Faced with the incarceration of one or other of the spouses, the couple often plunges into anger and frustration and misunderstanding. The psychiatrist Christophe Fauré decrypts the seven axes on which to work to restore the confidence between spouses and to envisage again serenely the future to two.
His new album is to be read as the diary of a wounded woman. In Lemonade, Beyoncé confides half word on the incarceration of her husband, Jay-Z. And the star is far from the only one to face the adultery of his spouse. An SMS discovered by chance on a laptop, an email that we never read … and everything changes. He has a mistress, she has a lover. The discovery of an extramarital relationship throws the couple into turmoil. Some do not get up and separate, others manage to cross the storm and try to rebuild their couple. The path is far from easy.
Each situation is unique and specific and it is impossible to offer infallible recipes that would guarantee a harmonious restoration of the couple. Nevertheless, there are avenues that it is useful to tackle head-on if one wants to give oneself every chance of success. This “work” is divided into 7 axes:
Understand what happened
As Winston Churchill has said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. To try to understand for both spouses why and how this relationship was established is an essential first step: what are the responsibilities of each? What attitudes, behaviors, mutual negligence, loss of illusions, disappointments on one side or the other have laid the foundation for this infidelity?
It is important to emphasize that the extramarital relationship does not necessarily signify a loss of the bond of love. There are indeed personal circumstances that make it impossible to find in one’s partner the answers one seeks, without stopping loving one’s spouse: doubts and insecurities characteristic of the transition of mid-life, periods of unemployment, bereavement or personal difficulties.
Relearning the everyday
Since the discovery of the extramarital relationship, we are still living together and we feel very uncomfortable with each other. The routines and rituals of everyday life can sometimes seem totally unbearable, but they also constitute guard rails providing a framework to channel the emotions and to go through the first months of uncertainty.
Continuing to live together can be restrictive, but these constraints also make possible moments of lightness where the seed of change begins to take root. If we make the decision to stay together, we retain the assets of our friendly and family network and, deliberately using this known and secure framework, we can gradually learn to find the pleasure of doing things together: go to cinema, theater, entertaining friends, doing activities with children …
Incidentally, to show the other that one puts one’s own in the course of one activity or another – while the other knows that the heart is not 100% there – demonstrates the will to make an effort to rebuild. This is the number of points earned for the restoration of the couple.
During the first exchanges, it is important to get out of the mystery surrounding the extramarital relationship because the imagination leads to the development of scenarios that are always worse than reality. Everyone will evaluate what he / she wants to reveal, but it is true that to put the facts clearly demystifies the relationship: who is this person? Where did you meet him? In which circumstances? etc.
In his quest for answers, the deceived person must be careful, especially when she wants to address the details of a sexual nature. Too many details can indeed hurt him and the answers of his spouse can mark it without his knowledge. Apart from the too sexual details, it is found that the person deceived very often needs this type of conversations, not to self-flogging but to appropriate the missing elements allowing him to put everything “end to end”.
Beyond the concrete facts, there is a second level of communication, where one deals with the fundamental questions on the deep reasons of the infidelity and on the state of the couple. It is difficult to escape if you want to move forward but we must recognize that they are not absolutely essential for the reconstruction of the couple. It is therefore useless to put ourselves in danger: too much “psychologizing” things can have a paradoxically negative effect and it is wise sometimes not to go too far in introspection!
For the sake of openness and sincerity, is it necessary to say everything? The answer is clear: no! The person who has been unfaithful does not owe everything to his / her partner. There are components of what she has experienced in the extramarital relationship that belong to her secret garden and she has the right to shut them up.
This idea may of course be unbearable for the person who has been deceived, but it must be remembered that this secret garden at his spouse existed even in the absence of any infidelity. Finally, if dialogue is impossible, it is useful to turn to a couple therapist or marriage mediator to help restore a constructive dialogue.
Who says infidelity says loss of confidence, it’s inevitable. From there, the restoration of trust is another pillar of the couple’s reconstruction. This task is primarily the responsibility of the person who has been unfaithful, but it must be known that the deceived person may, by his attitude, encourage or otherwise hinder this approach – by excessive mistrust or harassment too marked.
This is done in particular on two axes:
1- To establish with his / her partner an honest and sincere dialogue on the extramarital relationship: we have just talked about it.
