Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Infidelity Discovered: What Next?

Infidelity Discovered: What Next?

This is the last article in the series on infidelity that was carried in the Southern Neighbor. If you have children and you have discovered or participated in infidelity in your marriage, make sure you read the previous article and take steps to protect the welfare of your children (all ages!)

This article is written from the perspective of the betrayed spouse who has gathered information which is strongly or definitively indicative of an affair. It is imperative that you seek information and emotional support to avoid impulsive responses you may later regret. Friends and family may offer emotional support but rarely have enough experience to offer sound advice. A therapist experienced in dealing with infidelity is the best source to help you weigh your options. The therapist may be able to offer names of family attorneys who can provide legal information for your future consideration without immediately initiating aggressive legal actions.

A major decision point will be your willingness to engage in talks about your relationship and the possible affair in order to save your marriage. In most cases you should not respond impulsively, as your partner's response during the discussion will provide important information for future decisions. Be aware that one talk will not solve the problem, even if you receive the response you want from your spouse. In most of these cases the problems are deeply rooted and have been exacerbated by lies and deceptions of the affair. Even in the best of circumstances it will take a lot of pain and heartache to resolve the intertwined problems. But--if you love your spouse, if there was value in the marriage, if there are children and family to consider--see if you can reach into yourself to find the strength and wisdom to "fight" for your marriage.

Before you confront your spouse, make a plan for time and place of the proposed discussion, gather the data you want to share and formulate your desired goals. Often it is helpful to write out your thoughts in the form of the letter. (Put it away, then later edit out the hateful statements and have the letter with you to use as needed.) You are certainly justified in your hurt and angry thoughts but you want to consider the effect on your spouse. Consider whether you want your spouse to become excessively defensive, hostile or counter accusatory to you or whether you want him or her to be open to listening and working with you on a solution to this very difficult situation.

Your talk should be timed so you are unhurried, your spouse can talk with you privately and the children will not be able to overhear. (Asleep is best.) Present the facts as you know them and the contradictions you've been told by your spouse. If you stick to your feelings it will be harder for your partner to disavow them. (In therapist terminology, use "I messages" as in "I feel hurt" and avoid accusatory "you messages" as in "you good for nothing ##.") You may want to give your spouse time to think about a response, stating you would prefer to avoid denials and more lying. Research into the attitudes of the unfaithful spouse find that a large majority initially denied the wrongdoing but upon later reflection came to believe that disclosure is best. If your spouse admits indiscretions or infidelity, thank him or her for telling you, saying you'd rather know the truth even if it's hurtful. Your spouse will be more likely to continue revealing more of the truth if you avoid hysterical recriminations. State what you want which will often be marriage counseling and stopping the affair, at least during the counseling.

If, as often occurs, you encounter a denial, try to reformulate the issue as a problem in the marriage. By this point there will be a lot of tension and stress in your relationship, and you can note this in asking for your spouse to collaborate with you to improve your marriage.

A knowledgeable marriage therapist will help each spouse with behavior goals for the necessary period of counseling. You will be asked to be patient and work on your part of the marital tensions during the recovery period. Your spouse will be asked to discontinue all avoidable contact with the affair partner and to divulge information about the affair necessary for the healing to begin.

If you are affected by this problem, take heart and realize that your life will be improved when the crisis is resolved, improved for you as a stronger but separate person or improved in a stronger and reinvigorated marriage.