Or maybe your spouse is even trying to convince you that if you would just be more ________ (fill in the blank) or less _______ (fill in the blank), then he or she won’t have gone outside the marriage to seek _______ (fill in the blank).
But, the fact remains, your spouse having an affair is not your fault.
Yes, your marriage might not have been the best marriage in the world.
Maybe you guys fought a lot or have been having sexual or intimacy issues.
Of course, no one is perfect, and so I am sure we could collaborate to see what you could have done better in your marriage.
But why should we, therefore, conclude from you not being a perfect person that your spouse has a good reason to wonder?
Is There Ever A Reason To Have An Affair?
Struggling in marriage is not a good reason to be unfaithful.
In fact, there’s no such thing as a good reason to be unfaithful.
As I tell my clients all the time, “Your marriage having problems needs to be owned by both spouses, but how each of you individually reacts to your relationship difficulties is all on you as an individual.”
Having an affair is just one way to act to a struggling marriage.
If you think about it, there are all sorts of healthy and unhealthy ways to respond. Your spouse could have found Jesus (the healthy way) or became a drunk (the unhealthy way).
And, believe it or not, this is why it’s not your fault.
But here’s the problem.
No matter how many times you try and stop blaming yourself, the likelihood of you being able to stop on your own is very slim.
What’s The Solution?
That’s where counseling comes into the play ( the healthy way).
Talk therapy has been shown to help individuals work through the trauma of an affair.
What I would recommend you do is find a good marriage counselor and begin the process of healing.
If you’re in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, I would love to help you in any way that I can.
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist, and I specialize in relationships and trauma. I see both individuals and couples to get them back on track.
You expect your husband to put down his laptop and greet you after work. He knows you had an important meeting about a promotion, but not a word – he just sits there. Or maybe you have been waiting for days for your wife to finally give the okay to have sex. You feel like you have made your desires and needs known, but it falls on deaf ears. You just want to be looked at like you’re desired.
Of course, these situations could be reversed and nothing says it must be husband and wife. We find these types of dynamics in all kinds of relationships. I call them “Sleepwalking relationships.” It feels like your partner isn’t present to you. They’re like a person sleepwalking, or at least it feels like it.
Unfortunately, sleepwalking relationships are all too common and make you feel rejected. Rejection and loneliness lead to frustration and anger. You used to think you were a patient person once, not so anymore. The mere presence of your spouse causes you to feel like a ticking time bomb.
“Why doesn’t he love me?”
“Is she having an affair?”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
Fear grips you and then panic. In these moments, it’s tempting to do the five things you should absolutely never do to win your spouse back. They feel great and even justified in the moment, but frequently reinforce the sleepwalking cycle your relationship is in.
Let’s break them down one by one.
1. Don’t Seek Eye For An Eye
We all love justice. Fairness is one of the first things a child learns. Well, not that they must be fair to others, but that everyone else should be fair to them. As adults, we basically still operate in the same way.
It’s always easy to justify our own unfairness, easier still to want vindication when treated unjustly. You reason that if she is mean, you will be mean. If he won’t talk to you, you won’t talk to him. Fair is fair, justice is justice. You want him to hurt just as you hurt. You want her to feel lonely just as you feel lonely.
Finally, the day comes, your spouse finally complains about how “unfair” you have been and WHAM! You unleash the built-up pain and anger. The problem with this method? It leaves you just as lonely as before, and it doesn’t satisfy what you really want: a deep connection.
Demanding justice rarely works, it feels contrived. You feel like they’re only showing affection because you said something. That’s not what you want! You want her to desire you. You want him to be genuinely interested in your promotion, not just quickly questions so he can return to his computer. The fact of the matter is demanding justice typically pits you two against each other.
Of course, there are times when an injustice in a marriage needs to be expressed. Like if there is domestic violence, other types of abuse, or infidelity. These are topics for tough love and are beyond the scope of this article.
2. Don’t Threaten Divorce Or Separation
One of the worst things to get your spouse to show you attention is to threaten to leave. I can see why it’s appealing – you’re desperate. Plus, it seems logical to not “waste your happiness” on someone who doesn’t want to be with you. If they wanted to be with you, they’d pay attention to you. But they’re not, so they must not love you.
You might say something like, “Well if you don’t want to talk to me, maybe we’re not meant to be together!” But of course, only a small part of you really wants this. You really want them to show some sign they care. Instead, they go into panic mood and scream back, “I’ll help you pack!” The next thing you know, they’re contacting a lawyer.
Maybe it’s not this extreme for your case, (though this has happened) but threatening divorce or separation usually causes the other person to go into individual survival mode. If they respond to you, it’s out of desperation – often leading to bitterness. These people come into my office saying “I feel like a hostage. If I don’t do as he or she says, they’ll leave me.”
