After you found out your spouse cheated on you, any doubts that have ever been in the background of your mind about your decision to marry your spouse come roaring to the forefront.
If you had doubts before, the affair has cemented them in your mind. You think, “I never did really understand my spouse, and my spouse certainly doesn’t seem to get me. Maybe we shouldn’t have married…”
And yet, you more than likely want to save your marriage. So refrain from regretting the past and look toward building your future. It’s possible to survive an affair and build a strong relationship—using a method I’ll share with you so you can better communicate the emotions you are feeling. Read on…
Miscommunication Breeds Marriage Doubts
When you found out your spouse cheated, not only were you whipped by the emotional shock of it, you may have also begun wondering if the “evidence” for not marrying was there all along. You think back to your wedding day, and what your best man/maid of honor would say if they knew:
“You know, I always had my doubts about ___, wondering if it would last…”
It’s a rare relationship that exists in the world that doesn’t have some level of friction. And yes, infidelity is more than mere friction: it feels as if the earth opened up and swallowed the cheating victim whole.
What Type of Affair?
As the victim of an affair, it’s only natural that you will doubt everything about your relationship with your spouse: from the first day you laid eyes on him or her, up through today. Every argument, uncomfortable silence, disappointment will stand out in your memory in stark color. You will think about how you communicate with one another, and wonder if you can ever achieve the level of truly fulfilling communication that will strengthen your bond with your spouse.
Relationships are bound to have challenges, but this in no way excuses an affair. And in the aftermath of the affair, as you struggle to heal, you wonder how to resolve not only the issue of infidelity and all of its attendant horrors (negative memories, emotions, images, thoughts), but also all of the basic relationship and communication problems you had before.
Research about actual couples and how they interact is challenging to come by. Generally, they are scenarios of what happens when two people get together, and a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking as to what went wrong.
What I want to help you with is what to do right, to move forward from this point.
Emotional Literacy in Your Marriage
Does that mean you should sweep under the carpet the affair and how your trust was broken, not to mention your heart? Of course not. But in order to survive—and thrive—after the affair, it’s important to have an awareness of who you are, and your spouse to gain an awareness of who they are, and then see how your differing ways of maneuvering through the world may be defined.
This is called developing your emotional literacy. It’s the ability to define—and then communicate—our feelings to another. All humans crave emotional understanding and support, though they may not express it in the same way. This is why you have couples saying, “I don’t understand him/her, and he/she doesn’t understand me and what I need.”
And, emotional literacy can help save your marriage. Here are three steps to help you attain emotional literacy and begin building better communication with your spouse:
Step 1: Focus on Your Emotions First
If you just found out about the affair, you are certainly in the midst of emotional upheaval. Everything inside of you feels like a flurry of negative activity: negative thoughts, negative feelings, and negative images.
Before you can heal your marriage, you need to heal yourself. In this first step, you will identify your emotions as precisely as you can, as you feel it occur, naming it as “I feel ___:”
Step 2: Set Aside Time to Communicate Your Emotions
You and your spouse may either be actively trying to save your marriage, or the wounds are still raw and you’ve only been able to toe the edges. What may have marked your communication—up to and including the revelation of the affair—was a strategy of saying “You make me feel___” to which either you or your spouse replied by putting up a wall that closed off any true understanding of what the other person was feeling.
Ever Said the Wrong Thing?
These magic words stop upsets, conflicts and create a closer relationship (Click Here to Read More)
That’s because it feels like an attack, when someone comes to us with a “You did…” or “You made me…” and even if we’re wrong, our self-preservation instinct tends to jump in and take over.
Did the cheater do wrong? You bet they did. But will it be more effective to express the deep pain you’re feeling by using the “You made me feel…” types of statements, or the “I feel rejected…” and then going on to explain why you feel that way?
Step 3: Practice Communicating Emotions – and Set Parameters
The better you get at naming your emotions, the better you’ll be able to express them in a way that your spouse can understand them. It won’t be perfect all of the time, as the desire to shout may come over you. But how often does the person we’re shouting at say, “I don’t understand why you’re screaming.”
They’re witnessing the outburst, but it’s like a big dark thundercloud with harsh words serving as thunderbolts coming from it.
Set parameters before having a discussion about your relationship issues, with the victim letting the cheater know that they will be naming each emotion they are experiencing in regards to each issue that is brought up. Then, practice delivering that emotion in the “I feel…” format.
My very best to you as you rebuild communication with your spouse and survive the affair.
Have you been able to separate out your negative emotions and thoughts, and assign a name to them? Has this helped you understand better what this turmoil of emotions is actually made up of?
How would you characterize communication with your spouse in the past? A lot of misunderstandings about what each other is trying to express?
Do you feel your spouse is emotionally literate, able to specifically define the emotions he or she feels?
Please share your ideas and struggles on the issue of trust after an affair.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,