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

Were They Thinking of Me?

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The following is a true story and encounter I had with "Carol and Tim." As you might have guessed, I've changed their names to maintain anonymity. I hope that sharing both their conversation and their struggle will help provide clarity for you and your own situation, but please also keep in mind that every case has a vast array of unique nuances that must be considered.

"What were you thinking?"
"Did you even consider the consequences?"
"I just don't understand how you could ever do this without thinking about me and the kids!"

Carol's eyes burned into Tim like lasers.
Tim, her unfaithful spouse, hung his head, avoiding her gaze.

"I don't know," he stammered.

"Liar!" she screamed.

Unpacking Their Story

Carol and Tim came to see me after his four-month affair with a co-worker. Discovery had occurred when the two of them were rearranging their living room furniture. Tim handed his phone to Carol while he moved the couch. That's the moment when Ann's text popped up saying,
"Love U. Can you drop by?"

Carol stared at the phone in disbelief. Tim saw the look on her face and asked what was wrong. She held up the phone, revealing the text. At first, Tim lied, saying it was nothing. Then he claimed they were just friends, but once she discovered his secret email account, he came clean.

From the beginning, Tim told her it was just a fling and meant nothing, but that only inflamed Carol's anger. Was he willing to put her and the kids at risk and lose his family over something that meant nothing? He had written Ann, telling her he loved his wife and that it was over, but that offered little relief to Carol, who was triggered each day he left for work. He had fooled her before; how could she know if he was telling the truth now?

Tim begged her not to leave and swore it was over. He agreed to whatever she wanted if only she'd give him a chance. She wanted answers and she wanted them to get help. That's how they ended up in my office. Carol just couldn't get her mind around it. They had a good marriage and she'd been a great wife; why hadn't that been enough? What was missing? What could lead Tim to risk it all for some fling that, allegedly, meant nothing?

No, They Typically Aren't Thinking About Their Spouse

"Didn't you even think of me?"
she asked Tim.

The tension in my office was off the chart. We were approaching a dangerous level of confrontation. I figured it was time to step in:

"Would you like to know some truth behind his actions? " I asked.

I turned my gaze to Tim,

"Do you mind if I share with her some observations,and you can correct me if I'm wrong?"

He nodded his head in fear-filled consent.

"When he was with his AP he rarely thought of you, but what's probably more painful is the fact that when he was at home, he frequently tried to escape life and responsibility by thinking of his AP."

"Why?" she cried,
"Is that true?"
she demanded to know, looking at Tim.

"He's right." Tim sheepishly said.

Healing Requires Raw Courage

Before I go on with this article I'd like to ask you a similar question: are you up to the challenge of understanding the painful dynamics of infidelity? Part of the danger in writing this newsletter is my use of some broad, sweeping stereotypes and generalities. Please remember to take the best and leave the rest.

I AM NOT CONDONING OR EXCUSING ANYONE'S INFIDELITY BY THIS EXPLANATION.

We cheat because we're unhealthy. There's a litany of things we could have done rather than cheat, but we weren't brave enough to do them. For most betrayed spouses, it's difficult to fully grasp their mate's explanation because of what we call "assumed similarities."

We can only judge or understand another's motives by what it would mean if we did the same thing.

For instance, if you're not prone to pain avoidance, then it might be difficult to understand why some people drink in order to avoid pain. Today, I hope to provide you, the betrayed spouse, with perspective that will help you to genuinely understand what is often going on in the mind of an unfaithful spouse. This kind of understanding can help bring clarity, healing, and peace of mind.

Affairs Are About Escaping

This is a hard truth to absorb, but my goal today is to help bring much needed insight to difficult and painful situations. Having said that, I've been in this field for over 40 years and have seen over 3,500 couples, and a majority of the unfaithful spouses I work with have reported thinking about their affair partner (AP) when they were with their mate but rarely thinking about their mate when with the AP. One person said there were times she thought of her mate when with her AP, but she only focused on the things she disliked or was angry about to help push her guilt away.

While this may be disturbing to the betrayed spouse, I believe it helps explain a dynamic frequently present in unfaithful spouses.

Affairs, as well as many other acts of infidelity, often serve as an escape.

