Four Rules to Guide
Marital Recovery After an Affair
Introduction: For the past two months I have posted "Coping with Infidelity". So you have probably had your fill of advice about affairs.
But I have decided to stretch your patience and post just one more column on the subject. Today's letter reads like a host of others just like it that I received during the past two months. So I decided to clear up a question that all of my other Q&A columns on infidelity seems to have missed.
This week's letter is from a woman who has had an affair, and is trying to end it. She wants to know precisely what she must do to restore her marriage, and wants assurance that it will work. Her letter gives me an opportunity to explain the Four Rules to Marital Recovery that must be followed if a marriage is to thrive after an affair. If she and her husband follow my advice, she will love her husband again, and her marriage will be restored. Following my advice won't be easy, but it will work.
Dear Dr. Harley,
I have been married to my husband for 3 years, and we lived together 4 years prior to our marriage. He is wonderful husband and loves me so much. But during the past two years he became very involved with work and was not able to give me the attention he had shown me earlier.
Last year I developed an e-mail relationship with a man on the internet and we sent each other several letters a day for about a month. By the end of the month, I was in love with him and really believed that he was my soul-mate. So I left my husband and moved to the city where he lived to be with him. But after a few weeks, I became very depressed and missed my husband. Even though my lover and I always had a good time together, I felt something was wrong and I was very confused.
After being separated from my husband for three months, I decided to return to him, even though I was still in love with my lover. However, I stayed in contact with my lover without my husband's knowledge. My lover would come to see me almost every weekend and we talked on the phone every day.
Two weeks ago my best friend threaten to tell my husband about my continuing affair if I did not stop seeing my lover. She thought I was being unfair to both men. So I have broken off all contact with my lover. I stopped calling him and seeing him, but I have been very depressed because I miss him terribly. I still feel we are soul-mates, and I can't stop thinking about him.
My first question is, did I make the right decision to break up with my lover? I really want to save my marriage, but I can't even begin to work on it while I still miss my lover so much. I feel so very confused.
My second question is, is it possible to love my husband as much as I loved him before I met my lover? Sometimes I think I never loved my husband as much as I love my lover, but I remember having a very passionate relationship with him, too. I want that back again.
My third question is, should I stop using the internet? I am still communicating with my friends and family by e-mail, but I check my messages several times a day to see if my lover has sent me an e-mail message. I feel helpless. How can I stop being so addicted and how can I find willpower to stop thinking about him?
Finally, my fourth question is, specifically, what can I do to get back the love that I had for my husband for 5 years. I have read your Q&A columns, but I would like you to give me more information about the steps I should take to be in love with him again. I am willing to do anything to get my love for him back. I used to be madly in love with him, and want that feeling again. Please help.
My answer to your first question, "did I make the right decision to break up with my lover," is a resounding yes! You have taken the first step toward restoring your love for your husband -- you have completely separated from your lover. As long as you were seeing or communicating with your lover, there was little hope that your feelings for your husband would be revived. But by separating from your lover, you have removed one of the most important obstacles for complete marital recovery -- your lover.
But, as you have already discovered, the first few weeks of separation from a lover are very painful. You are addicted to your lover, and separation from the object of your addiction has triggered symptoms of withdrawal -- a compulsive craving for him with intense feelings of anxiety and depression. However, if you completely avoid seeing or communicating with your lover, those feelings of anxiety and depression will gradually fade. For most people they fade in a few weeks. But even if it takes longer to get through withdrawal, it is absolutely essential to do it if you want to restore your love for your husband.
Remember the Love Bank? If you are to be in love with your husband, he must deposit enough love units into his account in your Love Bank so that it will trigger the feeling of love in you. But since you are depressed while you are getting through withdrawal, it will be almost impossible for him to deposit very many love units. If he is to deposit love units into your Love Bank, you must first get over being depressed so you can associate him with your good feelings.
Once you are through withdrawal, however, you are ready for marital reconciliation because then, and only then, does your husband have a chance to deposit love units. Your mood will improve dramatically, and the effort your husband makes to meet your needs will reap impressive dividends. Before long, you will be in love with him again.
