Many couples come to a marriage retreat as a result of infidelity. Usually it is a recently discovered affair that triggers emotional turmoil and a deep sense of crisis.
Or sometimes a couple still suffers the aftermath of infidelity in the past that was never properly or fully repaired, and so it keeps reeking havoc and prevents partners from fully trusting or reconnecting.
Affairs are felt to be a deeply traumatic betrayal. And for proper healing they must be worked with as such. But equally vital, in an intensive retreat most couples discover how to use the upsetting rupture as a launching pad for building a greater sense of connection and security than they ever previously experienced.
It seems almost paradoxical that this can happen. But, many more times than not, it does. And, in fact, to really recover from an affair, it has to launch each partner to grow emotionally in a way that makes them operate more securely as a couple.
Consider for a moment the Chinese ideogram for the word “crisis” and how it might apply to the turmoil infidelity creates. The ideogram is comprised of two characters — 危 + 机. The first character translates as “danger” and the second one means “opportunity”.
In saying this, we are not in the least making light of the emotional pain and turmoil from infidelity. That has to be addressed and healed. However, in our work with partners, infidelity does also present a crucial opportunity for both. It is an opportunity for partners to see and understand how they may have unconsciously over time gradually disconnected, lost track of one another, took one another for granted, or in some other way failed to engage in ongoing positive behaviors that keep love alive.
And that gradual process of unwittingly disconnecting or taking things for granted is what leaves people very vulnerable to third parties. Not that this is an excuse! Serious emotional damage is done when there is an infidelity. So authentic and deep emotional repair is required before trust or reconnection can occur.
The sense of betrayal has to be reckoned with and healed. Usually, in a retreat, this healing will result in positive realizations and changes that builds a much stronger foundation of shared intimacy.
Building a Stronger Foundation
Real feelings are explored, expressed and understood. Partners finally feel understood and accepted for who they are. Negative beliefs and limits the couple did not even realize were in the way will get transformed.
Partners learn how to repair upsets and emotionally heal with each other — even huge upsets like infidelity. Transparency is created that expands a couple’s ability to feel connected. They make new, mutually-beneficial agreements that will immunize their relationship from any future ruptures.
There are two levels of repair needed. One is the unilateral repair that the partner who caused the rupture must accomplish for the betrayed partner. Yet, ultimately, the healing needs to go beyond this level of singular blame.
In the end, after proper repair of the betrayed partner has taken place, both partners need to see how they were both involved, although unconsciously, in a mutual disconnection that created vulnerability to an affair. And more importantly, they see how they both need to operate from a new rule book to keep their relationship alive and each other feeling most in each other’s lives.
New Vows and Tools to Stay on Track
In a retreat partners create the new agreements — the conscious rules of operation as a couple that are good for both of them — that keep them feeling emotionally connected and happy together.
Typically, negative or limiting assumptions that unconsciously dominated their marriage get transformed. Perhaps their attention had been placed on the kids or on work — to the detriment of each other. Maybe neither knew how to express their deeper feelings or needs to the other.
Because of the automatic ways our brains operate, over time, each person come to believe they “know” what to expect of the other. This will be self-limiting, and is far less than what could be available. Each person may thus feel taken for granted or not appreciated for their contribution.
Worse yet, someone may feel unimportant, not cared about, like they have to walk on eggshells. Such unresolved distress leaves people vulnerable to affairs, where someone new offers the excitement, attention or praise they miss at home.
Couples who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As challenging as an affair is, it can be recovered from. And a much more solid, secure marriage can be the result. One in which partners are appreciated for who they are, where they no longer trigger each other into withdrawal or upset. Learning how to repair infidelity will help partners grow emotionally and develop a stronger bond with each other.
In discovering how to turn an affair into a launching pad to a healthier, more vibrant relationship, partners find out how to connect and better care for their most important thing — their marriage.
The ideal outcome is that partners will learn that they are in each other’s care, and come to take more seriously the need to boost each other’s spirits, adore one another, and repair small tiffs before they become large ruptures. These are the foundational tools you acquire in our intensive marriage retreats.