By DR. ROSEMARY LICHTMAN and DR. PHYLLIS GOLDBERG
Infidelity is one of the most significant factors that can negatively affect a marriage. If you are questioning whether or not your partner is faithful, consider why. Has he suddenly become emotionally distant, is he staying late at work or does he seem preoccupied at home? Perhaps you have caught him in lies and you wonder if you can really trust him.
If you are suspicious of your spouse's behavior, you may have already checked the phone bills, searched his belongings or gone through the e-mail messages. But it's just as important to look within. Ask yourself if your deep feelings for him have changed and, if so, why? Is there something going on in your personal life that is causing you to feel distant, unlovable or guilty?
These are difficult questions to look at head on, but necessary if you are to get to the bottom of your concerns. However, if you discover that your partner is having an affair, feelings of betrayal and isolation are normal. Perhaps you think that there is something wrong with you and you deserve what happened. In any case, your self esteem plummets. You might feel you don't really know this person and you can never trust him again. Wanting to leave is a natural and typical reaction after your ego has been damaged. Feelings of abandonment can be the source of deep anger and result in suspicion and accusations. Resentment and rage are common, causing tempers flare.
This is not a time to judge or beat up on yourself. Make sure you spend time with friends and family who support and care about you. A therapeutic relationship gives you a safe place to talk with a professional who appreciates the particulars of your situation. You will learn more about the deep emotional effects the betrayal has had on you. An affair can seriously threaten your security and sense of self. You may feel that if only you had been more cooperative, attractive or intelligent your partner would not have turned to another. This kind of emotional uncertainty can have a ripple effect and lead to doubts about your self worth.
As you begin to feel safe and more trusting with your therapist or coach -- and from this new vantage point -- you may decide to meet together with your partner and confront the underlying issues. You owe it to yourself and the marriage to spend time discussing your feelings about the affair and its aftermath with your partner. Take this opportunity to excavate the layers of your emotions so you'll be more fully aware of what's going on. It's valuable to determine whether there was something missing in the marriage before the affair. There's always the chance that you'll find out information about each other that will make you want to get back to the drawing board. And learning to trust again is a major issue in the healing process.
Although you're devastated now, you can learn from this experience and gain insight about yourself and your relationship. As you build better communication skills, you'll discover new ways of honestly expressing your feelings and relating directly to each other. While some conflict is an inevitable part of all relationships, knowing how to resolve complicated issues with your sense of self intact will become a new skill in your relationship tool box.
Know that openness and trust need to rebuild over time, after you've been betrayed. Although there are no guarantees in life, remaining emotionally cut off has its own pain. You do have choices -- you can stay buried in the hurt of the past or you can let go and give in to the potential of a full life. As it can take time before you have faith in your own judgment again, finding the support of those you trust can make it easier on you.
In the end -- whether you decide to work through the affair issues with your partner, or that your marriage is over, a process with a professional counselor will enhance your self awareness. This knowledge will be beneficial in your relationships as well as in all other aspects of your life. And you deserve this opportunity for greater clarity and peace of mind, whatever the outcome. Dr. Rosemary Lichtman and Dr. Phyllis Goldberg have guided their clients through reassessing their lives, before, during and after divorce. They created http://www.HerMentorCenter.com, which provides coaching services and a free e-zine, and are co-authors of the book Family Relationships.