An affair hurts. In the hours and days after an affair comes out, one or both partners may face these six, scary words. We search for answers to where and when things went wrong. Often, we give in to thinking we may never know and give up on the restoration and healing process.
What if you could assess your relationship and find ways to strengthen it before it is too late?
A Slow Erosion of Trust and Commitment
According to a leading relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, affairs don’t just happen overnight. The act of emotionally or physically going outside of the relationship is the result of small, almost imperceptible events over a long period. These events erode trust and commitment to the point when one or both partners in the relationship turn away from the other. At this point, a couple’s attempts to repair the relationship fail and conflict discussions are painfully negative. Gottman states the affair happens out of this “gradual process of investing less and less in the relationship, and looking for another person to make up for what is allegedly missing in the [relationship].”
The Typical Cascade of Events
In The Science of Trust (2014), Gottman provides a flowchart that displays the typical steps that lead to infidelity. While every couple will not go through all 23 steps to a betrayal, every couple can find themselves on this list at some point in their relationship.
1) Making dismissive comments or criticisms against the other becomes a common event.
2) Believing he or she is not “there for me” becomes a common event.
3) Feeling emotionally overwhelmed and tired becomes a common event.
4) Conflict is the norm, and the likelihood of getting out of conflict is less and less. Trying to “just forget about it” or “make-up” no longer works.
5) Couple avoids conflict, suppresses it, and then has a blow-up.
6) One or both start avoiding self-disclosure and now has secrets from his or her partner.
7) One or both start negatively comparing the spouse to others.
8) One or both stop reaching out for emotional connection.
9) One or both begin investing less in the relationship (and more in outside activities, like kids, work, hobbies, etc.). Also, one or both begin sacrificing less for the relationship (i.e., no longer sacrificing extra work time to be home or to have a date night).
10) Less dependency on the relationship to get needs met. Start confiding in others rather than the spouse or partner.
11) Start maximizing partner’s negative traits and minimizing partner’s positive traits. Maximizing negative traits leads to more “trashing” versus “cherishing” comments about the partner to others.
12) Resentment sets in rather than gratitude.
13) Partners feel lonely in the relationship. This can include low desire, little sex, romance, fun, play, adventure, and ongoing courtship.
14) Fewer positive thoughts about the relationship (i.e., less positive thoughts and stories about when you met, got engaged, got married, early years, etc.).
15) Fewer boundaries with alternative relationships and hardening boundaries with your spouse.
16) Begin keeping more and more secrets from the other partner.
17) Crossing boundaries. Real betrayal (emotional or physical) starts to unfold as one or both partners actively turn toward others to meet emotional or physical needs.
It is Never Too Late to Reverse Course
While this cascade of events is not linear, there is a typical pathway toward betrayal. If you find yourself somewhere on the list above, your relationship is not over, and there is hope for a long-lasting and life-giving relationship. The first step is an honest assessment of where you find yourself at this moment. Then, choose to talk to someone who can help you reverse course and strengthen (or even restore) the trust and commitment in the relationship. The Summit Counseling Center has several couple’s therapists trained to walk with you no matter where you find your relationship. We also have trained therapists able to walk with couples through affair recovery to build new, stronger marriages. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call the front office at 678-893-5300 or visit us at www.summitcounseling.org.