But if you give into your craving before withdrawal has ended, and contact your lover, the period of withdrawal will begin all over again. Those feelings of anxiety and depression will come back with a vengeance. All of your efforts to reconcile with your husband will be wasted, and it will test the limits of your husband's patience. So you must take extraordinary precautions to avoid ever seeing or communicating with him again.
Extraordinary Precautions to Avoid A Former Lover
To help you totally separate from your lover, and avoid the temptation to see him when you crave him the most, I suggest the following extraordinary precautions:
The first extraordinary precaution to avoid your lover is to tell your husband all about your affair, and the decision you have made to restore your love for him. Then promise to keep telling him the truth about every aspect of your life, so you never again have a secret second life where you are tempted to hurt him behind his back.
Honesty and openness is one of the best ways to prevent yourself from being inconsiderate of your husband's feelings. It was your friend's threat to reveal all to your husband that motivated you to separate from your lover. Your friend wanted to shed to light of day on the things you were doing in secret to protect your husband. But you should do it yourself. Go right to your husband with the facts. If you had been honest about your budding relationship with your lover from the beginning, it would never have developed into an affair.
You may be afraid that once your husband knows the facts about your ongoing affair, he will leave you. Quite frankly, I think he has the right to make that decision. If, faced with the facts he decides to divorce you, you lose your option to restore your relationship with your him. But you simply cannot build a relationship on lies and deception. Dishonesty will never get you to your goal of loving your husband again. So it's better to get all of the cards out on the table now and build your marriage the right way, even if there is a chance that your husband will throw in the towel before you have a chance to reconcile.
Another reason you may be reluctant to tell your husband the truth is that he might have a violent reaction to what you have done. If you are afraid of his reaction, separate from him first, and then tell him the truth in a public place or with friends who can protect you. If your husband cannot control his temper once he knows the facts, then I see no hope of saving your marriage. Honesty is so important in marriage that if the threat of violence prevents honesty, I don't believe you will ever have a good marriage.
Besides, dishonesty does not prevent violence in marriage, it encourages it. If your honesty brings out violence in your husband, your dishonesty would enrage him even more, once he discovers that you've lied to him.
If you think your husband may divorce you or become violent when you are honest with him, I encourage you to be honest anyway, before you begin your plan for reconciliation. If he cannot accept the truth, no plan of reconciliation will work.
2. Account for Your Time.
Once you have established a willingness to be completely honest with your husband, then continue to be honest with him about all of your activities. Make sure he knows about everything you do throughout the day. Give him a complete schedule of your activities, and let him know which of those activities make you most tempted to contact your former lover. Try to avoid people and places that increase your craving to be with him.
3. Spend As Much of Your Time with Your Husband as Possible.
During withdrawal, there is not much your husband can do to deposit love units into your Love Bank. But it still makes sense for you to be together as much as possible. That's because the more you are with him, the less you will be tempted to contact your lover. Try to have lunch together, talk on the telephone several times a day, and be sure to spend evenings and weekends together.
In many cases, I have suggested that a husband and wife go on a three-week vacation together during the first few weeks of withdrawal, just to help the wayward spouse avoid contacting the former lover. I tell these couples not to expect too many love units to be deposited, but by getting away from the reminders of the lover, they find that such a vacation greatly reduces the time it takes for withdrawal. Besides, the distractions of a vacation can often compensate for the depression that accompanies withdrawal, and makes the experience much less painful.
Sometimes a wayward spouse feels like getting away from everyone during withdrawal, and going on the vacation alone. But it doesn't work. It's too tempting to call the lover, and in many cases the lover ends up joining the wayward spouse.
If you go with your husband on this vacation, you will not feel like being very romantic with him. He should expect very little from you, because you will be recovering from your addiction to your lover. It's only after the craving for your lover subsides, and your depression lifts that you will be able to give your husband the opportunity to deposit all the love units it takes for you to be in love with him again.