You might be feeling lonely, but don’t threaten to burn the house down – you just want to be heard or seen. Do yourself a favor and don’t threaten divorce or separation. You might just get what you don’t want.
3. Don’t Freak Out or Nag
Some people get vindictive, some threaten, and some freak out and nag their spouse in hopes they’ll finally wake up and be present. But like getting vindictive or threatening, freaking out and nagging does little to engage your partner.
We think freaking out and nagging will work because we learned early on if we scream or bug our caretaker enough, they will respond. Babies and children throw fits, doing anything to get their caretaker to respond, even if it means angering the caretaker. Therapists have known for a long time that negative attention is still better than no attention.
So freaking out or nagging your spouse is really a learned behavior. Certainly I’m not suggesting that you need to “grow up.” Actually, it’s just the opposite. It’s important to understand why you may freak out and nag your spouse: you long for connection and you are willing to do anything to get it.
The problem is when an adult freaks out or nags it typically gets the same response many parents give their children: less connection and more distance. Few parents respond to their kids by reengaging, comforting them, and showing them they’re not alone. Nor does the typical spouse.
It’s tempting to go into your “infant needs love” mode, but it’s vital to allow your prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that helps you think rationally) to operate. Tell those scared or nagging parts of you to calm down.
It’s amazing what can happen to the relationship after a partner stops freaking out and communicates their true needs in non-threatening, non-demanding ways. I’ve seen marriages flip 180 degrees in a few weeks.
Of course, your spouse might not understand what is going on, tempting you to return to the status quo. This is usually simply because people are afraid of change. But be vigilant and resist the temptation, it usually only separates you more.
4. Don’t Seek Emotional or Physical Comfort from Someone Else
I wish “don’t look for emotional or physical comfort outside the relationship” was so obvious I could skip it, but humans have been cheating since the beginning.
I suppose it’s because there’s a lonely part in each one of us that needs acceptance and attention. When you’re being ignored, temptation to appease that part can seem unbearable, leaving you vulnerable to the affair trap.
Affairs promise comfort but usually only bring brokenness and emptiness. Sure, you get momentary satisfaction or relief emotionally or sexually, but now you must convince yourself that your actions are justified because your partner at home won’t give you what you want.
The worst part? This does the opposite of what you really want. You want your spouse to attend to your loneliness and need for acceptance. By going outside the union, you sacrifice your true desire for a counterfeit. If the other person truly cared for you, they would help you save your relationship, not steal you away!
Worst of all is when your spouse finds out. You thought it was hard to talk about your grievances before, but they will have a hard time matching up to discovering you’ve had another person meeting your physical or emotional needs. Therapy sessions become less about to reconnect and more about how your spouse can ever trust you again.
Trust me, don’t play with fire.
5. Don’t Gossip or Complain to Friends or Family
Many people don’t realize how devastating complaining to their friends and family about their spouse can be. You’re hurting, so you naturally seek a coalition to defend you. They’ll say you’re doing everything right and your spouse is wrong. Now it’s you, your friends, and family against your spouse. In therapy, we call this an unhealthy triangle.
You thought your partner was unresponsive before, wait until they feel resented by your friends and family. But the real problem in “triangling” with your friends and family is you’re avoiding the real conversation you should be having with your spouse.
When complaining to others they’ll feel bad for you, but over time, they too will begin to be worn out with the stress that you are putting on them. At this point you will notice they may begin to suggest you just leave if your partner is making you so unhappy. In fact, they may welcome such a change because they are getting sick of you complaining all the time.
Now it might be true that you have really awesome friends who would never do this, but you are still displacing your hurt and pain on them instead of dealing with it with your spouse. This perpetuates sleepwalking relationships.
To be clear, I am not suggesting you shouldn’t seek advice from others, but there’s a difference between asking about how they talk to their spouses and saying, “that stupid bastard did it again.” Get my point?
It’s the difference between asking and complaining. While complaining can seem like the solution, asking actually leads to solutions.
What You Should Do
Now you know the 5 things not to do if your spouse is ignoring you. I (and many other therapists) have found if you actually stop doing these things you might find your spouse responding to you differently.
At the end of the day, this article is really about you. Too many of us place relationship struggles on the other person without looking at how we are keeping the separation going.
This can be hard to consider because the loneliness and anger are so strong, but try to slow down and see your relationship from a bird’s eye or meta view. Once you do, you’ll realize you may not be able to change your spouse, but you can change yourself and you’re only responsible for how you treat others. The goal is to make sure you can go to bed at night with a clean conscience.
Relationships are difficult, even more difficult when you feel stuck. If you feel like you simply can’t manage and you live in Iowa, we can help you thrive in your marriage or relationship. Couple counseling is what we do! Learn more about us or call 319-320-7506 to get started.