In this article we will focus on the participating partner and the guidelines he or she needs to follow in order to become a “successful rebuilder”. This is a term coined by Linda J. MacDonald, M.S. that I believe ought to be used more in the field of recovery from infidelity. I attribute much of what is written in this article to the work of Linda J. MacDonald.
The difference between a person who says they want to heal and the person who doesn’t just talk but is willing to walk the talk is committing to a series of guidelines that makes recovery a possibility.
All too often the hurt partner asks the participating partner, or myself questions such as, “Why should I believe my spouse? Why should I give them another chance? I already feel foolish and I don’t want to make a mistake.” Great questions and who could blame the hurt partner for asking?
Of course what most people wonder is “How do I know my partner is committed to committing to me?” This is a critical question in recovery that needs to be answered and I approach this issue in therapy from a BEHAVIOURAL perspective based on the participating partner’s willingness and ability to actively exhibit examples of commitment, healing, insight and desire.
As a quick review it may be helpful to consider some of the more “COMMON BELIEFS THAT BETRAYED SPOUSES” struggle with. Of course betrayed or hurt spouses already know this, so this is reviewed here for the benefit of the participating spouse who had an affair….
BEFORE AFFAIR AFTER AFFAIR
|I matter to you||I meant nothing to you|
|I am safe with you||You are dangerous to me|
|You value me||I am scum to you|
|You meant our wedding vows||Our vows meant nothing to you|
|You are honest with me||You are untrustworthy|
|You care about my feelings||You couldn’t care less|
|You will protect me||You will harm me without conscience|
|You have goodwill toward me||You wish me evil|
|You consider our marriage bed exclusive –Just between us||I am not enough for you. Our sexual relationship is not special to you.|
Linda J. MacDonald, p. 62
…leaving the Hurt Partner feeling undesirable, demeaned and disgraced and often the participating partner doesn’t get it failing to acknowledge the degree to which they may have devastated their partner. Hence the participating partner often fails to make the transition from participating partner to a successful rebuilder. In my view this is one of the primary reasons couples fail to recover after infidelity and fail to rebuild their relationship.
I recently read an extremely helpful book by Linda J. MacDonald that recommend to all of those who have an affair and who say they want to save their marriage.
Important points made by Linda MacDonald are:
- people who have an affair often regret what they did and want to save their
- repairing and saving a marriage after an affair, while difficult can be rewarding
Now who we are talking about here are those participating partners who wish to have another chance given to them by their partners who they have hurt. What we are focusing on are a series of guidelines that a participating partner must follow so they make the transformation to becoming a successful rebuilder, a term coined by Linda J. MacDonald.
Personally I like the term “successful rebuilder” because it is future oriented and consistent with my focus on “life after an affair”. Remaining stuck on the term “participating partner” means being stuck in the past and not the future and all of its’ possibilities. Once you become a “successful rebuilder” you are future oriented and you become focused on your vision, gaining insight, creating safety, making intelligent choices and realizing opportunity, all of which are part of my treatment plan for VISION, which is the treatment plan for recovery that I created.
So what are the guidelines that people who have had an affair need to commit to so they can help their spouse feel safe enough to give them another chance? In my view this is where the rubber hits the road and represents the difference between a successful rebuilder and someone who says they want to rebuild but tires of trying after a period of time. It is the difference between the person who wants to help their partner heal and to do what it takes for as long as it takes with compassion and empathy. The successful rebuilder wants their partner to heal and regain a feeling of safety. Above all else they want to save their relationship and recommit to their partner.
The Guidelines: SUCCESSFUL REBUILDER:
- are non-defensive about what they did
- examine their motives for their affair(s) without blaming their spouse (all too often blame is the name of the game for these people)
- accept their role as healers to their wounded partners (a difficult role to play and for the Hurt Partner to accept)
- do not resist breaking off all contact with the affair partner
- show genuine contrition and remorse for what they have done (successful rebuilders work hard to win back the hurt partner. Winning them back is their priority)
- make amends and apologize to loved ones
- apologize often, especially the first two years
- listen with patience and validate their spouses’ pain
- allow their spouse a lot of room to express their feelings (and don’t tire of hearing it regardless of the amount of guilt and/or shame they feel)
- respect the betrayed spouse’s timetable for recovering (they accept that the Hurt Partner will not heal according to when they want them to heal)
- seek to assure spouses of their love and commitment to fidelity
- keep no secrets
- do not maintain close ties with those who condoned the affair
- are willing to be extremely accountable for their time and activities (willing is the operative word. They want to be accountable and don’t feel forced)
- frequently check in with their spouse, wanting to know how they are doing (Successful Rebuilders are proactive. They ask their spouse how they are doing)
- are aware of and anticipate triggers of the affair (anticipation and awareness shows the hurt partner that the successful rebuilder is thinking of them. This sends the message to the hurt partner that the successful rebuilder is not thinking about someone else)
- are willing to get rid of hurtful reminders of the affair (Successful Rebuilders allow their partner to decide what to do with the reminders)
- don’t minimize the damage the affair had on the children
- commit themselves to a long-term plan for recovery, honesty and spiritual growth
According to MacDonald successful Rebuilders have humility.
- SUCCESSFUL REBUILDERS embrace their role as HEALERS
- SUCCESSFUL REBUILDERS work hard to undo the damage of the affair and make
- SUCCESSFUL REBUILDERS honour the time it takes for their spouses to heal.
“When a PARTIIPATING PARTNER makes a conscious choice to become a SUCCESSFUL REBUILDER they not only heal their partner’ hurts, they also resolve their own.”
– Linda J. MacDonald, M.S.
In my opinion these guidelines are essential and must be followed if a participating partner is to make the transformation into a successful rebuilder. The field currently lacks a scientific test that can be given to assess the commitment of a participating partner to helping the hurt partner heal. The guidelines proposed by MacDonald acts as an excellent indicator of a participating partner’s true intentions.
David Feder, MSW. RSW.
Founder of mylifeafteranaffair.com