In her book, After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, Janis Abrahms Spring provides some helpful case wisdom regarding the experience of the betrayed and betraying spouse, as well as the stereotypical differences between men and women (Chapters 1-2). The importance for the care-giver at this point is to incarnate the grace of Christ to both, not just one. Notice, as well, how much work it takes to understand the complexity of each situation where infidelity is present. Abrahms does a good job of detailing responses to an affair by both parties. It is clear that this is the result of many years of experience.
Typical Responses of the Betrayed Spouse: Buried in an Avalanche of Losses.
- Heightened Sense of Anxiety: significant physiological responses like that of severe trauma.
- Loss of Identity: the affair forces you to re-define yourself in a fundamental way. Who am I if you and the marriage are not what I thought?
- Loss of Sense of Specialness: I thought I meant something to you.
- Shame: an initial response to the affair is to do anything to keep your spouse in order to avoid the embarrassment.
- Loss of Faith in God: where is God in this? I feel forsaken.
- Loss of Connection with Others: Who can I confide in?
- Loss of Sense of Purpose: this can even lead to suicidal thoughts.
- Shock and Disbelief: “When I first uncovered your secret, I stopped feeling special to you. But on a deeper level, I lost trust in the world and in myself.”
Typical Responses of the Betraying Spouse
- Relief: It is out in the open. I don’t have to live a lie anymore.
- Impatience: I have left my lover and told you everything. What else do you want from me?
- Chronic Anxiety: As long as I keep busy, I’ll be okay.
- Minimizing Guilt: once revealed, in the early stages, they often tend to justify the affair. The betrayed is made to feel guilty for not being committed to the marriage.
- Grieving Loss of the Affair: The other person made me feel so special.
- Guilt over Children: What will the kids think of me?
- Isolation, Hopelessness, Paralysis: See the marriage as hopeless and just a prison to endure.
- Shame: I feel like such a sleaze for doing this.
Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Betrayed
- Women try to preserve, men run
- Women get depressed, men get angry
- Women feel inadequate as companions, men as lovers
- Women Obsess, men distrust themselves
Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Unfaithful
- Women seek soul mates, men seek playmates
- Women justify if for love, men if not for love. I loved him. I didn’t love her.
- Women anguish over affairs (My affair has complicated my life). Men enjoy them (My affair has given me life.)
Of course, while these lists are helpful, you must be careful not to stereo-type men and women or those who betray or are betrayed by their spouse. It is imperative to make every effort to understand the unique nature, dynamic and impact of the affair on the couple and each individual. You are building a bridge that will enable you to cross over into wise ministry.