Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Healing After the Affair: Whether to get help?

Have you decided to make life better or are you paralyzed unable to take the next step?

A number of people in our recent survey identified not getting help as the least productive thing they did after the affair, but what stopped them from getting the much needed help? Doctors report that telling someone they are going to have a heart attack rarely effects a change in life style. Generally that individual will wait until they’ve had the heart attack to implement change.

Most couples wait, on average, six years before seeking marriage counseling, according to research conducted by John Gottman. Are we just unaware that we need to get help? I don’t think so.

One possible explanation might be what psychologists call “decision paralysis”. Making a decision between one unknown and another can leave us stuck. In fact, people tend to be driven to irrational decisions because of too much complexity. Two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir, conducted research revealing that the mere existence of uncertainty altered how people made decisions, even when they knew the desired outcome. For instance, imagine that you’re in college and you’ve just completed an important final exam a couple of weeks before the Christmas holidays. You had been studying for this exam for weeks, because it’s in a subject that’s important to your future career.

You’ve got to wait two days to get the exam results back. Meanwhile, you see an opportunity to purchase a vacation during the holidays to Hawaii at a bargain–basement price. Here are your three options: You can buy the vacation today, pass on it today, or pay a five dollar fee to lock in the price for two days which would allow you to make your decision after you got your grades. What would you do? You may feel some desire to know the outcome of your exam before you decide, as did the students who face this choice in the original experiment. So Tversky and Shafir simply removed this uncertainty for two groups of participants. These groups were told up front how they did on the exam. Some students were told that they had passed the exam, and 57% of them chose to go on the trip (after all, it makes for good celebration). Other students were told that failed the exam, and 54% of them chose to go on the trip (after all, it makes for good recuperation). The majority of those who passed and those who failed wanted to go to Hawaii.

Here’s the twist: the group of students who didn’t know the final exam results behaved completely differently. The majority of them (61%) paid five dollars to wait for two days. Think about that! If you pass, you want to go to Hawaii. If you fail, you want to go to Hawaii. You don’t know whether you passed or failed… wait and see? This doesn’t seem logical. The majority of students were going to go on the trip to Hawaii regardless of whether they passed or failed, but they wanted to know the outcome before they made the decision, even though they already knew the decision they would make regardless of the outcome. (adapted from Made to Stick, by Chip Heath, 2007)

The same dilemma exists for those hurt by infidelity: you don’t know whether the marriage will succeed or fail, (whether or not you’ll pass the exam) but I bet you want a better life. Then, why do we choose to wait to see what’s going to happen before we take the necessary steps to heal from infidelity? How does that make sense? You might be thinking, “But Rick, I don’t know whether or not I even want the marriage” and you’re right, you don’t know. But you do know that you want something better than what you have right now and doing nothing does nothing to get you out of your current situation. You don’t have to know the outcome before you make the decision to choose life after infidelity.

For those of you who are stuck doing nothing; I want to encourage you to at least do something. At a recent EMS Weekend Retreat a woman came who had done nothing for herself for two and half years after the affair. She had gone to marriage counseling, but she had done nothing for her own healing. It was like she was waiting to see the outcome of how he did or how the marriage was going to do (did they pass the exam or not) before she’d make the decision to get help for herself (at the same time she wanted new life). Thankfully, she finally decided to take action without knowing the outcome and is now on a path to healing. We all can do the same.

Don’t wait to get help after the affair. It only leads to regrets. Get with others who can provide positive support on your journey. Make the decision to see a qualified therapist to help lead you on this journey. Sign up for one of the AR online courses. If you want a new life, then stop waiting and begin your journey today.

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