SALT LAKE CITY — We’ve all heard it — so and so had an affair, so and so are getting divorced.
And we’ve all wondered it — how could she not know he was cheating? How could he not see she was halfway out the door? And some of us have been the heartbroken ones everyone is whispering about as our marriages and lives fall apart due to infidelity, dishonesty and/or divorce.
What are the warning signs? How do you ensure you aren’t blindsided? Each situation is unique, but here are three common warning signs that trouble just might be brewing in your relationship:
- Unexplained/more frequent time away from home — If your partner is spending more and more time away from the family, if there are unexplained absences or increasing pockets of time that don’t quite add up, this may be a sign of trouble. Once or twice could just be traffic or a late night at the office, but if being gone more often and for longer periods starts becoming the norm, it might be a signal that something else is going on.
- More contention between you and your spouse than usual — If you notice your partner is more irritable than usual for no apparent reason, this could be a sign of trouble. If you two are getting into more arguments over small things, if your partner is snappy and grumpy with you and unable to explain why, or if you sense distance, you might want to evaluate what is going on. Maybe he/she is stressed at work, or hasn’t been feeling well —these are certainly normal and expected reasons that could lead to more irritability. However, if it is lasting and cannot be explained away by work or life stress, perhaps there is something more significant going on. If your partner is engaging in behaviors you are unaware of, he/she is likely feeling guilt or frustration, which could lead to less patience at home and more anger directed at you.
- You have a gut feeling that something isn’t right — This is (in my opinion) the biggest warning sign. Even if everything appears normal, if things seem fine, but you have a gut feeling that something is wrong somehow, pay attention to that feeling. In my experience our intuition is a strong indicator when things are lurking beneath the surface. According to Dr. Shirley P. Glass, “Many affairs are discovered when intuition says that something is wrong and little things that happen just don’t add up.”
Each of these by themselves may not be anything to get all Sherlock Holmes about, but if these three things are all currently happening in your relationship, it might be a good idea to have a heart to heart with your partner and get to the bottom of the disconnect between you. Maybe it is truly just life stress and part of the ebb and flow that is marriage.
But just maybe you are picking up on some little red flags warning you that there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed. But how do you talk to your partner about such an emotionally charged topic as an affair? In the book "Getting Past the Affair" we learn three tips to keep in mind as we approach this difficult conversation:
- Keep the discussions balanced — Though you might be tempted to focus only on the negative, recognize that there are positive things about your partner and your relationship, even though you are hurting from his/her actions. A balanced conversation also includes space for both partners to share their feelings and experiences, even the partner engaged in the affair. Make room for both partners’ emotions, both positive and negative.
- Keep the discussions focused — This means not allowing the affair to invade all aspects of your relationship. Choose a specific time you will discuss the affair (like after the kids go to bed), or put a time limit on conversations about the affair (only 30 minutes at a time) until you can discuss it without emotion taking over. Write down your questions or thoughts beforehand in order to keep the conversation focused and productive. It is counterproductive to have details of the affair be a constant dialogue between you and your spouse; it creates an environment where there is no emotional safe zone for either partner.
- Prevent further damage — This is the most important thing to keep in mind when having difficult conversations with your partner. Ask yourself, “is this doing any good?” If the answer is no, stop the conversation. Do not call names, use sarcasm, or blame. The goal is to work toward healing, not cause more pain and distance.
The suspicion and discovery of an affair is one of the most earth-shattering experiences a couple can have. Tread lightly. Take time to process your thoughts and emotions before attempting to talk to each other. Read books on infidelity, and if necessary seek professional help from a qualified therapist. Recovery from an affair is possible, though the road is long and painful. Do whatever it takes to prevent further damage and move towards healing.
Nicole Harmon is a marriage and family therapist in Sandy, Utah. She is the wife of a very patient man and mother to three crazy little girls. Read more from her at www.have-joy.com or email her at email@example.com.