Life is just great for Kim and Adam, living just outside a busy city in a town they love. She gets the kids to school and their sports program, while he grinds out long days at his firm, winning bread for the family. The days are both rich and tiring, with work, active kids, preparing dinner, spending time together, making plans and conking out. It is a good life.
Now throw in Dylan, a newly relocated and recently-divorced neighbor. The couple are good neighbors and introduce themselves. Turns out the kids are on the same team, so Kim suggests a carpool.
From this innocent step, problems develop.
Kim and Dylan watch the game — and each other. Afterward, they take the kids out for ice cream, and really enjoy a themselves. It starts innocently; talk leads to more time together, igniting an exciting affair. It goes on for months.
When word reaches Adam that Kim was seen being intimate with another, he waves it away.
“We are so happy, it can’t be,” he thinks.
That night Adam glances, almost as a curiosity, at Kim’s cell phone, and sees an incriminating text from Dylan. There it is: explicit, flirtatious evidence that his wife was having an affair.
A painful confrontation ensues, and Kim admits everything.
So what now?
Imagine if you are Adam; betrayal is indefensible wrongdoing and world shaking. If Kim was unhappy, why wouldn’t she speak up? Adam asks himself too many painful questions. Is he simply not a good enough partner, friend, or lover? There is real hurt here and now that Kim has come forward, the couple needs to come to terms with how the chips are going to fall.
Scenario 1: Forgive and Reconcile
Kim asks for forgiveness as she becomes aware of the enormity of the wrong that was done. In order to give this a chance, Kim would have to sever all ties with Dylan, think this through very carefully, and give Adam a lot of time. The life they’ve spent together with their kids can outweigh a thoughtless, temporary affair.
The real question is not whether they can, but rather do they want to repair the damage? They both may want to consult a therapist.
How things could play out:
– Kim must feel regret and endeavor to make amends.
– If Adam believes Kim’s sincerity, he can learn to trust her again.
– Resentment is a poison; hopefully, with the right work and sincere effort, Adam will accept her apology in time.
– With hindsight, he may also come to understand her reasons for straying.
– The couple turns over a new leaf, with re-forged trust and utter honesty.
Scenario 2: Forgive and Say Goodbye
An affair fractures the foundations of a relationship; sometimes, those cracks are too wide to ever close over. If the couple doesn’t wish to reconcile, Kim can still look for forgiveness. She should be supportive and limit her demands during the divorce, as she owes him that. As for Adam, he may or may not forgive her. It often depends on what happens with Dylan.
At least until the divorce is final, Kim should not continue her relationship with Dylan. It’s a bad idea. Her children would be rattled by the new man, especially when Dad has just left the scene. Beyond that, it would shame and humiliate Adam.
She should let things cool off, bide her time, and then see how things look.
Scenario 3: No Discussion; Divorce
Adam is in no mood for forgiveness. It is going to be divorce coupled with seething resentment. In Adam’s mind, Kim brought this on the family and has to pay the price. Yet, however shameful Kim’s sins – and in his eyes, they are repugnant – Adam should try to see clearly: obvious rifts and resentment between parents can be catastrophic for child development.
A victim like Adam can segue to self righteous rage.
Should Adam turn abusive – verbally or physically – then Kim may benefit from counseling or law enforcement to protect herself and keep things civil. Anger burns longer than any man-made fuel, even as couples split apart. Despite the injustice of the affair, Adam has to try and think big picture and do what’s right, not just what’s impulsive or self righteous.
Scenario 4: Blame and Shame
In this scenario, Kim doubles down on the injury by blaming Adam for everything and threatens to leave him. This is a typical narcissism and it is not uncommon. Narcissists laugh away excruciating consequences for others and think only of themselves.This affair could cripple Adam’s mental stability and be damaging to our children? Oh well! By putting Adam on the firing line and playing the victim, Kim would display an emotional hollowness unique to narcissists: no regret, no empathy.
Yet, with regret we lose moral guidance. Regret can be healthy and involves looking in the mirror and holding that person accountable for their actions. It’s tough and painful, but through regret, Kim can begin to understand her betrayal (of both Adam and herself) and see things from his side.
Affairs are not uncommon. They are a blow to the marriage you thought you had. You may identify with any of the above scenarios or fluctuate from one to another.
At the core is grief and the mourning of the innocence of fidelity. To overcome and keep the marriage or to split on good terms requires the work of grief from denial, to anger, to bargaining, to depression to acceptance. You must ask yourself if the marriage and the family can overcome this or not.
It’s a deeply personal choice.
The exposure of cheating challenges both parties to their core. Much can be lost, and it is easy to fall into roles that may deter you from what you really want. Those who understand regret and realize the magnitude of the trust they have destroyed can, with work, become better souls in the long run. The wounded party, if they’re lucky, will come to understand what happened and with the unfolding of time, grieve fully, reconnect and make a full recovery.
With the right therapist on board, each member of the couple has a better chance of getting it right. These things are immensely private.
Affairs happen. Some marriages/relationships survive. Others collapse. And some grow.
Love is not for cowards.
Mark Banschick, MD practices child and adult psychiatry in New York State and is the author of The Intelligent Divorce books series and The Intelligent Divorce Online Parenting Course. Learn more at TheIntelligentDivorce.com
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