How Can We Rebuild The Communication After The Affair?

By: Katie Lersch:  I often hear from people who have stopped really talking to one another after one of them has had an affair.  Many of them are committed to saving their marriages but they’re now struggling because they feel awkward and unheard.

I heard from a wife who said: “my husband had an affair with one of my close friends.  I am beyond furious and I feel so betrayed.  However, because we have children, we are committed to making it work.  Sometimes, I doubt this decision because things are so strained and awkward between us.  My husband will not open up to me about the affair.  He doesn’t say more than a string of words to me in any given day.  Even small talk seems like a huge effort.   I want him to talk to me and tell me why he had this affair, how he feels about me now, and what he envisions for our future.  But I can’t get more than a couple of grunts out of him.  The sad thing is that the communication was always really good in our marriage.  We used to stay up talking for hours. I always stressed that he could tell me anything.  But those thoughts aren’t realistic now.  Because we aren’t communicating at all, even about the little things.  How can we rebuild the communication so that we can start to save and rebuild our marriage?”  I will offer some tips on how to do this in the following article.

If You Can Get Professional Guidance, Do So: A big reason that people have trouble communicating after an affair is fear.  The person who cheated is afraid of saying the wrong things.  And often, the faithful spouse is afraid of hearing hurtful things.  So the couple will sort of tip toe around the issues so much that things become more and more awkward over time.  And then they both stop talking which can result in one or both making assumptions.  The wife may think that he’s not opening up to her because he doesn’t care enough, while the husband can believe that the wife wants him to talk so that she can obtain even more ammunition for her anger.  Husbands who have had affairs often think that “talking” is the wife’s way of trying to trip him up.

That’s why it’s very helpful to talk about these issues in the presence of a counselor if it’s possible.  Often, a skilled professional knows how to get people to open up in the most safe, comfortable ways possible.   Having said that, not all couples are comfortable going to counseling.  If this applies to you, then at least educate yourself with materials offered by professionals.  (There are some decent free resources on the side of this blog.)

Start With The Small Things Before You Try To Have Difficult Discussions: Often, the faithful spouse wants to know everything immediately.  I understand this because I was the same way.  You want to know what you are up against and you need completely truthful answers. But understand that once you get certain information, the anger is going to build.  And if you are not prepared to deal with it, then that same anger won’t have an outlet which can make things much worse.  That’s why I advocate tackling these conversations gradually rather than all at once.

If all you are talking about is the unpleasantness of the affair, is it any wonder that you both want to clam up?  Many couples in this situation tell me that they are afraid a huge fight is going to erupt every single time they open their mouths.  So, in response, they keep quiet.  It’s so important that both you and your spouse understand that in order to rebuild your marriage after the affair, you need to create an environment where both people feel safe to admit, and to hear, the truth.   I know that this can be difficult.  But secrecy and hesitating to communicate with each other can create an environment that is conducive to repeat cheating and that is probably the last thing that you want.

Try To Create An Environment Where Open Communication Is Welcome And Expected: As I alluded to before, you want to start slowly and build up to a very open style of communication.  It should be clear that you expect nothing less than complete transparency and truth.  This means that you must both be willing to give and receive both.   It is vital that you are willing to say and hear the truth.  This means that you both need to be committed to saying and  hearing the truth without exploding in anger or doling out negative consequences every time someone speaks.

People often ask me how to break the ice when no one seems willing to communicate openly.  I am not a counselor, but many use open ended questions in which both partners take turns asking and answering.   Often, the receiving partner will repeat what was said and ask then ask for clarification if needed.   Sometimes, they will even express how their spouse’s statement has made them feel.  This can feel very awkward at first.  But my best advice is to plow through it.  Talking and feeling awkward is so much preferable than remaining quiet and allowing the doubts and resentments to pile up so that, with each passing day, you are more and more silent and talking to your spouse becomes more and more difficult.

Open and honest communication is one of the most important goals for rebuilding your marriage after an affair.  This step can not and should  not be skipped.  If you’re having difficulty with this, it’s important that you keep trying or get some help.  Because shutting down or stopping talking altogether is almost the worst thing that you can do.

Discussions with my husband were very difficult after his affair.  We did have counseling to help us with those initial talks, but when we get home, we’d fall back into our old awkward silences.  It took some time and some very conscious efforts to break the cycle.  But communicating openly and regularly was vital to our healing.  If it helps, you can read the whole story on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com

 

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