By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock StaeheliHow do you begin when asking your spouse about their affair? You are probably bursting with questions, but also with uncertainty about whether you really want to know the answers. You might doubt whether you can trust their answers after so many lies. Infidelity expert Dr. Shirley P. Glass prescribes 10 questions to help couples working through an affair organize their discussions. This article covers questions 6-10. Questions 1-5 were covered in “10 Questions to Ask After an Affair for a Christian Marriage to Recover (part 1)”.
6. “Did you talk about love or a future together?”
When talking about emotions during an affair, it is essential the involved partner is completely honest, and the betrayed partner suspend their assumptions about the nature of the affair relationship. When a spouse finds out their mate has been unfaithful, their imagination goes into overdrive envisioning what their mate did with their partner and how they felt about them. Honest answers from their spouse are the only way to find out what actually happened. The involved spouse also needs to guard against glossing over aspects of the relationship in an attempt to cover up, or protect, their spouse’s feelings. It only makes things worse if the betrayed spouse finds out about their dishonesty later.
“If you are the betrayed partner, make a strong effort to hear the story without filtering it through your own subjective lens. Infidelity does occur without falling in love. You must be open to versions that vary from your belief system unless you have valid evidence that you are getting a watered-down rendition.” (212) In parallel, the involved spouse must be honest about whether they were in love with their affair partner. If you two fantasized about running away to be together, admit it. Your spouse needs to know the truth, so they can get away from the painful, grandiose imaginings they have built up in their mind.
7. “What did you see in the affair partner?”
Because of the euphoria of affairs, and because their artificial nature protects them from the difficulties or normal relationships, the unfaithful partner often has an unrealistically rosy view of their affair partner. Discussing what attracted the involved partner to them can help humanize them. It does the same in the eyes of the betrayed spouse, who often struggles between “glorifying the lover as an incomparable rival and disparaging him or her as a despicable human being.” (213)
This discussion also sets the betrayed partner straight about their spouse’s complicity in the affair. Glass says spouses often blame the seductive powers of the affair partner because it is too painful to acknowledge that their mate chose to cheat. “Involved partners must recount the ways they encouraged the affair and invested energy to keep it going. It is less likely that an infidelity will happen again when the involved partner owns up to having been a full participant.” (213)
Continuing the example used in “10 Questions to Ask After an Affair for a Christian Marriage to Recover (part 1)”, no one forced David to bring Bathsheba into his home. Some may bring up how irresistible she must have looked bathing on the roof, but it was not as simple as him seeing her and sleeping with her. He had to find out who she was, and then send someone to get her. Spouses who stray may sometimes need some persuasion, but they ultimately make the decision for themselves.
8. “What did you like about yourself in the affair? How were you different?”
An affair can be similar to moving away for college in that it allows you to duck away from everyone’s expectations about you. The familiarity of long-term relationships often hems spouses in with expected behavior and typecasting. An affair frees you to be a different version of yourself. “A strong attraction of affairs is the opportunity to try on new roles: the insensitive, detached husband becomes energized by his own empathy and devotion; the sexually uninterested wife is exhilarated by newfound passion and erotic fantasies.” (213) Talk about what the involved partner discovered about him or herself during the affair that they would live to introduce to the marriage.
9. “Were there previous infidelities or opportunities, and how was this time similar or different?”
The only way to heal after an affair is to remove every cancerous cell of adultery. It is excruciating, but you must address everything. Betrayed partners who refuse to confront their partner’s infidelity send the message that it was not a big deal to them, and future indiscretions will be treated with the same indifference.
“This is an opportunity to examine any patterns of infidelity or near misses that may be relevant to how this affair unfolded.” (214) Affairs begin for many reasons. Some are spontaneous, alcohol-fueled one-night-stands the spouse regrets before they’re over. Others are ignited by a friendship found outside the ashes of a dead marriage. Knowing what kind of affair this was reveals which lines the involved partner is vulnerable to crossing.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV) You must acknowledge how you have compromised your marriage to have any hope of repairing and strengthening it. As this Psalm reminds us, the only way to purge sin is to identify it. You will never achieve God’s design for marriage if you insist on keeping hold of sinful habits.
If this is not the first affair, “Ask how this infidelity is different from or the same as the others. Were there earlier experiences that were ‘only oral sex’ or ‘sex without love’ or ‘love without sex?’” (214)
10. “Did you have unprotected sex?”
An alarming number of people involved in affairs do not use protection. Glass cites a National AIDS Behavioral Study of unfaithful spouses 18 to 49 that found 60 to 64 percent did not use condoms with their extramarital partner. Some assume someone like their affair partner could never have an STD. Others take the naïve romantic route and say they were overwhelmed by their feelings, and did not want their sexual encounters to seem planned.
“Regardless of protestations, both spouses should be tested for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Willingness to submit to the humbling medical exams and tests is an act of consideration and accountability by the involved partner that will remove another obstacle to resuming safe marital sex.” (215)
Christian Counseling for talking about an Affair
Talking about an affair is difficult which is why so many couples avoid it and only make more trouble for themselves. Glass’ questions provide a helpful jumping off point, but the best source of guidance is a professional Christian marriage counselor. They can personalize their approach to your marriage. A professional Christian counselor will help you understand what caused the affair, guide you through the repair process, and teach you how to prevent future infidelity.
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