There are few traumas in life as devastating as discovering that your partner has been cheating.
Some of my patients have endured combat, lost loved ones and suffered incredible challenges, but nothing prepared them for their spouse’s infidelity.
The desire to feel loved is etched into our DNA, so romantic betrayal strikes to our very core, causing us to question every part of our lives.
Dr Kenneth Paul Rosenberg believes that few traumas can compare to discovering that your partner has been cheating (file photo)
Just as love is the strongest addiction — the most intense stimulator of the brain’s reward system — losing love can plunge us into painful withdrawal and panic.
And when it happens it’s understandable if it feels like the end of the world as you know it.
But, believe me, most marriages can survive an affair.
Infidelity is often not personal. As I explained in Saturday’s paper, many men and women cheat even when they are happily married. They do it to satisfy a biological need for romantic excitement, rather than as a statement of unhappiness in an existing relationship.
In my experience as a psychiatrist specialising in sexual issues, you can get through this together — with time and following the right steps.
SAVE YOUR TEARS
Yet how to react when the person who was once a source of comfort is now causing you pain?
In the immediate aftermath of an affair, my strongest recommendation to all couples is to Think Before You Act. I can’t say this strongly enough.
Dr Rosenberg outlines his theories about cheating in his new book titled Infidelity – why men and women cheat
My advice is always that you both, and this may be especially hard for the betrayed spouse, need to ‘chill’.
Impulsive or desperate actions will only make a terrible situation worse, potentially ruining your lives and those of your children, too, if you have them.
When a betrayed partner is relentlessly tearful, anxious and angry for weeks and months, sometimes that can drive a husband to seek solace from the affair partner even more.
Anger is another understandable reaction, but also destructive. Not only is it the sort of behaviour likely to drive the other person away, more importantly when we are angry and upset, we lose track of what’s important to us and how to act rationally.
DON’T EXPECT ENDLESS APOLOGIES
During conversations between cheating and cheated upon partners, neither party can truly understand the others’ attitude.
This may be hard to wrap your head around but here goes: often the cheating spouse may have little genuine remorse. More than a few cheating spouses inwardly — and sometimes outwardly — gloat, full of pride because they are desirable and have conquered a new lover.
It sounds terrible, but it’s something I’ve seen time and again. Even if the cheater does feel remorse, it will never be anything approaching the terrible pain of rejection and humiliation that the cheated-on is experiencing.
He says that, surprisingly, a rejected spouse wants their partner back more desperately after they cheat (file photo)
Those suffering the after-effects of betrayal need to remember reconciliation is a long process and it’s likely the cheater will feel differently and be more remorseful when the heady cocktail of hormones and brain chemicals that made the affair feel so thrilling, has worn off.
What also happens surprisingly often, is that the rejected spouse wants their partner more desperately than ever.
Unconsciously, they feel that if they can win their husband or wife back they will be able to prove their self-worth.
The other partner becomes a challenge to be conquered. But it’s a recipe for disaster.
If you hold onto a long-term relationship as though your life depends on it, chances are you’ll either hold onto an overly dependent, unhealthy connection or you’ll lose the relationship altogether because of your intense neediness.
WHAT (NOT) TO SAY
It’s likely the cheated-on spouse will want to know every detail of their partner’s philandering. Although that desire is normal, it leads to more harm than good because you can never truly satisfy that need.
In my experience the reality is that the betrayed spouse will probably never know everything.
And if you keep returning to the scene of the crime, as it were, you can never move forward as a couple.
Keep knowledge to clear factual information such as what happened, how it happened, how many times it happened and who it happened with.
However, he also says that you must move on from the incident and that the cheater cannot reveal any intimate details of the affair (file photo)
The adulterer should not share details about sex with their lover, or specifics about the other person, for example what they look like or what they wore, conversations they had or hotels they stayed in.
These sorts of details will only cause further trauma.
Inevitably a betrayed spouse will ask: ‘Do you love him/her?’ ‘Was the sex better?’ ‘Why did you do it?’ While the unfaithful partner should give these questions careful consideration and address them in a calm fashion, those who have been cheated on should not be surprised if they don’t get a satisfactory answer.
These questions are often unanswerable because a person may seek sex for reasons they never understand and feelings can be so fluid.
You can love someone and feel relatively uninterested the next.
Many of my patients promised their affair partners they would marry them in the heat of romance, but never come close to keeping that promise.
DON’T TRY TO TURN INTO A SEXBOMB
According to relationship therapist Patricia Love (yes, that’s her name) the best way for a spouse who has been cheated on to reclaim their relationship is to concentrate on their own health and well-being.
She finds some wives (in the couples she treats it is mostly the men who stray) try to behave and dress more provocatively to win back their straying husbands. She advises against this, however, cautioning that research shows that when wives act ‘sexier’ following an affair, it actually ‘increases distaste for the wife’ as well as increasing ‘hot, passionate feelings for the lover’ because desperation is such a turn-off.
He said that even if the cheater promised to marry their affair partner, it’s usually just said in the heat of passion and isn’t meant (file photo)
Instead she advises that women show husbands what a good thing they have at home by demonstrating their independence and pursuing their dreams, to show they won’t be broken.
The shame and humiliation betrayed spouses experience is often their biggest obstacle when dealing with their own lives. They often feel embarrassed, as if what happened is somehow a reflection of their own lack of desirability, as well as their stupidity because they were fooled.
BE WILLING TO LOSE THE RELATIONSHIP
In my experience jilted spouses who are willing to lose a relationship are actually more likely to keep it.
They are able to be clearer about the bigger picture when it comes to their marriage and their own happiness, and to be able to decide what is important to them.
As I’ve said, desperation to cling to a partner does not make for a successful reconciliation.
Every couple who has been through infidelity has to go through a period of mourning for the relationship they had, and the worst of it will last anything from a few weeks to some months.
But with good intentions and good behaviour, truly, many marriages can be happy again within a year.
- Infidelity: Why Men And Women Cheat by Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, MD is published by Da Capo Press, £18.99. To order a copy for £14.24 (25pc discount). Visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640, p&p is free on orders over £15. Offer valid until 16/06/2018. For more information, go to drkenrosenberg.com.