When we think of healing from an affair, we focus on the betrayal of the faithful partner.
We rarely think of the unfaithful partner’s wounded mind.
In fact, the unfaithful partner’s ability to recover from the affair is quite routinely ignored.
And when it comes to women’s affairs? Well, there’s even less attention paid to healing for unfaithful women.
That’s where the expertise of Debbie Rose comes in.
Meet Debbie Rose
Recently, I invited blogger Debbie Rose for an important discussion about life after relationship betrayal. As the author of the popular blog, After My Affair.com, Mrs. Rose shares her unique understanding and compassionate approach to infidelity in general. However, it is her ability to speak to the hurt and confusion of unfaithful wives, which is particularly valuable.
I was introduced to Debbie’s work and mission when she reached out to me through a mutual Facebook group. Her approach appealed to me and we scheduled this time to talk.
Debbie is both forthcoming and insightful about her own personal experiences. Additionally, she supports unfaithful wives (as well as betrayed husbands) on their path to healing. Her incredible story and candor go a long way to shedding light on the hidden struggles shared by so many women.
Why Hurting, Unfaithful Women Need a Voice
When we met to talk, I asked what drew Debbie to women who have been unfaithful, given that it is such a specific niche. She graciously shared some specifics on her current offerings, history, and how she arrived where she is today.
Debbie noted that, in addition to a blog focused on aiding unfaithful women permanently end their affairs and restore their marriages, she offers a private Facebook group. It is specifically aimed at connecting unfaithful women who need support and encouragement.
As she tells it, Debbie’s journey toward unfaithful women began more than a decade ago. Despite being a longtime Christian, mother of three, and 19 years into her marriage, she too, had an affair. At the time, she didn’t understand how she “ended up in such a “terrible place.”
Still, despite the odds, her marriage survived.
Today, she remains married to her husband. After 31 years together, they now have 3 grandchildren.
But she is quick to let me know that the road back was no cakewalk:
“As you know, infidelity is not easy to overcome in marriage.”
Debbie’s statement makes it very clear that recovering from infidelity is challenging to say the least. In addition, finding a specifically qualified marriage counselor can be difficult as well.
This is why Debbie feels that her mission and mine connect. She appreciates the work I do for couples and the program I’ve created as a clear path to healing marriages.
As I consider the complexities surrounding such healing, I wanted to know Debbie’s take on what didn’t work for her in couples therapy as a lesson for readers in a similar situation.
Debbie shared how ill-equipped she and her husband were in finding a marriage counselor that specializes in affair recovery. She recalled several marriage counseling disasters that made her aware of “just how unprepared many therapists are in dealing with the subject of infidelity.”
“So, why talk to women specifically?”, I asked.
“…lack of support and information just made me feel more alone and isolated in my shame.”
Debbie made an excellent point. Unfortunately, there’s just not a much written for the unfaithful wife now and even less was available a decade ago. She noted that she was constantly having to adjust the gender when seeking out applicable resources and information.
Moreover, the discrepancy in support can be hard on husbands. Her own spouse was no exception. Betrayed men often feel as though an affair is a reflection on their manhood and ability to keep their wives happy and satisfied at home.
Debbie decided to be honest and vulnerable. She shared that starting her blog was an exercise of writing from the heart and reaching out to women like her.
“Talking about your biggest life regrets is not an easy thing- particularly when it’s adultery…”
She feels that the number of women who connect with her experience are appreciative. She articulates their shame compassionately and reveals a way out.
Was blogging her pain was hard? Definitely. Her healing and wholeness took years because of the taboos surrounding female infidelity. Even in this day and age, we are conditioned to think that male cheating is more acceptable, an unfaithful wife is regarded as far worse.
For women, this condemnation and shame can be crushing. Debbie strongly believes that more attention must be paid to infidelity prevention for the husband and the wife. She believes her infidelity blog is timely as the gender gap that used to exist is closing quickly. The rising number of calls I receive from unfaithful women is a clear indication that she is quite right.
This observation, of course, begged my next question:
Why are women are having affairs?
“…it’s not always about the marriage.”
Debbie acknowledged that sometimes affairs are a symptom of marital problems. And sometimes women are confused about the reasons for their affair. When it comes to reasons, sweeping generalizations don’t provide much insight regarding specific marriages. Her own affair wasn’t born from deep discontent with her marriage.
