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

Rebuilding Trust After An Affair

About 15 years ago Stephanie and I decided it would be an adventure to experience real country life. So we bought some land and abandoned our city roots for the thrills and excitement of country living. Livestock, 4-H, and chores replaced the hustle and bustle of city life; now we experience the agrarian life of our ancestors.

In retrospect, we had no idea what we were doing or what we had gotten ourselves into. Having grown up a city boy, I had no idea how to board horses or care for sheep. Even worse, much of our land was virgin territory rendering it useless for our livestock. But, in a stroke of genius, I realized I could use electric fences to portion off small tracks of property and let the sheep and goats do the work of clearing the land. Only one small problem, sheep have wool and the standard fence used for cows and horses wouldn’t work. I had to get the super-duper sheep fence if I wanted to keep them in place.

Now, electric sheep fence differs from your normal electric fence in its voltage. To get that sheep’s attention and keep them within its confines they need five to six thousand volts (but only for about 1/50 of a second). Needless to say, that’s considerably more than the electric fences I played with as a boy, when we’d dare each other to grab the fence and see who could hang on the longest.

As promised, the fence worked like a charm. No sheep in its right mind was going to make a habit of bumping up against that force and getting lit up like a Christmas tree. No human in his or her right mind was ever going to make the tragic mistake of hitting that fence either. Our tender hides aren’t covered with wool, which means the negative reinforcement for touching the fence would only be amplified.

Each day someone had to test the fence using a voltage meter to assure the current was still live. My eight-year old son, Bryson, begged for the responsibility of checking the fence and after two weeks of pleading, I relented and handed him the voltage meter. I carefully explained how the ground rod had to be placed in the ground and then the meter applied to the fence. He then scurried out, assuring me that he could handle it.

With pride, I watched from the house as my son took on a new responsibility. He did a great job, except for one thing. He forgot to put the ground rod into the ground. Instead, he held the ground rod in his left hand and touched the meter to the fence with his right hand, thereby transforming his body into the ground rod. All 6,000 volts hit him like a sledgehammer, (but only for 1/50 of a second) and knocked him on his butt. (Don’t worry, the fence is made so it won’t kill you, but it will get your attention). I rushed out to check on him only to find him stunned, but fine. (He has since gone on to college to study electrical engineering).

I determined never to make that mistake after watching his experience. I successfully kept that vow for about a week, before I made the fatal error of bumping the fence, only to have the fence thump me back. My experience taught me that 6000 volts will make every muscle in your body violently contract, feeling as though you’ve been hit by a Mack truck. Yes, it really hurts. Over time there were many more run-ins with my super-duper sheep fence. Eventually it even conditioned me. Even if I knew the current was off, I had difficulty touching that fence. The memories of our past run-ins were indelibly burned in my mind and it just didn’t feel safe to be near that fence.

For those who have been betrayed the experience is the same after the affair. Why would you touch that fence again if it’s knocked the tar out of you? Being shocked multiple times only reinforces the fear. Rebuilding trust after an affair is very similar. How do you know when it’s safe to move back toward your mate? How do you know that you’re not going to be shocked again? These are some of the questions I’d like to tackle.

Why would you risk touching the fence again?

How can you trust that it’s safe? That one’s got to be answered by you. For many, it’s love and commitment. For some, it’s for the sake of their family. Your reasons for re-engaging, however, have to be your own personal reasons. If you press back in because someone else wants you to and it’s not out of your own heart, then you’ll run the risk of developing resentments toward that person and feeling like a victim. New studies are also beginning to show that betrayed spouses will have their own affair later down the road if the pain isn’t healed. Remember, pain that is not transformed will only be transmitted.

If you’ve been shocked multiple times by your mate, it only exacerbates the mistrust and renders trust more difficult. Hopefully, your mate will stop the hurtful behaviors and begin assisting with the healing. The sooner damaging behaviors are stopped the better. If you have a spouse that just isn’t getting it, before you go much further at all, it’s time to take action. More times than not, they simply won’t get it on their own. What you’re dealing with is far too complicated, far too intertwined and not going to get better with time. In fact, regrettably, time will only make it worse providing more chances for relapse and perpetual pain to you and your loved ones.

