A few weeks ago Patty* answered Dan’s* mobile – he was in the shower at the time. Before she said anything she heard a woman’s voice say, “Hi darling!”. Stunned, Patty answered, “Who is this?!” and then the phone went dead.
When An Affair is Discovered
Over the years I have heard many permutations of this same scenario – a partner accidentally stumbling upon intimate emails and texts on their partner’s phone or laptop. It is usually a shattering and devastating experience for both partners.
Once upon a time, the discovery of an affair usually meant the end of the marriage/relationship.
The “once upon a time …” can be traced back roughly to the pre-World War 2 world. In that world, the only time adult men and women connected with each other was when they were single and dating each other, or on quite formal occasions such as Christmas get-togethers, large evening balls etc. Once adult men and women married, there were few occasions when married men and women encountered those of the opposite gender – men went into the world of work, and women into the domestic world, and from that moment their paths rarely crossed.
Because of this fact, the having of an affair represented quite a deliberate, intentional decision to seek out someone other than one’s partner. Because this was such a difficult and necessarily secret enterprise, it usually meant that (at least for the person seeking the affair) the marriage/relationship, in their mind, was dead.
So when the affair was discovered it usually meant the end of the marriage, at least on the level of it being an intimate partnership. Often couples would not divorce because of the social stigma and shame that existed at that time, but for all intents and purposes the marriage was over.
After World War 2, the world of gender relationships dramatically changed. During the war many women entered the workforce and never returned to the domestic front. With the advent of Women’s Liberation women joined the workforce en masse. I believe we all enrolled in a massive social experiment without our knowledge or permission. For the first time in human history, adult men and women worked on a daily basis, shoulder to shoulder, as colleagues.
Who Sees us at our Best?
With regards to the institution of marriage, what this means is that it is our colleagues that are the ones to see the best of us. At work we are most awake, most alive.
On returning home from work each partner is tired, often exhausted and there are also all the chores to attend to – cooking, cleaning, helping the children with their homework etc and then often collapsing in front of the TV, before wearily trudging off to bed.
Even on the weekends there is no relief, as there are children to be ferried to sporting/cultural events, in-laws to visit, friends to catch up with, etc – all combining to make it very difficult for couples to spend any quality time with each other.
So it is our colleagues are the ones with whom we spend most of our quality time with – and for most of us, many of our colleagues are those of the opposite gender.
A few years back when I was a university counsellor it was a very common occurrence for a member of staff to collapse into a chair in my office, and distraught, confess that they had fallen in love with one of their colleagues. However, they were still in love with their partner and did not want to get a divorce – “What am I to do?!” was the anguished cry …
What I am trying to get across, is that it is quite common these days for affairs to occur unintentionally. They are the result of the twin dynamics of couples not having enough quality time together, while at the same time having ample quality time and opportunity with their opposite gender colleagues.
An important implication of this is that affairs these days are not necessarily fatal. Serious but not fatal, because the wandering partner often still loves and has a strong desire to remain married to their spouse.
Steps to Recovering from an Affair
When couples in therapy come to understand this dynamic, they can begin to work out ways to deal with the problem of opposite gender colleagues, and work on becoming more intimate with each other.
It is possible for the betrayed partner to forgive their spouse and to begin to trust again, each knowing that if an affair happens again the marriage/relationship will definitely be over.
The betrayed partner has no alternative but to radically trust their partner (without this, healing and an intimate relationship will not be possible), but with the full understanding of both that a future breach of trust will spell the end of the marriage/relationship.
If this article describes your current situation, I would be very happy to attempt to assist you if you are seeking to heal and rebuild your relationship.
Author: Matthew Ryan, B Psych (Hons), MA (Marriage & Family Therapy).
Matt Ryan is a senior psychologist with over 25 years of experience, and has seen great success in helping couples to enhance their relationship, and work through their problems and difficulties.
To book an appointment with Matthew Ryan call 1800 877 924 or book online today!
*Not real names