Yes, affairs are complicated and messy. Yes, affairs cause pain and monumentally impact our families.
But in this episode, I invite you to consider the lessons you can learn from an affair relationship (and the gifts these lessons might offer).
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
- 4 “lessons” my clients have learned from affairs
- How you can reframe one of the hardest moments of your relationship
- What to do with what you learn… moving forward
Featured On The Show:
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Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now, your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.
Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today we are talking about lessons from an affair.
Now, I almost called this episode “Gifts from an Affair,” but even that was a little bit too provocative for me. So I backtracked on that and said lessons. But you might hear me say lessons and gifts, because I think that lessons absolutely are gifts for us, especially if we just choose to look at them as such. Because it helps us get closer to what it is that we really desire. It helps us to understand ourselves better. And I think that is a gift, and every experience we have brings those gifts to us, especially the difficult stuff.
So I'm going to tell you the story of a client of mine who I'll refer to as Barb, but honestly, this could be the story of so many of my clients just with some little tweaks and changes. So maybe this will sound familiar to you. Barb is 52 years old, and she had been married for almost 30 years to her husband whom she had met in college, and she'd gotten to a place where she didn't desire sex anymore. And she felt like, well, there's probably something wrong with her, the fact that she doesn't desire sex anymore.
She had a struggling marriage for at least the last 10 years, especially once the kids got older and she couldn't just throw herself into her kids anymore because they didn't need her. They were growing up, so they didn't need her as much as they did when they were young. Once it just became more about her and her husband, and not so much about her and the kids, that's when the troubles really started to come front and center for her.
She had a lot of distance from her husband. It wasn't that she didn't love him anymore, but she just didn't feel connected to him. She didn't feel like she even really knew who he was, and she certainly didn't feel like he knew who she was. So they had just grown apart over the years, as so many couples do. And he wasn't exactly initiating sex with her either. And so she started to feel like, wow, maybe he just doesn't desire me. Maybe I'm not desirable anymore at 52. Then she started telling herself maybe this is just how marriage is after 30 years together.
They both just had no desire that was being cultivated in their lives. Not surprisingly, the relationship became vulnerable to an affair, and she found herself in an affair that she did not intend to have; she didn't go out seeking it, but she found resonance with someone. Finally, she realized what it felt like to feel cherished and to feel desired.
She realized that she was worthy of being cherished and worthy of being desired because she had kind of forgotten that over the years. And she started to question herself, and she started to feel bad about herself. And so when this affair came along, it breathed new life into her, and she started to feel better about herself because oftentimes the gift that comes from an affair can be the woman that we get to be inside that affair. Who we get to show up as that doesn't just fit the box of being the wife and the mother that is sort of built for us. That, after a while, can start to feel too small.
So let's talk about what other lessons and gifts can come as the result of an affair. Sometimes it's realizing what you almost lost, what you almost gave up. Sometimes after an affair, we have a great deal of regret, and we see the hurt that we caused our partner, or we see the hurt that we could have caused our partner, and now we reinvest in the marriage because we almost lost it. So that can be a gift. Affairs will absolutely awaken you to what it is that your heart truly desires. And what I mean by that is what feeling we want to feel in our most intimate relationship.
Notice I didn't say who, right? We often tie feelings to people. We’ve got to unwind some of that when it comes to affairs because what is so intoxicating about affairs is the feeling of it. It's not necessarily the person; it's the feeling that we get when we are involved in the affair that happens to be with this person. So one of the things that affairs give us is it shows us what it is that we truly desire, what we most want in our intimate relationship that's missing in our marriage.
So that becomes really important. And once you know these feelings, like the way that Barb felt cherished and desired, you can't unknow that. You can't pretend to just go back into your marriage and go, oh, well, it's fine. We'll just go back to the way that it was, where I never feel cherished and I never feel desired, nor do I feel desire in my own life. She wanted to be able to desire and be desired by her partner. And once you know that feeling, you can't pretend to not know it. So that is a gift. It's a complication, but it's also a gift.
And another gift would be that it brought her back to life. After the kids had grown up and started creating their own lives, she lost herself along the way. It's easy to do, but she had lost who she was, the essence of her and what brought her alive, and what lit her up, and what got her excited and curious and interested in her own life. She had let a lot of that go dormant. And this affair, for better or worse, brought her back to life. And I take that as a gift.
So whatever the lesson, here's what I want you to know. Whatever the lesson that comes from an affair, you get to keep that. You get to keep that. Whether or not you pursue a relationship with this person ever in the future is non-consequential. It doesn't matter because you get to keep the lesson, you get to keep what you learned from that experience.
Now, I'm going to tell you another story, because this happened with a couple that I was working with where he had had an affair, and obviously, she found out about it, and she was hurt. She was obviously deeply, deeply hurt. And so they think it's kind of odd; they come to me almost shyly saying, oh my God, we're having the deepest, most loving conversations. Like we've never had conversations like this. We're finally talking about what matters. Or they'll tell me we're having the best sex we've ever had. Is that crazy?
They think it's really unusual, and it's not, because sometimes when we come so close to losing something or walking away from something, we start to treat it with more care. We start to treat it more gently, and we start to engage in our relationship in a way that maybe we should have all along.
But certainly there's something to the idea that when you almost lose something is when you really begin to value and appreciate it, or once it's gone is when you really value and appreciate it. And it's the same way in our relationships. This couple, and I, we would joke because I was like, gosh, the place where they are now is so much better than where they were before the affair. It wasn't that the marriage was horrible, but it wasn't good. And now they're in such a loving, connected, committed, and passionate place with one another that you almost want to say that the affair itself was a gift to the marriage.
Now I know, I'm pushing it there. I'm pushing people's boundaries a little bit too much to say that. And so that's why we used to kind of joke about it, like you'd almost think that this was a gift. So don't go looking for an affair as being a gift to your marriage. But what I can tell you is that many times on the other side of an affair, there are good things that can transpire in the marriage, should you choose to remain in it afterward.
So I think that what you learn from affairs is really, really important. And I think that once you know some of these feelings that are really important to what you want to create in your most intimate relationship, once you know it, you can't unknow it. You can't go back to pretending with your eyes shut and your ears closed, like la, la, la, la, la. I'll just go back to my ignorance. You can't; there's no way to do that. Good luck trying. So then what we have to do is embrace it.
You might be thinking, “Well, Sharon, I've never felt these things with my husband, and so is the only answer then to leave.” And here's what I want you to know. These things that are transpiring, that you've now learned are important for you to know – now the question becomes, can you create that in your marriage? Can you create that feeling in your marriage? I'm not asking, do you feel that way? Now I'm saying, can you create that now that you know what you want, now that you know what you desire, can you create that in your marriage? The only way to know is to try, right?
So I hope that that was helpful for you. I hope I didn't push your boundaries or your buttons or your triggers too much. And until next time, take really good care.
If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage.
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