Figuring out and expressing what you think and feel
(If you're the one who has had an affair)
by Peggy Vaughan

While it's important to try to rebuild trust (by making positive statements to your spouse and answering questions about facts or feelings), it's often extremely difficult to do so--and it's especially difficult to do it "in the way the other person wants to hear it." Part of the difficulty is that when there's so much emotion involved (on both sides), it's hard to know exactly what you think or feel—and even more difficult to express it in a way that helps rather than hurts the overall situation.

Often, it can make a difference to simply indicate a "willingness" or "desire" to be positive or to be forthcoming—whether or not the result is as wished. Otherwise, there's a tendency to think you're "deliberately" failing to be positive or "deliberately" failing to be forthcoming.

While I'm a great believer in honesty and in a willingness to answer questions, I understand that giving "reasonable, consistent, believable" answers is often not possible—because "after-the-fact," it's almost impossible for most people to "know" exactly what they were thinking—or even precisely what they said or did—or why they said or did it.

For instance, when I say they may not "know," James demonstrated that he didn't know the answer to a fact related to actual time--like when he began his first affair. He was a whole year off. He honestly thought it was a year before it was; all he knew was that it began at a professional conference that took place each year at Labor Day. And he didn't know exactly how many affairs he had; we never could be sure he remembered or accurately counted them all up.) But it was his "willingness to try" to answer the questions—even when there were no clear answers—that made all the difference.

Sometimes, there's really no good clarity around a lot of the details due to having tried to shift things around in your head to make them "fit" into a reality that "makes sense." The details probably aren't as important to you as to your mate—so you may be trying to dredge up clarity when there never was any, especially when it comes to feelings. And when you're confused about the facts, it's often easier to fall back on saying whatever you think might "work" (in more nearly being a satisfactory answer) than in trying to determine and express a genuine answer—whatever it may be. But, of course, it's almost impossible to figure out and say precisely the "right" thing.

Being motivated by a feeling of wanting to build a better future (as opposed to being motivated by a sense of needing to "redeem" yourself) can make this whole process a lot easier. And the process of genuinely working toward developing a better relationship will, in fact, be more effective than any effort based on strictly trying to get out of from under the effects of the past.

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