It’s very easy to be discouraged after your marriage has been crippled by an affair. This can be true regardless of whether you are the faithful spouse or the cheating spouse. No matter what side you are on, it can feel as if your life has dramatically changed. It can feel as if it will never get any better. And always looking at the negative side of life can become depressing. But it can also be challenging to see any other side.
For example, from the cheating spouse, you might hear something like, “I am very depressed, but I know that I deserve whatever happens. I cheated on my wife, only once, and I could not be more sorry. I have repeatedly begged for her mercy, but she is furious with me. We have been trying counseling, but she is still so angry. I can’t blame her, either. I would be mad at her if she cheated on me. I’m angry at myself. But I can’t make it better and our home life is suffering. Our kids know that something is wrong. Last night, I was randomly scrolling through my phone and I was looking at pictures from six months ago. My family was happy. That was before anyone knew how much I was going to ruin things. I don’t feel like we will ever be happy like that again. The counselor tells me to find little ways to lighten the load in my home, but it feels pointless. There is now a black cloud over everything. I want to be more positive because I hate feeling this way, but I’m not sure how I could so when this is all my fault.”
You might hear a similar theme from the faithful spouse, who says something like, “My spouse says he is sorry for cheating and he does go to counseling every week. But it is as if he feels like someone should be able to wave a magic wand and put our marriage and home back together. I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t. My husband is always complaining that he hates that the kids have to live this way – because now there is anger in our home. Things aren’t the same. I hate it, too. I wish that I could smile and laugh again. But I’m very angry. I can’t help it. I trusted my husband and he betrayed me in the worst way possible. He lied through his teeth. And now that he has been caught, he wants to pretend that everything is fine. Our counselor and our pastor are suggesting that we try very hard to have a more positive outlook moving forward. No one believes that I would actually love to do this, but I would. Does everyone think that I like being angry and hurt all of the time? I don’t. But I don’t know how to make the feelings stop. How are you supposed to be more positive after an affair?”
I agree that this is very challenging. I will share some things that helped me a little. And to be clear, I was trying to be positive for myself and my children initially. I did not feel that my husband deserved my positivity at the time, although he earned it back. It helped me to write in a gratitude journal with five things to be grateful for each night. I started out with five things, but found that if I really tried and concentrated, I could usually come up with a lot more. I still remember common themes that I had almost every night. They were things like:
I am alive;
my children are alive;
my children and myself are healthy;
I am able-bodied and intelligent and can start over if I have to;
my spouse and I both love our children and will do whatever is needed for their well-being;
my dogs love me;
my extended family supports me;
both my spouse and myself are still present, so we might eventually have a chance even if we are struggling right now;
we have a roof over our heads;
we have enough food to eat;
I have loving friends who will hold me up.
I could go on and on. But at the end of the day, tracking things to be grateful for helped me see that the affair was one tiny slice of my life. Yes, it made everything else feel tainted, so I had to train myself to be protective of other areas of my life, which I did not want to taint. I told my friends that affair talk was off limits. And I eventually agreed with my husband that we’d try to talk about the affair at counseling and a couple of scheduled times per week, but other than that, I was going to try very hard not to ruminate on it. Because I felt that if I didn’t make this conscious decision, I was going to spend every waking moment thinking about the affair and I didn’t need or want that. It just made me miserable to spend so much time on it.
The truth is, whether you ruminate on the affair or not, things are going to change with time. Your perspective is going to shift in time. Your marriage will survive or it will not, but ruminating on it and allowing it to pollute what is good in your life is not going to change the outcome – but it might make you feel a whole lot worse about everything else, even the good. Being positive in the midst of an affair is very hard work. It takes your being conscious of your thoughts and decisions multiple times per day and then redirecting yourself. But it can be worth the effort because swimming in negativity 24/7 is painful and debilitating. You deserve better. And with effort, it can become a habit to redirect yourself to positive thinking.