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Infidelity & Forgiveness; Interview with Dr. Janis Spring

Infidelity is complicated & difficult to heal from. Dr Spring wrote the first book that defines infidelity as a loss of trust & a shattering of the self. The person who has been betrayed struggles to recapture their sense of themselves. The partner who had the affair needs to listen non-defensively, without interruption to the profound level of hurt. Quick apologies are not going to solve this for the person who is hurt & feels their life has blown up. Listen to learn what does work:

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JANIS ABRAHMS SPRING, Ph.D., ABPP, is a nationally acclaimed expert on issues of trust, intimacy, and forgiveness. Her first book, After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, has sold more than 500,000 copies and is Amazon’s #1 best seller.  She is also author of the award-winning How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To, and Life with Pop: Lessons on Caring for an Aging Parent. She has been in private practice for 41  years.

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Rhoda: So what makes your book After The Affair one of Amazon’s bestsellers? what do you think is your special contribution?

Dr. Spring: There’s no question in my mind that it’s the way that it speaks to the audience, is that it was the first book to frame infidelity, not as a loss of fidelity, but as a loss of trust and on an even deeper level; the shattering of the self. So when you learn that your partner has been unfaithful, you experience a psychological trauma and there are many losses and in the book, I spell out the types of losses that people experience, and you start off with the loss of the familiar self.

So that is incredibly crazy-making, where no matter what you do, you can’t recapture the way you’re used to knowing yourself, you think of yourself as attractive, plucky, energetic and when you discover your partner has been unfaithful, you flatten out, you go into a despair and a shell of who you used to be and you’re helpless to come out of that, so that is bizarre, you not only have lost your partner, you not only have lost your idea of the relationship, you’ve not only lost your cherished self, you’ve lost your familiar yourself. They are shattered and ashamed and devastated and it’s important to normalize it. 

Rhoda: That is really a wonderful way to think about it and can be so helpful.  What helps them absorb the trauma of infidelity, is there anything else that you would add?  In my audience, so many people may not go to therapy, though certainly, I’m prejudiced and think that’s a great idea, but I was thinking is there anything else that they can do because you’re right, it is a very helpless & that loss of self is huge and I was just wondering if there’s any other suggestions that you might have to help them?

Dr. Spring: Sure, so you know when somebody hurts you, there is not a lot that they can do to undo the hurt, but one of the core ways to heal, is to listen to the hurts with an open heart, that means non defensively, that means where you know if your partner says, you did this to me, the other one doesn’t say, well, you did that to me and it’s a tit-for-tat. When we’re hurt and we go to the person who has hurt us, we want to be heard and that is very powerful, whether the listener agrees or not, is something else. 

But just the simple experience of being heard and being mirrored, that means, So if the betrayed person says, what I want you to understand is that I have become a shell of who I’m used to being and I find I can’t sleep at night and all my mind is being bombarded with images of you with this other person and I’m on Facebook looking at them and checking their every move and I’ve lost trust and I’ve lost a sense of my own specialness and what you want is to be heard after infidelity.

I do refer to the unfaithful partner as a he and the hurt partner is a she, just so I don’t have to say, he, she.

 (I want to just say we know that both men and women have affairs and both men and women get hurt by their partner’s affair, but just so I don’t have to do that, I’ll speak mostly of the woman being the hurt partner and the man being the unfaithful partner) If the hurt partner is talking out a hurt, they want to hear their words, they want to be embraced, they don’t want a quick apology, they don’t want to learn any lessons, they don’t want to hear the other person’s point of view, they don’t want to know how the other person has been hurt, they just want to be heard, held and heard and so it’s not a normal way of speaking.

If the hurt partner says, you know I find my mind is racing, I can’t sleep at night, I can’t eat and my mind is being bombarded with images of you with this person. I question whether you ever loved me, if we ever shared anything real and good and the other person says, what you want me to understand is… and this is the drawn from the work of Harville Hendrix, is to be able to mirror this other person. What you want me to understand is my affair has totally blown up your life and blown up your sense of self and you’re not just dealing with the loss of fidelity here, you’re dealing with the loss of the self after infidelity.