There are, however, some commonalities that do highlight that many women cheat for internal reasons. Some of these reasons include:
- Feeling unattractive or less desirable
- Feeling emotionally depleted (always giving and taking care of themselves)
Overall, so many women feel content in their marriages but have simply lost themselves in the day-to-day of taking care of everyone else. Sometimes for decades.
The crux of the matter is that the vast majority of unfaithful women are loving and kind. They were simply vulnerable to the attention offered by another man. Their own stresses and insecurities boxed them in. The affair became an escape from their seemingly small, ordinary lives.
Here, Debbie refers to one of my favorite relationship experts Esther Perel. Perel wrote the following in her book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity:
“…one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs are a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity.”
Essentially, both ladies make the point I’ve made many times before. Affairs are usually not about sex. They signal a deeper desire. The betraying spouse desires the attention of another person for the sake of finding lost parts of themselves…or discovering parts they didn’t know were there.
Longing is a seductive motivator. The longing to feel sexy, to feel wanted. A deep desire to break out of roles, routines, and responsibilities. To feel less buried and bored and more alive and renewed.
My years as a therapist, have revealed betrayal to be more personal journey than revenge or rebellion against their partner. Cheating becomes a means of reconnecting with themselves.
So, Are Affairs Really a Case of ‘Good Women’ Gone Bad?
Not at all. Debbie and I both agree that anyone can get caught up.
Yet, no one thinks they are the “type” to go there.
Debbie reminds her readers that adultery happens slowly, to good people everywhere. Societal ideas about a bad girl wife with cheating on the brain only serve to keep ordinary women from realizing how vulnerable they are.
The guardrails that would ordinarily protect you or your relationship may not be in place if you think you could “never” be unfaithful. This leaves you open to the self-deception that can lead to a broken relationship.
What a crucial message she shares with her audience! I, too, see infidelity as the ultimate trap of deception. Debbie elaborated further on what she believes happens after someone succumbs to the thought “I would never do that.”
- First, the wife makes one small compromise. Maybe it’s some seemingly innocent flirting.
- Then, another compromise follows. Then another. Boundaries she never thought she’d cross are breached. She thinks she can manage the situation, that no one will know (though it usually does come out eventually).
- Finally, the ultimate line is crossed as she enters into a full-fledged affair.
Whatever the circumstances, whether she is found out or not, unfaithful wives never escape damage. Ever. Thinking otherwise is often the biggest part of the self-deception trap.
This is exactly the point made in the book Not Just Friends by relationship expert Shirley Glass. Her research supports the theory of the “slippery slope” between friends and full-blown physical or emotional intimacy.
Okay then, so what happens if a wife lets herself slip all the way down the slope into an affair?
A woman in the middle of her affair often lives on Limerence
Debbie describes the midpoint of an affair as the wife’s “fantasy world.” She is swept in the intense, euphoria of new relationship excitement. This is an all-consuming pull toward a new partner called limerence.
The rush of dopamine and other reward-oriented chemicals in her brain paints the affair partner as the perfect mate. Character flaws and problematic faults fade away. She may use terms like “soulmate” and “the one” forgetting that once she felt the same way about her spouse.
The fantasy is fueled by the secrecy and forbidden nature of adultery. The affair is an illusion of lasting love that seems real from the inside. Debbie calls this lack of judgement and skewed thinking “Affair Fog.”
To combat limerence, I often ask unfaithful partners to compare their spouse and affair partner. I ask them: How does a full, shared life with your partner really compare to stolen, indulgent snippets of time with someone forbidden?
Too many women trade their husbands for the notion that a new life with a new partner will always feel as good as the time spent in the fog of limerence. Yet, of course, it never does.
So, what happens when the “affair fog” lifts?
When Reality and Shame Hit, An Affair Becomes a Trap
As we talked, Debbie made it clear that the limerence stage never lasts. The realization of the unfaithful woman’s losses set in. Shame, lies, and turmoil weigh heavily on her. It is then that breaking off the affair becomes urgent. Staying in the affair feels so painfully uncomfortable that she is willing to endure the pain necessary to end the deception.
Yet, Debbie contends, there is too little information on how to effectively do what must be done! How does she end the affair and maintain absolutely no contact with the affair partner so that the marriage has a chance to make it?
No one outlines how to escape the infidelity trap and stay free. Too often, the affair reclaims the unfaithful woman and further endangers the survival of her marriage.
