Pretty much every day, we get phone calls from men who are scared that they’ve blown up their families because they were caught cheating.
That’s the first thing I always need to remember. I only hear from the guys who want to stay married.
You probably won’t remember that I told you that your marriage does not necessarily have to end in divorce because you had an affair.
Even though admitting the affair to your spouse will cause a lot of grief and heartache and anger, odds are that your marriage will survive if you both want it to.
The trouble is the admitting part. I’ll tell you, you’ve got to come clean. This is no time to put your wife on a “need to know “ basis.
Welcome to the purgatory of merciless self-examination. Infidelity is an ancient weakness. It’s a sin that takes up 20% of the 10 commandments; one commandment against doing it, and the other commandment against just even thinking about doing it.
Perhaps you’ll come to experience true remorse, but right now you just regret getting busted. I’ll tell you that you’ve gotta lot of hard work ahead of you. Your old marriage is dead, and, because you both want to heal, you might have a shot at redemption.
But you probably won’t remember that part either.
Act One The “Honey I Shrunk the Affair Routine.”
This phase is all about lying your ass off.
When most men get caught cheating, their first instinct is damage control. This is a really ugly phase that is already well underway before they call me. For some guys, the only reason they are calling me is that their attempts to contain the situation isn’t working for them at all.
Here’s the desperately lame and unimaginative repertoire of the ‘Honey I Shrunk the Affair Routine”:
Act Two: The “I’ll Do Anything Honey, to Win Your Trust Back Routine.”
By this point, I’ve spoken to both of you.
You’re both filling out your Big Big Books, and you’ve fallen on your sword.
You’re saying all the right things…but more out of fear than conviction.
Your wife has vividly described her grief and pain in her Big Big Book…but you probably won’t tell me how much grief you’re in.
The grief of the involved partner often gets completely ignored by all-purpose therapists.
That’s what we call you… not the cheater, the cad, the philanderer, or the assh..never mind…
You probably don’t remember what I told you when you first called… we’re not playing “find the bad guy.”
I know you’re probably hurting right now and nobody knows about it.
Who sees you?
But if you’re a particularly hard case, you’re still sneaking around with your affair partner. If you think getting caught cheating is tough, you should talk to the guys who get caught cheating more than once.
And, by the way, most of you who do this will get caught, and try to cancel your intensives the day before. You’ll be shocked when I tell you that when I said “yes” to you, we said “no” to another couple..and no, you’re not getting your money back.
Most of you will show up anyway because you both calmed down and want your marriage to recover. But I’ll probably see the following problematic behaviors:
When I meet with you privately, you’ll be shocked that I know about, understand, and even have empathy for your grief.
You’ll think I’m a mind-reader. Maybe you’ll open up when you see I’m not trying to blame or shame you. Your eyes will probably get wet when I ask about the impact your decisions have had on your wife…or your kids.
And typically, like other guys, you’ll start to do the work.
Act Three: The “2 Steps Forward…3 Steps Back Routine. During our intensive, I will tell you both that it will take some time to heal. You’ll both get this intellectually, but you’ll complain later that I didn’t warn you how hard it would be (I did).
At this point, it’s like taking 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.
I’ll also tell your wife exactly how to handle you when you say unfortunate things such as:
Or when you have a
At this point, after you’re caught cheating, you both have your work to do. But you’ll both feel like you’re pushing on a string most of the time.
Act Four: The “Head Out of Your Ass Epiphany”
When you start to get how badly you hurt your spouse, and your kids, you will start to feel things…unpleasant feelings. You will have meaningful suffering. you’ll be growing, spending time together, …having Generative Conversations, and it will hurt like a bastard.
Here will be the most unpleasant parts of your epiphany:
“Never, ever encourage your partner to ‘get over it.’ Instead, be available to hear your partner’s pain and take it in. Don’t wait in dread for her to bring it up again. Instead, open conversations yourself that let your partner know that you’re continuing to think about the affair and that you won’t leave her alone to carry the pain. Be totally present to hear her anger and sorrow for as long as it takes, which may feel like forever. If you want your partner to let go of her pain, then you have to hold it,” Janis Abrahms Spring.
Act Five: The “Looking Back and Flinching Together” Experience.
At this point, trust has been rebuilt to a respectable degree.
You’ve changed. And so has your wife. The old marriage is dead, and something better (which is still very much a work in progress) seems to be emerging from the ashes.
Here’s you both can expect:
But you just called me…and you just got caught cheating…so we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. I can’t help you contain your present situation by getting you back to the “way things used to be.” You kinda blew that up already.
But if you want to stay married, and you’re willing to work hard…I just might be able to help.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.