When we were back home in India, my then fiancé cheated on me. He said he was sorry and we got married. We moved to UAE. The distance I thought would help. COVID-19 hit and we were both laid off. This means we are going to have to go back to India – to the place where it all happened. While the cheating was a year ago and I pretty much put it out of my mind – we get along really well – I can’t help but think that once we go back things will change. Am I crazy or is it inevitable?
Dr Ava Ghasemi (Holdich), Clinical Psychologist at The Mapletree Center DMCC, replies
There is a part of you that is holding on to the terrible memories of being cheated on. You may have felt betrayed and heartbroken when it all happened. These memories may have been triggered for you due to stressors of job loss and having to move now. This is normal, when we’re under pressure, and uncertainty kicks in, we see things through the lens of anxiety and we might catastrophize. This is a flight-flight response that helps you protect yourself in a way but may be a slightly over activated response due to added stressors in your life.
Issues to address
Could it be that you moved on so quickly from the initial incident and tried to put it behind you that you didn’t get a chance to properly address what the issues were in the first place?
Some questions that come to mind are:
How did your then-fiance’ understand what the cheating was about? What led him to make that choice? Did you both come to an understanding about the context of the “cheating?” For example, what is your partner’s history? Were there any factors that contributed to the cheating?
Did he show true remorse about the incident and do his absolute best to apologise and make amends?
Did the two of you together come to an understanding about how you could prevent a betrayal in the future.
There are various aspects that can play a role in extra-marital affairs (Baucom, Pentel, Gordon, & Snyder, 2017):
1) Factors outside the relationships such as work stress,
2) Factors within the relationship such as lack of emotional intimacy,
3) Factors of the partner who has had the affair such as a history of needing reassurance about being loved, and
4) Factors relating to the affected party such as being disengaged from the relationship.
Assessing these factors in your relationship could help you identify where the cracks may be and to seek appropriate help if needed.
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If the problem is with outside stress, even though you may not be able to change that right away, you have to work together as a team to offset the pressures of life and ask for help from family and friends until you’re back on your feet.
If the problem lies in not having enough emotional intimacy with one another, you need to ensure you are carving out quality time, doing relaxing, fun things together that will help you bond.
If the problem is with a history of needing reassurance, your partner might benefit from building his confidence in other ways such as team sports, or volunteering for a cause he cares about. These could be wonderful opportunities for getting positive attention by also doing some good for the community. Also working on his inner psychological wounds that he may have endured through self-compassion meditation, journaling, or joining a support group for men, could lead to higher sense of self-worth. And if the problems are with you having been disengaged, then ensuring quality time and being mindful of your own feelings and addressing them right away would be key.
How did you deal with it?
The cheating did not happen in a social vacuum and how you have dealt with your partner did not happen in a social vacuum either. Did other people know or did you deal with it by yourself? Were you afraid or concerned about people’s reaction or did you talk to too many people about it? Friends and family have all sorts of ideas and concepts about what one should do when faced with these sorts of situations.
Difficulties in a relationship are an inevitable part of relationships but there is a very good chance that when such incidents occur that you may experience healing and ultimately your relationship could be stronger for it when the struggles are dealt with rather than avoided.
Figuring out what works
The truth is no one can tell the future. Physical distance from India is not what has kept your marriage alive so far. My hunch is it’s your friendship, your commitment, and the foundation of your relationship that has made your marriage work.
Bringing yourself back to the present moment, where you are now, how you feel about your husband now, focusing on the things you can control rather than worrying about all the things that you couldn’t possibly control will also help you.
You also need to remember why you married your husband in the first place. Was just your love for him and the fact that he apologized or was there a deep gut belief that he would remain faithful to you? What helped you restore trust? What are your core values in this relationship and are you both upholding your ends of the deal?
Talk about it
Communicate your worries about going back to India in a constructive way and decide on what boundaries you may want to set to protect your marriage as a team. I would stay away from rehashing the details or the incident or from blame and criticism.
Rather than thinking that the burden of worry and control is on you alone, it would be beneficial to have an honest conversation about what you will both need to do in order to ensure you make your marriage a priority. You will not be able to do it alone, neither will he, by making good choices together (one choice at a time), slowly you will feel reassured and trusting again.
Reference: Baumcom, D. H., Pentel, K. Z., Gordon, K. C. & Snyder, D. K. (2017). An Integrative approach to treating infidelity in couples. Foundations for couples therapy. Research for the real world. Taylor & Francis. New York: NY.
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Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.