ABC’s of Affairs

“Pain is the usual incentive for change, but hope is a necessary partner.”

Emily Brown

Affair Recovery clients are a population I really enjoy working with. Their marriage is in crisis, the pain is raw, BUT what an incredible healing experience to witness as they grow through the following “ABC’s”

A: The first “A” is Avoidance.  To some extent all affairs contain some level of avoidance.  This avoidance may be avoiding conflict (trying to keep the harmony), avoiding painful emotions (stuffing them down or numbing), avoiding intimacy (likely because at one point in time it was not safe or acceptable to be close and intimate), or even avoiding reality (being invested in the mythical fantasies/expectations of marriage).  Whatever the avoidance, it must be brought out of the darkness that it hibernates in.  This requires a great deal of emotional safety.  If the vulnerability underneath the avoidance has been exposed and then dismissed, shamed, or made fun of (other words exposed to an emotionally unsafe environment) then avoidance will likely be perpetuated.  Much of therapy at the beginning is purposed for creating a safe environment to face what has been too painful or too feared to face before.  Even then relapses occur and we bump into avoidant patterns again; however, we are not doomed for failure.  We must also add awareness, which brings us to our second “A.”

The second “A” is Awareness.  Awareness is key when therapy gains are not firmly rooted and old patterns pop up, as previously stated.  Awareness is also needed when it comes to feelings identification, ownership, and regulation.  Both spouses need to identify their feelings and effectively manage them independently.  Depending on the other spouse to regulate one’s emotional experience will not bode well because that spouse may not be available to serve in that capacity.  In addition, dependency may very well be an element that helped to create the opportunity for an affair to occur in the marriage in the first place.  Awareness is also needed to identify the generational patterns.  To prevent the transmission of patterns experienced in their families of origin, both spouses need to be aware of how their patterns look similar to those of their family’s and practice differentiation (see previous post!). 

B: “B” is for the Balance needed for processing the meaning of the affair itself with the marital issues that precipitated the affair.  For the betrayed spouse, the affair is the issue.  For the spouse involved in infidelity, the marital issues are the problem.  For healing to take place, and to cultivate a marriage where there won’t be an opportunity for a future affair, both the affair and the marital issues must be processed.  Both spouses need to own the miss-steps they took in the marriage, which brings us to “C”

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C: “C” is for Changing perspectives to a shared definition about the affair.  When spouses are able to own their contribution and collectively define how it took both of them to get where they are in their marriage, the intensity of the emotional charge they feel dissipates and makes room for work to be accomplished.  Therefore, “C” is also for Changing dysfunctional behavior.  It took both of the spouses to get here.  It will also take both of them to get out.  When each spouse can identify and own their part, they can move forward in practicing new ways of engaging.  Because systems adjust to change, as one spouse changes the other also responds with change.  Which brings us to the last “C” Commitment.  At this level in the process both spouses now have all they need to choose the marriage, and as with all life’s storms, they are likely stronger for it.  Many couples share that in a weird way they are thankful for the affair because it led them to the quality of marriage they now have and enjoy.

This post has been gleaned from information presented in Emily Brown’s book “Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment” (see My Recommended Reading Library page).