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Affairs  -  Conclusion  

One thing that tends to plague couples long after an affair has ended is the intrusive thoughts experienced by the person who was cheated on.  They can get triggered by things that happen or places they see or can even seem to rise unbidden, for no particular reason.  They are thoughts of doubt about the relationship, reminders of the hurt and betrayal that was experienced, or the continual asking of oneself that infernal question “Why?” and not being able to come up with any good answers.  They are invariably painful thoughts and almost always feel like they are having a negative impact on the relationship.

There is a tendency by many to try to push the thoughts away and when that is not possible to at least ignore them.  Often the biggest goal of people I work with who have been cheated on is to get rid of the unwanted feelings, thoughts and memories about the affair.  Unfortunately, trying to forcefully get rid of them or ignore them doesn’t work and often ends up making things worse in a relationship.  Most take on the task of dealing with the feelings by themselves, recognizing bringing it up to their partner leads to conflict and anger.  The problem is, keeping it to themselves also tends to create distance in the relationship.  As they mull over the feelings themselves and relive the affair it brings up the hurt all over again and they tend to withdraw or turn away from their partner.

The solution is to do the opposite of what feels right: bring up the feelings and memories with one’s partner.  This doesn’t work if it leads to more conflict and anger, but it is very effective when both partners recognize the thoughts and feelings are natural and need to be dealt with in a productive way.  The person who was cheated on needs to bring up the thoughts in a descriptive way, talk about what they are feeling and what triggered the thoughts (if they are aware of that).  The person who cheated needs to respond gently and address the feelings their partner has.  Apologizing again for the pain they caused and expressing remorse and a desire for a better connection and relationship tend to help create a connection rather than moving farther apart.  Essentially, in doing this, couples are turning an uncomfortable but natural part of the process into an opportunity for connection. 

The typical ways of handling intrusive thoughts, either bringing them up and fighting or ignoring them and pushing them away, tends to create more distance in the relationship.  The way I described above tends to create more connection and in doing so helps the intrusive thoughts become less frequent more quickly.