They provide distraction and fantasy, allowing the unfaithful spouse to escape the pressures and realities of life and feelings of inadequacy. Unfortunately, in that moment, little or no thought is given to the impact of their actions; they are solely focused on what they stand to gain (escape, approval, affection, etc.). Rarely does anyone consider why they are doing what they're doing or how it will affect everyone in their life. Typically, their only thought is, "I'll never get caught." They don't consider what it must inevitably cost their mate or what they could do to improve their existing relationship since they are only thinking of themselves.

To say infidelity is self-absorbed and selfish is a colossal understatement.

When it comes to relationships, it's impossible to find someone capable of meeting all your needs or someone whose needs you can fully meet. You may love your mate and be content in the relationship, but we are two separate individuals making sacrifices and compromises to live life together. For many, it's the fact that they've given so much that makes them value their marriage.

If, however, we are under-invested, then we won't value the relationship to the same degree. With a lack of value comes a lack of motivation to protect and work through the difficulties of marriage. Instead of maintaining an attitude of love and caring concern as we vowed to do, we betray ourselves--abandoning love, becoming self-consumed. Whatever captures our attention captures us, and as we focus on our mate's failures we lose sight of how we are failing our mate and family.

Misery is increased as we focus on what is lacking rather than the blessings we have.

We move into self-deception, extolling our virtues, minimizing our faults and falsely believing we deserve better. We make it our spouse's fault that we're cheating, as we're forced to go outside the marriage to get our needs met.

If life is viewed through that kind distorted lens, it's tempting to start dreaming of something different as a way of escape. It's interesting how easily we're deceived into thinking our problems will be solved by a change in circumstances.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. External fixes rarely work.

The only type of baggage that never gets lost in transit is our personal baggage.

That baggage never fails to show up at the new address.

It may be hard to fathom, but many unfaithful spouses don't want to leave their marriage. They do try to escape their reality (at the expense of their mate) through the activities of their secret life. If they are trying to escape reality through the illusions created by their extra-marital activities, then they do not want to burst their fantasy bubble by thinking about their mate. Thinking of their marriage only destroys the illusion and kills the secondary gain of their fantasy. They are trying to escape what they believe are the pressures of life and marriage and unmet needs, while also trying to silence any and all voices of shame they live with each day. Why stop this fantastical way of life if it is the drug they use to escape reality?

Fantasy is the window to our soul. The illusions we create through fantasy and acting out reveal what's broken about us, NOT what's wrong with our mate.

Much of recovery is based on learning to see our own defects rather than those of our mate. It's based on learning to see how our actions impact others rather than focusing on how our mate affects or has affected us. It's learning to own and accept and eventually transform what we have rather than fantasizing about different circumstances to make things better. It's about diffusing the self-absorption and learning how to make life about others, not only about ourselves.

Avoidance

Eventually, Tim came to see his patterns of self-deception and avoidance. He actually began investing in the relationship rather than leaving that sort of thing to his wife. Carol finally came to understand it wasn't about her. As she came to understand the 'why' behind Tim's actions she began to have hope that things could, in fact, change. As she witnessed his efforts to address his personal issues she developed a confidence that things would be different. Tim's efforts to understand what he'd done to her helped her see that he cared and was also on a journey to finding a new sense of humility and personal transformation. Finally, his commitment to helping her heal revealed he was thinking about someone besides himself.


If you're still searching for why maybe this helps give insight. As I said before, the above-mentioned explanation in no way excuses betrayal of any kind; however, I do hope it serves as a reminder that great relationships aren't based on right circumstances. Rather, they are largely dependent on choosing to be the right person and owning our own dysfunction and failure.

Continuing infidelity recovery is difficult and requires serious courage. If you and your spouse want expert help as well as a community who understands, sign up for a VIRTUAL EMS Weekend. This Coronavirus lockdown doesn’t put your pain on hold, so we won’t put your healing on hold either. Experience the hope thousands of couples have found: https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/ems-weekend

EMS Weekend is now Virtual for April and May!
Our 3-day weekend intensive for couples to heal after infidelity now offering $1,000 discount for virtual months. Limited availability.

Sign Up Now!

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