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Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs

Earthquakes and the discovery of your spouse's extramarital affair have a lot in common.

You can live in a place for decades before an earthquake big enough to cause damage occurs. Day after day, even though you know the odds of an earthquake in your lifetime are high, you live your life normally. To do otherwise would keep you tied up in knots.

Then one hits. Overturned shelves, collapsed buildings, fires, leaks of poisonous gases, pancaked overpasses. Everything stops. You attend to the damage and the clean up.

Afterward, you cannot easily trust you will be safe through the night. You have a hard time trusting you will see your loved ones again at the end of the day. But you have no choice. As soon as you rebuild your home, your school, your workplace, you must begin to rebuild your trust that this will not happen again any time soon.

Or you can move away, hoping to escape the threat. But as you move far enough away to reduce the earthquake threat, the hurricane threat increases or the tornado threat or the bombing threat.

Extramarital affairs are a lot like earthquakes. The odds of one are actually pretty high over the course of a marriage. They say 60% of men and 40% of women make this monumental error in judgment.

But they are low on any given day, and you will tie yourself up in knots if you don't live day to day trusting your mate.

If the earthquake of discovering an affair hits, your world comes to a stop for a while. Then you deal with the damage, rebuild your marriage a little stronger than before, and begin to restore the trust.

Or you get out of Dodge (or Christchurch or Sendai or Northridge): you divorce. Better? No. The odds of a post-divorce unmarried relationship or second marriage surviving turn out to be a good deal worse than the odds when you married the man or woman who shook up your world.

The good news is when big earthquakes hit or when spouses cheat, lots of folks go on to live great lives right where they were before the catastrophe. We are a resilient lot.


Great post. For the second time today, I have read a post that has lifted me out of my doldrums concerning my marriage. Thank you.

Thanks! I love to hear this blog is helping.

About 1 yearago, my wife discovered my long time pornography compulsion. We have been married 19 years. It devastated her and her poor heart was broken. I had grappled with this issue since my late teens (I'm now 50). To her, it felt like an infidelity. I can see exactly how she could feel that way. After all, I was selfish, cowardly, deceitful, secretive and lied to her about it previously. We are still together a year later. I have quit pornography and it almost seems like it was in another life when i was engaging in that behavior. Counselling helped me finally break the habit. My concern is for my wife. We have a terrible time talking about it and it seems to anger her so when I try to. My guess is that it could be years more until I can really win back her trust and she can quell those nagging doubts and fears. She waxes and wanes. There are weeks when she seems to relate much more lovingly with me and other times when she can be openly hostile and negative. I think some of this is unprocessed anger and grief due to the hurt I inflicted on her soul. Interestingly, it often worsens when she is about to start her period, or when ther eis some additional stress, such as her mom's recent illness. I am trying to be supportive, patient, non-judgemental and just kiner in general to help her thru. What else canyou suggest? I love her so and want her to recover and have a life with me again.

Ernie, I am so glad to hear you sought help with this compulsion. The internet makes it a lot easier for those who sell porn to drag someone deeper and deeper into the compulsion, tracking when you are likely to response to ads for the next level.

For you, what happened occurred over a long period of time, made you feel mostly good instead of bad, and ended months ago.

For your wife, the devastation began one year ago, and it called into question her desirability and your integrity. Surely, she is revisiting everything that happened over the previous 18 years as your wife and trying to make sense of it through this new information. You may be beyond it, but if she still needs to process it and come to terms with a new view of your marriage and you, neither of you gets to dictate how long this will take.

I am sure it is painful for you to see her through this. Sounds like she has seen you through a good deal more than a year of less than fully present marriage. I hope you will return the favor.

What can you do? You have put your finger on part of the answer: do what you can to relieve her of stress, especially right before her period, when even ordinary chores can feel stressful.

When she is openly hostile, react with compassion instead of defensiveness, as you might if she lost her temper with you while dealing with the pain and frustration of a grave illness. If you recognize she is upset by something new that you said or did, instead of apologizing, remind her you do not want to lose her and ask what you can do right now to restore the relationship you value.

Do you know her love language? If not, check out Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, so you know which things you might do for her will mean the most.

