I sometimes hear from wives who are angry at themselves because no matter how much they try, they just can’t seem to “get over” their husband’s affair and move on so that they can have a happy family again. They will vow to set things aside, but then find that this is easier said than done.
Someone might say, “I have always been very clear on the fact that I wasn’t going to divorce my husband after his affair. I was angry, but I do not believe in divorce. I want for my children to grow up with a father, since I didn’t. So there was never any question as to whether I’d stay. I’m going to. But I don’t like what our life looks like right now. I’m always angry. I’m always suspicious. I’m always bringing up the affair because I am resentful. Because of this, my husband becomes angry at me. So we fight. And it’s just a cycle of anger. During one of our fights, my husband asked me if I was ever going to let the affair go and just get over it. He said that he wasn’t sure that we were going to make it if I could not let this be. Believe me, I want to get over it. I want to set it aside. But I can’t seem to shake it. How do I get over it so that we can stay together?”
Why Getting Over An Affair Is More Than A Mental Exercise: If getting over it was nearly a state of mind, it wouldn’t be so hard – or feel so impossible at times. I know what you are going through. I can remember waking up in the morning and vowing not to think about or bring up the affair at all that day. And yet, by lunch, it would totally be on my mind. I would get frustrated with myself. But a great therapist told me that recovery from an affair is so much more than mental and that I was simply asking too much of myself. Looking back now, I can clearly see that this is 100% true. Do we ask ourselves to just “get over” other things like illness, accidents, and tragedies? No, we give ourselves time to grieve. We give ourselves the tools needed to recover. But when it comes to an affair, for some reason, we feel as if we don’t need these things or that there should be some exception to this rule.
In my own opinion and experience, you can’t be expected to “get over” the affair until you’ve had the time and tools to do so. What do I mean by this? You need to believe that your husband won’t cheat again because he’s rehabilitated, trustworthy, and motivated. And for most people, this takes time and healing. Sure, you could attempt to just blindly believe in all of these things, but we all know that when you try, your worrisome thoughts just start to creep back in. Part of this is that it takes effort and time to restore the trust. Time has to pass in order for you to see that it’s safe to trust again. You need time to watch your husband’s behaviors and actions. If you rush any of this, of course you are going to feel doubt. That’s just natural.
Once You’re Healed, There Is Usually A Day When You Can Make A Conscious Decision To Put This Aside: Yes, once recovery and rehabilitation has taken place, there does come a point where you might wish to make a conscious decision to move on. I was able to do this and I willingly did so because I was tired to holding onto the suspicions, anger, and negativity that made all of us miserable. But there is no way that I could have successfully done this until I knew that healing and rehabilitation had taken place. At that point, I truly believed that my husband was not going to cheat again because we’d both worked so hard for so long.
If you’re not yet there yet, please don’t beat yourself up. Just keep doing the work. Just keep plunging ahead. If the thoughts come, tell yourself that you will be aware of what is going on, but that you’re going to live your life. If your husband insists that you just “let it go”, you might address these expectations with something like, “believe me, I would love nothing more than to let it go. Setting down this pain would feel like freedom and I can’t wait for that day. But we simply aren’t there yet. We are too early in this process and healing is not complete. If we keep on making progress and we are able to restore the trust, then I will absolutely want to let it go because, believe me, it is a heavy weight to carry. You can make the progress go faster by being supportive, transparent, and responsible. I’m doing my best and if we both make the effort, I’m confident that we’ll both be able to move on. But we’re still early in this process and it’s not just a mental decision. It’s a process of healing that we are only just starting.”
It’s normal for your husband to want you to quickly move on because it minimizes his responsibility and guilt, but that’s just not how real life works and it is asking too much. Keep having the best attitude that you can muster and keep working toward healing (and asking him to do the same.) This path will usually lead you to a place where you can choose to let it go. But not until you’re healed and until it is your choice to willingly make.