practical advice, real-life scenarios, and activities applicable to your unique situation.
Because you’re visiting this blog, I know that you want to take the steps to rebuild your marriage. I truly commend you for making effort, and for taking the time to heal your relationship.
I would love to hear how things are going for you. If you’ve had to deal with a baby from an affair how did you deal with the situation? Please post your comment on my blog by using this link:
Until next time,
Frank Gunzburg, Ph.D.
P.S. If you’ve just found out about your spouse having a child with his ex-paramour, you are in a lot of pain. I encourage you to begin processing your emotions in healthy ways. Deal with those emotions, rather than locking them away. You may want to try:
1. Breathing – When the waves of emotion are about to crash over your head, focus on your breath. This is a common and soothing practice, used all over the world. Use breath to step back from painful feelings and to begin letting those feelings go. If it helps you, say “relax” during each exhale.
2. Distract Yourself – Take the time to do something you truly enjoy. Try to become so invested in the activity that you forget what was going on for you before.
3. Learning How to Take Care of Yourself – This is a time to pay attention to your own needs, and even to spoil yourself. Love taking a bath with plenty of candles and incense? Don’t look for reasons not to do it. Allow yourself those moments of peace and relaxation.
4. Getting Out of the House or Office – Don’t try to “cover up” the pain by hiding at home or taking on a mountain of tasks at the office. This can become a dangerous habit. Instead, log off the computer, change out of your pajamas, and go anywhere you like. You can go to the mall, to the park to the zoo – just go!
You’ll find more of this advice in Section 1: My Spouse Had an Affair – How to Manage Your Emotions. If you have not started. I strongly encourage you to begin today.