Written By: Deidre Prewitt, MSMFC, LPCC
Couples attempting to restore their relationships in the wake of an affair experience a swarm of emotions. One minute they are enemies, the next they are starving for intimacy and connection. The relationship has changed and no one seems to know how to get through it. The whole world seems different and yet, it just keeps going as if life as you know it has not completely crumbled. When I see couples in my counseling office there is one question that continues to hang in the air like a million-dollar chandelier hanging by a single thread of dental floss. "How could you do this to me?"
This single question continues to repeat like a mantra under hushed voices at midnight and loud voices in the middle of dinner. It seems to be the theme of almost every question asked about the affair. It keeps offended spouses awake at night and unfaithful partners in constant defense. This is the question that is asking so many other questions and begs to be addressed before healing can begin.
How Could YOU Do This To Me?
How could you, the person that told me that I was the most special person in the world, betray me like this? This question is about trust in the commitment to be responsible with a loved one's emotions. This is also about attachment. In most couples I see for infidelity recovery they are one another's most trusted person. Many times partners are the only trusted person. The offended spouse questions if this is the person they thought they knew. They question if they ever really knew this person at all, or if they should ever trust anyone again. To address this question is to address the identity of the person that was unfaithful. The hurting partner needs reassurance that the behavior does not define the whole person or their entire relationship.
How Could You Do THIS To Me?
How could you do this very personal, (assuming) mean-spirited, hurtful thing? This question is wondering was this premeditated? The query asks about the intent behind the specific behavior. It assumes that the offending spouse considered alternatives and willfully chose this action to use as attack. Some hurt partners read ill intent in the thought that their spouse conjured up this plan to hurt them in a very personal way. To address this question is to convey the absence of intent to harm by specific actions. Helping an aggrieved spouse to understand the actions are not purposeful in creating the depth of the pain.
How Could You Do This To ME?
This is the way the question is framed most in my office. How could you do this hurtful thing to create so much pain and punish me? The affair feels like a personal attack to most offended partners. It feels as though their spouse wanted to hurt them and knew this would destroy them most effectively. Many describe it as a dagger being hurled directly into their heart, with a twist and a smile. Others take it as confirmation that they are worthless and unlovable. To address this question is to address the feeling that this is a personal attack. An offended partner would need to be reminded (numerous times) that the act was not an intentional assault.
Infidelity recovery requires many questions to be answered in order to successfully heal. These are only some of the ways this question can be delivered and received. This very complex question is an accurate representation of many questions asked during the restoration process. Recovering from an affair is difficult but not impossible. Couples can and have come back stronger than ever before. Repair may not be easy, but it could one of your relationship's greatest accomplishments.