Of course, your husband must be very careful to avoid making matters worse by saying and doing anything that would upset you. Granted, he may not be very happy about your affair, but if he wants you to love him again, he must avoid withdrawing love units at all costs. He must be with you as much as possible, yet avoid anger, disrespect and demands, which are all Love Busters. He must also be careful to take your feelings into account whenever you make decisions.
If you slip, and contact your lover in spite of the extraordinary precautions you take, tell you husband about it immediately. Then, improve your extraordinary precautions to include the condition that caused the slip. Keep improving them until it becomes virtually impossible for you to contact your lover. A slip will set you back emotionally, but it does not mean that your recovery plan has been ruined. It simply needs an upgrade.
In many cases, I have encouraged couples to relocate to a different part of the country to avoid contact with a lover. It's a good example of an extraordinary precaution upgrade, when it became apparent that contact with a lover could not be avoided when living in the same city. It goes without saying that when lovers are fellow employees, a job change is absolutely essential to marital recovery. How is total separation from a former lover possible when you work together?
You asked if you should avoid using the internet, since it reminds you of your lover, and tempts you to contact him. I'm sure you can anticipate my answer. I suggest that you stay away from the internet until you are through withdrawal, and you have restored your love to your husband again. Then, I think it would be safe for you to return to it again.
Four Rules to Guide Marital Recovery
After you are through withdrawal from the addiction to your lover, your depression will have lifted and you will no longer feel a craving to talk to your lover. At that time you will be ready to put into place rules that will guide you and your husband toward a deep love for each other. After you have followed the rules for a while (six months to two years), you and your husband will be soul-mates.
These are the Four Rules to Guide Marital Recovery that you and your husband should follow to help you restore your love for eachother:
1. The Rule of Protection: Avoid being the cause of your spouse's unhappiness.
If you and your husband want to be in love with each other, you must build your Love Bank accounts. But before you build them, you must be sure there are no leaks in the Love Bank. It's pointless to deposit love units into a sieve, where every deposit is promptly withdrawn by a Love Buster. So you must make a special effort to plug up those leaks by committing yourselves to avoid being the cause of each other's unhappiness.
The most obvious things spouses do to ruin their love for each other is what I call Love Busters. They are angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments, annoying behavior, selfish demands and dishonesty. I describe these destructive habits in my basic concepts, but if you need special help learning how to avoid them, I suggest you read, Love Busters: Overcoming Habits that Destroy Romantic Love. This book will help you identify the Love Busters that keep emptying your Love Bank accounts, and show you how to stop inflicting them on each other.
Most of the Q&A columns I've posted on the Marriage Builders? web site focuses attention on the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). This policy protects both you and your husband from each other thoughtless decisions. Your affair was a blatant example of thoughtlessness on your part because you knew it would hurt your husband, but you went ahead and did it anyway. The Policy of Joint Agreement is a very important guide to helping you keep the Rule of Protection. That's because it helps you realize that anything you do that hurts your husband is off limits to you, regardless of how wonderful it makes you feel.
If you had followed the Policy of Joint Agreement, you would never have had an affair. But the Policy will also help you avoid hurting each other in a host of other ways, too. My book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love, can help you learn how to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement, and use it to negotiate agreements that are fair for both of you. Once you learn to negotiate with each other fairly, you will have learned how to follow the Rule of Protection.
2. The Rule of Care: Meet your spouse's most important emotional needs.
The way to deposit the most love units is to meet a person's most important emotional needs. Your lover did that when he wrote you all those e-mail letters because conversation was your most important emotional need. After one month of filling your Love Bank with thousands of love units that were e-mailed to you, you found him irresistible -- you were in love with him.
Conversation is not your only important emotional need. Affection, recreational companionship, admiration and sexual fulfillment may be some of the other important emotional needs that your lover met. Unless your husband eventually meets your must important needs as well as your lover met them, you will be frustrated and at risk for another affair.
Sometimes a spouse must learn to meet a need that he or she has never been very effective in meeting. Many of the spouses I've counseled have had to learn to be affectionate for the first time in their lives. They also have had to learn to be stimulating conversationalists and skilled lovers. They have had to learn to provide greater financial support, become more effective in their parenting skills and learn to become admiring instead of being critical. New habits that lead to need fulfillment can be learned by anyone. All it takes is a plan and willingness to follow it until expert level is achieved.