2- Renounce the relationship with the other person: This is the best situation. In reality, things are much less simple: there was obviously good in the extramarital relationship and the unfaithful person obviously has a hard time giving it up. While agreeing on the need for an intimate distance, at the beginning it has many difficulties in letting go of the emotional dimension.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of the deceived person, it is the pursuit of this type of relationship that is the most threatening. He casts doubt on the feelings his spouse continues to feel for the other person. This can weaken the trust she is trying to rebuild. It is the same when the person who has been unfaithful continues to maintain a bond with the lover or the mistress, without there being so much of sexual relations.
In some cases, it is impossible to put the other person at a distance: it is a neighbor, a co-worker or someone whom the person who has been unfaithful crosses regularly. How to do? At work, it is recommended to avoid as much as possible personal conversations about one’s life, feelings, relationship, children … in fact, everything that is intimate and has an emotional tone.
As fortuitous encounters may occur, it may be agreed to share it with her spouse as appropriate. It is even recommended to do it before his / her partner asks for it. Experience shows that by doing so, people “earn trust points” from their spouses.
Learn to forgive
With the restoration of trust, forgiveness is at the heart of rebuilding the couple after infidelity. To forgive is not to forget or to act as if nothing had happened, it is not to stifle anger, resentment, grief, loss of self-confidence and in the other, is not “move on” without any significant change being implemented; it is not turning a blind eye or minimizing the impact of what has happened, leaving to the other the possibility of another adventure, it is not accepting the acts of the person who offended, without any consequences for her.
Forgiveness and the return of trust evolve in parallel. All that the person who has been unfaithful will do to restore the sense of security within the couple will help the deceived person to gain forgiveness. In fact, to forgive is to agree to gradually give up the anger and resentment one feels towards one’s spouse.
As long as bitterness and the desire to hurt persist, forgiveness is not possible. In the same way, as behind the anger is always suffering, to forgive also means, for the deceived person, to appease his own suffering and to restore his feeling of internal security: we no longer suffer from infidelity when we are not more angry; and no longer being angry also results from feeling safe.
Soon after the discovery of the extramarital relationship, sexual intimacy is the last thing we want, both for the deceived person and the unfaithful person. We have too bad, we are too troubled, we are too insecure.
Heavy questions also arise: is the desire definitely dead? Can he be revived? And how? These questions are sometimes in the foreground when everyone is considering reinvesting the relationship. It is extremely difficult to define precise rules when considering the renewal of desire after infidelity.
In any case, finding sexual intimacy after infidelity is a real challenge. To speak about it openly is essential in the process of reconstruction but it is an extremely delicate ground. Moreover, some couples do not succeed and need professional help (a sexologist for example) to try to reactivate the desire. Very often, sexual intimacy closely follows the return of emotional intimacy, which is directly related to the feeling of security, so the return of sexuality goes hand in hand with the restoration of trust.
Reinvesting the couple, reinvesting oneself
It is necessary to restore what Steven Solomon Lorie Teagno calls in Rebuilding his couple after the infidelity it is possible! (Béliveau ed.), “emotional intimacy”. “Emotional intimacy is what allows the couple to continue to grow after the initial (and ephemeral) phase of the love affair. Without this intimacy, love is eroded, the bond of love weakens and the relationship gradually deteriorates. “
Thus, after the infidelity, the main challenge is to restore this emotional intimacy. In reality, this intimacy is twofold: it is necessary to work to find an intimacy of heart in the relationship but it is just as essential to find an intimacy with oneself. Both must be tackled head-on, otherwise the reconstruction remains partial and fragile.
Taking care of the relationship is:
- To be as reliable and honest as possible to each other
- Express without delay anger, pain, frustration or resentment
- Projecting together in the future
- Relearn how to think in terms of “us”
- Rebalancing the power games in the relationship
- Show and name explicitly his love for the other
The infidelity points out that one has perhaps been a little too much forgotten in the couple, to the point of losing the link with oneself and with what counts for oneself – this is valid for the two partners, unfaithful or having been deceived. We may have lived too much in a fusional way, forgetting that the fusion impoverishes rather than enriches. Thus, as the Lebanese poet Kalil Gibran writes in The Prophet: “And hold together, but not too close either: because the pillars of the temple are erected at a distance and the oak and the cypress do not grow in the shadow of each other. “
Dr. Christophe Fauré is a psychiatrist – psychotherapist in liberal practice in Paris. He is the author of many books by Albin Michel, of which Do you still love me? – To rebuild after infidelity, and Now or never – The transition from the middle of life.