The way you’re used to knowing yourself and it feels bizarre to you and you resent me for doing this to you, you want them to say yes, a hundred percent you’re hearing me and you know people say, will this really help? Well, there’s not a lot that’s going to help at this point.

Rhoda: That’s right.

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Dr. Spring: Yes, after infidelity being heard and not being argued with and having your truth be validated and held and cared for, is one of the most important caring behaviors that the unfaithful partner can make. Now I want to say, often in relationships, there isn’t one right, the division of the roles aren’t so neatly divided. Sometimes they are, you did this terrible thing to me and I didn’t deserve it, period, sometimes they are neatly divided, but sometimes the unfaithful partner has also been hurt, they are also a hurt partner and part of why they had the affair, is because they had grievances in the marriage. I have had unfaithful partners say to me “You know, I’m at the bottom of my wife’s list, you know we’ve got the kids and we’ve got the house and we’ve got her outside activities and her tennis games and you know I’m last and basically, I’m the paycheck, I’m the bank account and part of why they’ve had the affair is because somebody saw them and made them feel worth knowing and lifted their spirit and so they also have grievances that they want heard if not validated. 

Rhoda: You are totally right and that fits every experience I’ve had; it is a very complicated situation!

Dr. Spring: Right, and I think that each person wants to be heard, there has to be a space made, where each person can talk out their hurts and the other will listen non defensively and make the other person feel heard and there’s a difference between feeling hurt and agreeing with them.

Now if you agree, that goes further, we all like it when the person agrees with us, right? 

Rhoda: Yes.

Dr. Spring: So let’s say, the husband had the affair and he says, I’d come home at night exhausted, working all day, I know you work all day too, but honestly, you didn’t make me feel that you were happy to see me and I know I come home everyone is cranky, it’s a long day and then the kids go to bed and you know you go into the bathroom and you close the door and then you come out and you go to bed as fast as possible and I felt in the end, you needed me to pay the bills, really? that’s it and I resented that role.

I resented that you lost interest in me as a human being in my struggles or you know reaching out to me or showing affection, having pleasure with me and then she has to hear that, you know it’s not normal, normally we want to jump into our own defense and we think when the person hears our defense, it’s all going to be cleared up, but that’s really not what people want to hear, they want to hear themselves, we all want to hear ourselves, we want to be heard and so people have trouble doing that because they think that means they’re agreeing with their truth and they don’t agree with the truth.

But it’s not, it’s just hearing it and of course, you know she has what she wants to be heard and needs to spell that out and he needs to feed that back to her, so she says to him a hundred percent, you’re hearing me and it sounds so simple, but it is so incredibly difficult.

Rhoda: Yeah.

Dr. Spring: But that’s where it begins, the airing of the hurts, each person’s hurts and feeling heard and therefore cared for by the other.

Rhoda: How do unfaithful partners respond differently than hurt partners to the affair?

Dr. Spring:  Well, it’s a completely different experience, it’s the opposite experience. So for the hurt partner, the infidelity is a complete devastation and so many of their assumptions about what they shared with this person are destroyed, you know we were a happy couple, we cared about each other. I mattered to you. So for the unfaithful partner, the affair often is this incredible emotional elixir, where they feel seen and held and embraced and understood and wanted and so, it’s candy, it’s the best and so you’ve got these two completely different responses and often the unfaithful partner needs to be talking to a therapist of their own or to the therapist on their own.

Because sometimes, when the infidelity is revealed and the unfaithful partner gives up, the affair person, they experience a grieving, which is really not something that the hurt party wants to hear, that you’re missing this other person, you know the hurt party will say, don’t ask me to feel sorry for you or to have you know any kind of compassion for your pain, that’s insane, of course, it’s insane, but the unfaithful partner needs to be talking to somebody and the truth is that this person often has become a friend and an ally to them and it is hard to give them up.

Sometimes it’s easy, they’re happy the infidelity has been discovered, they’re ready to give up this person and they’re happy things are out in the open and they want to begin to work on rebuilding the relationship, but other times, they experience a grief, a loss of a friend and of somebody they felt cared for frankly more so than their marriage partner or their committed partner. 

Buy
Dr. Spring’s Book AFTER THE AFFAIR

Her website: www.janisaspring.com

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