How Do I Help My Husband Process His Feelings After His Affair?

By: Katie Lersch:  It is very common for a husband who has just been caught in an affair to get somewhat flustered.  He’s often overcome and somewhat overwhelmed with many emotions all at once.  Sometimes, this comes on top of struggles that lead him to have the affair in the first place.  As a result, it’s sometimes very obvious that he’s really struggling in a way that he never has before.  He may appear to be a man that you don’t even recognize.

How the wife reacts to this will differ.  Some wives are understandably so angry at him that she figures that this is a problem of his own creation and he can deal with it on his own.  Other wives can’t help but feel some compassion.  Because they know their husband better than anyone else.  And they can look at him and know that he is not himself and that something major is happening with him. As such, some of these wives want to know how they can help their husband.  Some don’t know what is going to happen with their marriage, but they want to help him just the same because he is the father of their children or because they don’t want to see anyone struggle.

A wife might say: “I know that my husband is having a hard time of it.  I have never seen him this way.  This all started when he lost his job.  The man who used to be confident and had a happy outlook was sullen and damaged.  He withdrew.  I hoped that things would get better once he got another job.  But it actually got worse. Because the new job was way beneath his level of skill.  But he took it anyway because we needed the money.  After he’d been at this job for a while, he started hanging out with coworkers.  And these are people who he never would have even associated with before.  He started going to bars after work and he hasn’t drank in over a decade.  It was obvious that things were going down hill fast.  And then, just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, I found out he’d been having an affair with one of these coworkers.  Now that he is caught, my husband’s emotions are all over the place.  One minute he is remorseful and sad.  The next minute he is defiant and defensive.  He says that he doesn’t know who he is anymore and he feels worthless.  I don’t know how to help him.  His feelings change from day. How do I help him process his feelings so that we can move on?”

I find it very admirable that despite the hurt this must have caused you, your thoughts are still with him.  Not every one can say that and hopefully, this is something that won’t go unnoticed.

But, having been through this, I’m of the opinion that wives just are not in the best position to help him process his feelings.  And don’t take this in the wrong way.  Our intentions are correct.  But it’s nearly impossible for us to be objective.  And even if we could be objective, we aren’t mental health counselors.

I know that when I would listen to my own husband try to talk through this process, I would hear nearly every thing through the veil of what it had to do with me.  As much as I might have wanted to, I could not take myself, my marriage, and my children out of the equation.  It couldn’t be all about him when he had everything to do with us.

And I find that wives tend to go one way or another with this.  We will either look for our own fault in it.  Or we will deny having any fault at all.  Either way, this isn’t objective enough to help him effectively sort through his issues.  Frankly, it may even create additional issues.

The correct person to help him uncover his feelings is a professional counselor or close friend or mentor who can be objective.  When it is your marriage at stake, you, as a spouse, can not be objective because you are right in the middle of it.

This is only my opinion, of course. But I think that you can offer to listen.  I think you can offer to sit and hear him talk.  But it’s very hard to separate the other issues from the affair when you are the one who has been hurt and affected by it.  So while I think you can listen about his job loss and his identity issues, it’s going to be hard to take the affair out of the equation.

I think the most helpful thing to do would be to offer to listen, but to also strongly encourage him to talk to an objective, trusted, and knowledgeable third party.  If he is resistant to this, try some self help resources that he can work through at his own pace without feeling self conscious.  I’m sure it’s very reassuring for him to know that he has your support.  But you can’t necessarily fix this for him.  He has to take the initiative.

When I’ve seen spouses try to work through this scenario, often the cheating spouse is guarded and defensive and the spouse who is trying to help feels rejected and frustrated.   And it turns into one more issue you have to deal with.  It’s better to give this issue to someone else.  And to offer your support as a spouse and not a mental health counselor.

I understand why you want to help.  But I think that you can probably help in different ways.  And I think that you should consider what you need also.  For myself, I learned that I really couldn’t help my family until I addressed what I needed also. You’re welcome to read about my own journey on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com

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