But your husband may already know how to meet your emotional needs. An important reason that you had an affair was that your husband's work schedule prevented him from giving you the attention you craved from him. When you and your husband agree to follow this second Rule to Recovery, his work schedule will no longer stand between you, because meeting your needs will become your husband's highest priority. All the needs that your lover was meeting for you will be met by your husband in the future.
If you need help identifying and learning how to meet each other's important emotional needs, I suggest you read, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-proof Marriage. It describes the ten most important emotional needs for men and women, and how to become an expert at meeting those needs. When your husband has learned to meet your needs, he will be depositing so many love units that his account in your Love Bank will be overflowing. By then, you will be thoroughly convinced that leaving your lover to rebuild your marriage was the right decision to make.
3: The Rule of Time: Give your spouse your undivided attention.
You indicated in your letter that it was the lack of your spouse's attention that drove you into the arms of your lover. But it may have been more a lack of time than a lack of attention. As I already mentioned, your husband may already know how to meet your emotional needs, but unless he sets aside enough time to do it, all of his skill does you no good at all. It's the man who gives you time for undivided attention who will win your heart.
I suggest that you and your husband plan to spend at least 15 hours each week together, giving each other your undivided attention. Use that time to meet each other's emotional needs for affection, conversation, recreational companionship and sexual fulfillment. I have found that if that amount of time is taken to meet emotional needs, you can spend the rest of your 100 waking hours each week doing just about anything you please, without any risk to your love for each other. But if you do not set aside that time, your good intentions will not buy you a single love unit.
Since most everything we do must be scheduled or we don't do it, I suggest you take about a half an hour each week (say, Sunday afternoon from 3:30 to 4:00) to schedule your time together for the next week. Get out your schedules and write each other into your appointment books. Once scheduled, don't let anything interfere with your time together.
I suggest spending the same days and times together every week because it's easier to remember than a new time each week. Besides, you can be better emotionally prepared to be with each other if you always know that Tuesday evening you will be together from 7 to 10.
I also suggest that you spend time together when you have plenty of energy. Don't give each other the leftovers, give each other the best of yourselves. That's why I generally rule out time together after 11:00 pm. For one thing, you need your sleep for the challenges of the next day, and for another, there are not too many people who are at their best that late at night.
Finally, I suggest that you spread your time out every week, giving each other at least one hour of undivided attention every day. I am generally opposed to cramming all of your time together into a marathon weekend of 15 hours, because undivided attention is required, and 15 hours of anything makes undivided attention almost impossible.
4. The Rule of Honesty: Be completely honest with your spouse.
We have already discussed honesty as an extraordinary precaution to prevent you from contacting your lover, so I won't say much more about it. But what you begin as an extraordinary precaution, must become the standard way you and your husband communicate with each other -- with openness and honesty.
You have not been honest with your husband. If you had been honest, you could never have had an affair. Your honesty is your husband's greatest protection because it lets him know what you are up to. It also helps you both make adjustments to each other. Instead of having an affair, you should have told him how unhappy you were with his negligence of you, and how you were falling in love with another man who would give you his time and attention. If you had ended the budding relationship then, and focused on getting more of your husband's undivided attention, you would not have put both of you through such an ordeal.
The Basic Concepts section of this web site contains a section entitled, "the Policy of Radical Honesty." It outlines precisely what the rule of honesty is. It's complete honesty. I want you to read it over very carefully, because it explains precisely how honest you and your husband are to be with each other.
But be careful not to let Love Busters ruin the purity and value of honesty. Keep anger, disrespect and demands out of your honest expression of facts and feelings. If you can do that, you will find your honesty will not only help you find solutions to your problems, but it will also draw you closer together, and help you become the soul-mates that you can be.
If you are willing to permanently end your relationship with your lover (never see or communicate with him again), get through withdrawal, and then you and your husband follow the Four Rules to Guide Marital Recovery, I guarantee you that you will have a great marriage. And I also guarantee you that neither of you will ever suffer through an affair again.