Recently I met with a man whose wife had an affair that ended several years ago. It was an honour to work with this couple and they made good progress in therapy. In fact, they can teach us an important lesson.
In spite of the progress made, every now and then something unexpected comes up that triggers him and reminds him that something precious to him was stolen from him because of his wife’s choice. He explained, “my wife and I are doing very well, getting closer again… but her affair robbed our relationship of its innocence, something I fear we will never get back no matter what.”
I reflected on his statement and concluded that what he was referring to was something many people feel. I am referring to the lingering sense of loss that many people feel and struggle with in the days and years after an affair.
Recovering from infidelity requires the couple to turn a negative into a positive. When this doesn’t happen the couple settles instead of grows. They settle for going back to circumstances that contributed to the affair instead of making a correction in themselves (and/or in the relationship) and moving. Everything happens for a reason – this is also true for affairs.
People mistakenly believe that relationships will always remain the same. The goodness, the special qualities that make it unique, and the way two people think and feel about each other will never change. This is just not true. It is a mistake to become complacent and think that what we have will never change. It takes work and attention to have a great passion-filled relationship. This lesson was illustrated in Spencer Johnson’s excellent book, “Who Moved My Cheese” (I highly recommend you read it).
You see life is in a state of constant change. It is always shifting. Bhuddists call this the “State of Impermanence”. It teaches us that what is, lasts for but an instant. As soon as it becomes part of the present it almost instantly becomes the past, and this underscores the notion that life is constantly changing.
Loss, pain, and grief are reminders of how fragile life can be, but these emotions can also be our teachers and motivate us to do better, be better, and serve others better. Grief reminds us to live in a state of gratitude and to be appreciative for what we have because in an instant we can lose it. Life is always evolving and we need to evolve with it.
Some of our most important lessons are born out of adversity so my advice is to embrace each fully. Doing so will teach you about yourself, your spouse, and what being relational really means.
As I said earlier, life is fragile, ever evolving, and changing. Just as the waves naturally flow towards the shore and back to sea again, such is the ebb and flow of life. Good times eventually have their challenges that, when faced, help us and our relationships to continue to grow. This is the circle of life. The pain and struggle may at times feel overwhelming but, if you embrace your challenges – not in fear but with the belief and the vision that something better is just around the corner – you will find it.
The challenges you face are part of a larger plan that is intended to help you evolve to a higher place for you, as well as for your relationship.
The client I spoke about at the beginning of this article made the decision to face his challenges, as did his wife. Through facing their challenges, he and his wife were able to understand one another better. It is true that an innocence was stolen from this couple by the affair but they have been able to achieve a higher level of intimacy, caring, and love for one another that they had not experienced before. Now, when he is triggered, after a moment of sadness he turns to his wife, reaches for her hand, and heals through connection.