Ok, you’ve had an affair. Your partner knows. You and your partner have decided that you want to heal the relationship and stay together. What now?
The path to affair recovery is not an easy one, but if you both have the tenacity to work through the grief and rebuild your relationship, you may an opportunity to build an even stronger relationship. One of the hardest parts of healing is feeling helpless in your partner’s overwhelming grief. You won’t know how to get their pain to stop. You’ll grow tired of asking, “How are you doing?” over and over. You may stop bringing it up in hopes that you can both heal and move on. This causes anxiety because your partner feels like you’ve forgotten about the pain and you’re no longer remorseful.
So, how do you acknowledge the pain, without sitting in the same repetitive conversations that seem more hurtful than helpful? In couples therapy, I use these 3 questions, by Monique Thompson, to keep couples connected in the wake of an affair.
How much pain are you in today on a scale of 1 to 10?
You won’t get much from the question, “How are you doing today?” After a while, the answer will get repetitive and doesn’t really tell you the whole story. So…you’ll stop asking.
What you really want to know is where your partner is in the healing process. If you’re going to be asking your partner these questions, it helps if you know where they are. Are they hurting today? How much? I think most people would agree that affairs are painful. Some days hurt more than others, and it doesn’t go away right away (if ever). Asking them how much pain they are in is one way of letting them know that you remember they’re hurting and care about the healing journey. It also reminds them that this isn’t normal, and things will get better with time and work on both parts.
What do you want me to understand about that?
What do you want me to understand about that number? Or, what’s making it that number? This is a great question to ask when you’re trying to understand the pain your partner is in. You may have come up with an answer based on what they’ve told you, but there’s no guarantee that’s it. When they tell their story, sometimes they’ll leave out something important or they’ll focus on one aspect of the situation while leaving another out. Asking this question helps them express what they feel has been forgotten or overlooked by giving them the space and time to explain things from their perspective.
They’ll also likely be glad that you care enough about them that you want to hear more about what’s contributing to their pain. This question is also a good way to get your partner talking about other aspects of the hurt.
What can make it 1 point better?
With this third question, you’re getting down to the real nitty-gritty of the healing process. When you’ve hurt your partner with an affair, you might get lost in defensiveness, remorse fatigue, or even justification. And it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of being hurt by what you’ve done, feeling guilty about it, and then trying to make up for the hurt by doing something nice. This can lead to an endless cycle of self-sacrifice that doesn’t actually heal anything.
The point here is to bring you both into the present moment to acknowledge pain and send the message that you know it won’t go away, but is there is anything (like a hug) that might make it feel just a tiny bit better. Usually, if you’ve gotten to this point, your partner has already moved one point.
Before you can move forward with affair recovery, you’ll need to heal the hurt. These 3 questions are the tool you need to get the healing momentum. If you’re struggling with how to start an affair recovery, these questions are a good place to begin. They’ll help you acknowledge that your partner has been hurt and show them that you care.
Working with a couples therapist is another way to get help with affair recovery. A couples therapist can help you and your partner work through the hurt, find forgiveness and heal together. If you’re ready to move forward with affair recovery, Knot Counseling can help.