This is the point at which Debbie becomes passionate. Helping women learn how to end their affairs permanently is her goal. She sees the unfaithful woman’s lover as a dangerous addiction. To recover, she needs a clear process and compassionate guidance.
Her blog lays out a healthy method for ending the toxic cycle of betrayal and “to help women end their affairs the right way.” Of course, I asked Debbie to share those tips here:
4 Steps to End Your Affair the Right Way
Take practical steps for ending your affair
- End the affair via letter or text. Do not lead the affair partner on or provide false hope for future contact.
- Block any open access points by which the affair partner could contact you. This prevents the affair from reigniting. Your phone, emails, social media cannot be available to them. Anything that links you must be disposed of or closed off securely. Even music or places that trigger memories must be eliminated. This may feel harsh but its absolutely necessary.
- Ideas of “friendship” must be abandoned. Once you’ve crossed the line, there is no going back. Your spouse would never trust such a friendship.
Consider the mental aspects of ending your affair
Learn to take control of your thoughts. This is vital. Thoughts feed feelings and feelings motivate behavior.
It is very important to pay attention to your thinking about your affair partner, stop the thoughts and rumination, and replace unhelpful thoughts with beneficial thoughts instead.
Think about your husband or family. Avoid the trap of dwelling on your former lover or romanticizing him. This just fuels an infidelity relapse.
Note: For my part, I suggest this may be a good place to employ psychotherapy. Talk to your therapist, express a need for help in this area. They may ask to see you in a separate session or refer you for individual therapy with another counselor.
Seek spiritual support for ending your affair
Debbie believes that lasting recovery involves a spiritual component. I agree. Research supports the significant influence spirituality has on healing.
She noted that, as a Christian, renewing her relationship with God was extremely beneficial. She did this by reading scripture, and praying for strength and forgiveness. She said this provided encouragement and the strength to break free.
Your perspective and the degree of support you can expect will depend on your own faith, meditative practices, self-talk, etc.
Pay attention to weak points that might set you back & suck you in
Guard against lies and excuses that promote infidelity relapse. What subtle or deceptive practices keep you connected to the affair partner or will reopen closed doors?
Remind yourself that you don’t need “closure.” Don’t get sucked into the idea that seeing them will make the pain of moving on easier. In fact, the opposite is true, reconnection will effectively dismantle the affair detox and emotional progress you’ve made.
Become more aware of the boundaries necessary for successfully leaving your behind. To get to the life you want you must continually erect clear boundaries and firm guardrails. Actively keep yourself and your marriage safe.
Dealing with the Biggest Challenges: Guilt, Shame and Moving On.
Facing these common and formidable challenges to leaving your affair behind is vital.
Guilt and shame are heavy burdens following an affair. Your destructive behavior becomes increasingly clear and the fallout can feel unbearable.
The pain you may have caused your husband (and others who know about your betrayal) is real. Your guilt is significant. And you may feel extremely anxious about how to help them heal.
Additionally, you may suffer shame regarding the way you’ve let yourself down. Betraying your own beliefs and vows is hurtful on another level. You may believe you are unworthy of a second chance. Regrets are often hard to live with and may make moving forward a serious challenge.
Still, you must look for someone to turn to. Despite the stigma of being an unfaithful woman, you need healing too. Debbie is quick to note that your partner’s pain is not minimized by your recovery. You must simply learn to forgive yourself and accept forgiveness for the sake of your personal future and that of your marriage.
I noted that this where Esther Perel’s views on shame vs. guilt apply as well. Ultimately, shame regarding your infidelity is crippling if you remain mired in shame. Living in regret and rumination keep you stuck. Guilt, though, honors what you’ve been through and compels you toward relief, repair, and sincere efforts at earning your spouse’s forgiveness.
I hope that this discussion with blogger Debbie Rose makes a difference for you. It is my genuine wish that if you’re struggling, you now feel less isolated and more equipped to end your affair the right way. Most of all, I hope you have gained some clarity and definitive guidance.
My sincerest thanks to Debbie for discussing such a tough situation with me. This is such an important, relatable message to explore. You can obtain free resources on her website at Aftermyaffair.com and access both of her E-books on her home page.
Please feel free to go to my private facebook group and request to join “AMA Women.” It’s intentionally inconspicuous. No words like “infidelity” or “affair” appear in the description to safeguard your privacy.