Lessons from the fence: You want to be certain that the current is off. It helps to see your mate’s commitment to avoid repeating those hurtful behaviors.

How do you know when it’s safe to move back toward your mate?

Like I’ve said before, rebuilding trust after an affair and knowing when it’s safe to move back are difficult tasks. I think much of our questioning and our attempts at trying to get our mate to “get it” are rooted in our attempts to answer these questions. When is it safe to trust again?

Lessons from the fence: What I learned is, the pain has to subside. As long as you’re still smarting from the last encounter, it’s difficult to trust and in many ways it should be. Doing the necessary work to heal your wounds after the affair, as well as your mate’s commitment to be safe, are all significant factors which cannot be overlooked, ignored or understood overnight.

How do you know you’re not going to be shocked again?

You don’t. Quite frankly, to love is to risk. There are no risk free relationships. You don’t want to be controlled by fear. Don’t let fear be your focus, instead focus on life. At some point, if you’re ever going to trust, you’re going to have to accept that getting shocked is a possibility, but if you can know that your mate’s heart is soft and that’s not their desire, then you can at least take the risk. You can also take necessary steps to help ensure the safety of your mate and your family by getting the right kind of help, at the right time, which is NOW and not later. This is key in rebuilding trust after an affair.

Lessons from the fence: Ultimately the fence served a good purpose, but I also had to recognize that as long as I leaned upon or used that fence only, I was at risk of getting shocked. All I could do was develop good techniques from experts to avoid the possibility of getting shocked. If you’re going to trust again, you and your mate need to be intentional in your relationship’s recovery. Taking proven and practical steps forward, like engaging in a Harboring Hope group, while also creating necessary safety patterns and rituals to keep the two of you connected, will provide a safe plan to heal and find hope again.

Remember, it’s not as hopeless as it seems. We can help you and would be honored to take time to visit with you about your situation and how we might be able to help establish a legitmate and workable roadmap to healing for you and quite possibly your mate.

P.S.- I’m launching our new Twitter campaign today and hope to daily share lessons from the fence to encourage you each step of the way- follow me here: http://www.Twitter.com/AffairRecovery

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Comments

Lying Continue About Other Things

Hi Rick,
Your articles are, hands down, the BEST that I have seen on the subject of Affairs. Because you have the ability to get to the bottom line/heart of the matter, my husband and I want to take advantage of the other resources you have to offer.

It has been almost a year and four months since I discovered his emotional affair. Since then, it has come to the light that he has had multiple emotional affairs, some real and others in ongoing fantasy. That's not to mention being addicted to pornography and other inappropriate (to put it mildly) behaviors. With God's help, professional help, friends, and family, we are still together, and have experienced a stronger bond than we did prior to the initial discovery bomb.

But there is one thing that still threatens the very life of our relationship and that is lying. He can't seem to let go of it, no matter what, and no matter how big or small. I/we haven't seen anything in your work that really delves into that. In order to have an affair, you have to be willing to live a lie. When the offender's recovery begins and he/she admits the details, I imagine that would stop the lying cycle. Not so with us. He has confessed to some MAJOR stuff and will still lie about the smallest things. Do you have any thoughts/recommendations?

Thanks a million for your earnest, effective work with those affected by affairs.

Sincerely,
Angela

lying and cheating

I agree about the lying. I don't know when he is telling the truth and when he is lying. He is so good at sounding like he is telling the truth. When does the lying stop? Do the unfaithful spouses lie as a way to protect themselves? How does the unfaithful spouse think? "Lying is not as bad a sin as the affair was? So lying is okay and cheating on my wife is not?" Why does the unfaithful spouse lie?

What type of affair was it?

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