What would you do? An important romantic figure from your past finds you on an internet social media site. Perhaps this was your first love. This renewed connection brings to mind the passion and enthusiasm of youth—before children, financial problems, and middle age. In your mind, you travel back to a time before career worries, mortgage problems, and thinning hair to a time of anticipation, optimism, and more energy. What would you do? Is it a wrong choice to maintain contact on-line? Is it wrong to have a texting relationship? Where do you draw the line? What is the line that would determine that this is an inappropriate relationship?
Infidelity is high on the list of issues that prompt couples to seek relationship therapy. As a therapist who has worked with couples for over 25 years, I see couples struggle with the aftermath of affairs. Typically, both partners are in considerable pain as they work to heal their marriage and build the trust back. Most couples are able to navigate the storm with the help of therapy, good intentions, and motivation to save the marriage.
Recently, social media has been a player in the triangle when individuals find the old flame or school love that has been out of their lives for the last 15 years. The story has become well known. At first, the reunited lovers are happy to find each other on line and enjoy the new “friendship” and reconnection. There is no threat to the marriage. The new spouse is told about the on-line relationship and nothing seems amiss. But slowly over time, the relationship returns to romance. The now married partner struggles with the old emotions getting stirred up again and begins to feel guilt. They try to work it out on their own by not telling their current spouse about the feelings only to find the appeal of the former romance growing stronger. They decide to meet for coffee. They don’t tell their current spouse because they don’t want to worry them. The secrets continue to grow until they become lies. They kiss and an affair begins. It ends when their current mate stumbles upon text messages or email. A few more lies follow when the wrongdoer is confronted and tries to limit the marital damages. At this time, the current spouse is hurt by the infidelity as well as the lies and denial. The lies become worse than the offense. When they come to my office for therapy, they work on repairing the damages and fixing the elements of the marriage that weren’t working before the affair. It is a lot of work to do.
When I review the choices that the wrongdoer made along to way, it is clear to me how the situation could have turned out better. Here is my advice on choice points. As soon as you begin to have feelings for another person, tell your partner, even if this disclosure causes you pain, embarrassment, or discomfort. Have long conversations with your spouse. Expect the conversations to be difficult. Expect to talk about any unhappiness that may be seeping into your relationship. Dissatisfaction that didn’t have words previously will now have names.
The names of these dissatisfactions are stress, money problems, job troubles, parenting issues, or other family concerns. These difficulties are some of the things that send partners into the arms of someone else. They are looking for an escape from the demands of life, and the old flame takes on the bright shining light of deliverance. The deliverance is short lived. The once bright light that looked like a beacon of hope in the storm was more like a kraken leading you towards the rocky shores of a shipwreck.
My advised choice point looks quite logical in hindsight, but if you are in this situation now, it does not look so simple. If there is something going on in your life that you can’t tell your partner, then the relationship is in trouble already. Talk over your choices with a trusted friend or counselor. There is more at stake here that finding relief from stress. You may be making a choice that will change your life forever. Most people who cheated on their spouses say, afterwards, that they wish they could take it back. Choose wisely.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Pamela Lipe, MS, LP, Relationships & Marriage Topic Expert Contributor
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