Do you know her top character strengths and your own? If not, visit and try to identify her top 4 or 5. Choose one of hers, but not any from the Humanity group, and see if you can come up with an activity to do together that uses this strength and one of your top five. Base it on hers so the activity is an all-engaging experience that takes her into that lost in the moment state called flow and yours so she sees you at your best while she is enjoying herself.

Let us know how things go, Ernie. Wishing you the best.

Hello, again...
I posted back in July about staying married for the kids while my husband says he does not have a deep lifelong love for me anymore. Your advice was helpful until I caught him talking on the phone to a woman outside our balcony condo while we were on vacation with our kids at the beach.
By the next morning, he had sworn he didn't want her and wanted to work it out with me. When we got home 5 days later, he met her and ended it. But, after only 3 days she contacted him and they started texting again. Then I discovered these emails around 4 days after that and told him I was divorcing him. It was awful that Sunday, him trying to convince me we can live in the sake house and pretend for the kids. All I kept telling him was he needed to leave.
Never did our kids know what was going on.
By Tuesday, he finally had a breakdown and admitted he didn't want to b with that woman, had not seen her since the break up, but felt addicted to the constant texting/communication. He knew that the whole thing with her was not real. But he did not know how he could ever live with himself around me with his guilt. I was clear with him, he was not getting off that easy. He had to try.
So, we called her together the next morning and made it clear she was to never contact him again, ever, and I spoke on the speaker phone conversation, too, so she was clear.(btw, she is 20+yrs married also to her highschool sweetheart with 3 girls)
After that, we saw a counselor the next day and again once a week for the last 2 weeks. Our 3rd session was last Friday.
So my struggle now is over his inability to give me an assurance that he really has a lifelong love for me. I don't get it. He loves me, more than anyone in the world, but he has this wall...
We have addressed his need for solitary recharging as an introvert and my need for connection as an extrovert. His recharge need is something I have not given him enough of, apparently, not reading him and understanding his needs. Hence, his previous comments saying "I don't know him at all!"
I am slowly trusting he is not communicating with anyone but me and he has his phone back. But I DON'T trust him yet. The amount and depth of his lies over the past 5 months is overwhelming. I know that can only come with time.
What I haven't been able to do is put my wedding ring back on. It has grown to something overblown in my mind. I had placed some line that had to be crossed for me to wear it again.(He never took his off.) I said to myself he had to profess his life long love again and practically ask me to marry him again.
Then, today I decided today that I would put it back on because it symbolizes MY commitment to him, not his to me. And I don't know why he won't say it, but that doesn't matter now.

Wow, Heather! Lots going on for the two of you. I like your take on the wedding band. I'm glad you chose to put it back on.

Expect rebuilding trust to take a while, on both sides. You need to rebuild your trust in his fidelity. That's a slow process. It would surely be easier with a pledge of deep lifelong love.

But his certainty of that love broke when he found himself so easily tempted by someone else. And then he saw you were ready to leave him, despite your commitment, when he screwed up. So he has some trust to rebuild, too, in your commitment and in his own.

Give yourselves at least six months to rebuild all that trust. I have heard the Beyond Affairs Network has helped a lot of people understand and get through this process. Check them out online.

I've had a lot of folks in my Enjoy Being Married teleclasses working on the extravert/introvert differences. Feel free to join us and ask questions about what you're going through. You may get lots of help from the others on those calls and not just me. The October and November 2012 topics are great ones for bringing up this topic.

Hello Patty,
I found your article very interesting, especially this last few statements
"If the earthquake of discovering an affair hits, your world comes to a stop for a while. Then you deal with the damage, rebuild your marriage a little stronger than before, and begin to restore the trust.

Or you get out of Dodge (or Christchurch or Sendai or Northridge): you divorce. Better? No. The odds of a post-divorce unmarried relationship or second marriage surviving turn out to be a good deal worse than the odds when you married the man or woman who shook up your world. "
well in my case i think otherwise, she has done it(had affairs) on four different ocaassions, sometimes even with multiple men at the same time. clearly i cannot rebuild this, the last affair was in February this year and just seven months down the line, she is in another one. and i prompted her of the consequences when she started this affair, but she denied it until it blew up in her face. now she says she's sorry again. now its difficult especially because of our 3 little kids, but its best if i get out of the Dodge

I tend to agree, Jay. If I lived in a place with repeated devastating earthquakes, I would get myself and those children out of there, too.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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