Recovering from an Affair is a very difficult process. The mere disclosure of the Affair may set the tone for these kinds of questions:
– “Are we going to stay together or separate?”
– “Are we a couple or aren’t we?”
– “Will I ever be able to trust you again?”
– “Does the lover know more than I do?”
– “Did our friends or family members know about this before I did?”
– “Are you going to continue seeing her/him?”
– “Where did you two meet”
– “How long it take before you became engaged in the Affair?”
A partner obsessing about the details of the Affair can be annoying yet hurtful if you are the Affair Partner (the person who had the affair), you continue to feel the pain you created for the Hurt Partner. Hearing about the Affair over and over again can become tiresome and the Affair Partner can become weary and discouraged that the relationship is unable to move on. While the Affair Partner is remorseful and is willing to do anything to repair the relationship, listening to the details about the Affair over and over again is counterproductive.
When two people date they get to know each other. Some fall in love intensely and decide to become a couple. Others are more thoughtful as they consider differences in culture, age, social class, religion, etc. Whether they decide to marry or live together in a homosexual or heterosexual partnership, the decision puts a boundary around the two of them as a Couple. This decision completes the initial bonding stage of a relationship and paves the way for a healthy growth-promoting process to be able to differentiate (that is, become different from one another). It is this security of their bond that provides the support for each other’s differentiation to become whom they will become as individuals within the relationship.
In this culture, marriage/committed relationships come with an expectation of Sexual Monogamy, unless otherwise agreed upon. When one partner discovers that the other has had a sexual encounter with another person it is an assault on this security. An affair can be defined as one person secretly violating an actual or implied expectation of the other’s Primacy. The Secrecy is more disturbing than the actual sex. The Affair Partner has disrupted the commitment with the Hurt Partner, therefore, this disruption violates this boundary around them as a Couple.
Because the commitment and boundary has been disrupted and violated, everything is open again and the inevitable questions get asked. All the questions that existed before becoming a Couple are back on the table again. This time it’s more challenging because there are more dependencies (other people), like children involved. Each partner must re-decide whether he or she wants to start over and reinvest in their previous relationship This decision can come with soul searching dialogue and self-confrontation of issues with the help of a trained Counselor specializing in working with Infidelity. It is important to seek the help of a trained Counselor to effectively direct the process as continual questioning can become hostile and persecutory and stagnate therapy, which may turn it into “beat up” sessions. Confusion surrounds how to handle the persistent search for more facts and answering of questions.
Is it valuable for someone to obsess over details of the Affair? It’s a way of working through the trauma of the Affair. It is through this process that each partner decides whether to recommit to the partnership. When the Affair Partner answers the questions truthfully without being defensive or belligerent, it helps the Hurt Partner put an end to the “crazy” feeling since he or she is left fantasizing or sensationalizing answers to the questions themselves. When the evasiveness continues, it signals that the feelings leading to the Affair still exist and the Primacy of the committed partnership does not. Being honest about the details of the Affair helps put the blown up fantasies about the “other” woman or man into perspective and they are seen as being human, and not perfect or better.
As the Primary Couple deals with the betrayal of secrecy and deception created by the Affair they may create shared meaning by talking about these questions in detail. This process is essential to rebuilding trust and commitment. Developing a New Monogamy Agreement also helps with generating a new relationship preventing similar situations from occurring again. (See my article on The New Monogamy and look for How To Develop New Monogamy Agreements).