Jim and Mary had what appeared from the outside to be a good marriage. They met in Australia, but ten years later found themselves building a comfortable life in Southern California with 2 children,a mortgage, and stable careers in music.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when Mary discovered that Jim had been having an affair for the last three years with his first love in high school She made the discovery accidentally while causally going through his cell phone texts when he was in the shower.
As many partners would, Mary went ballistic, her anger and rage fueled by deep feelings of hurt and betrayal. For 12 hours straight she demanded that he tell her everything – every encounter they had, every sexual detail, every intimate thing he had told her about their marriage, etc.
Anger Management would clearly be an essential component of any successful affair recovery process that Jim and Mary would undertake.
While Jim was terrified of losing his family and his life as he knew it, managing her justified anger was Mary’s challenge. Because her ego and self-esteem were severely injured and trust in Jim had been shattered, she was sure she would never be able to forgive Jim for his behavior.
As a consequence, she asked him to leave the house, a request he complied with after talking to his children. Jim was clearly a man slinking away from his previous life full of shame, guilt, and regret.
In our local anger classes and in our online anger management program, we teach that forgiveness is often an essential tool of successful anger management. This was most certainly true of Mary.
Therapy started by recommending two books to Mary, both written by Dr. Janice Abrams-Spring: After The Affair and How Can I Forgive You? In her later book, Genuine Forgiveness is reframed as an intimate dance, a hard-won transaction, which asks as much of the offender as it does of the hurt party.
Following Dr. Spring’s recommendations, in therapy Jim learned how to perform bold, humble, heartfelt acts of repair to earn forgiveness, such as bearing witness to the pain he caused, delivering a meaningful apology, and taking responsibility for his offense. At the same time, Mary learned to release her obsessive preoccupation with the affair, to accept a fair share of responsibility for what went wrong, and to create opportunities for Jim to make good.
An excellent book on sexuality and the meanings of marital infidelity “Mating in Captivity” written by Esther Perel was also recommended to the couple who found it quite helpful and enlightening.
Jim and Mary made it – their marriage ultimately not only survived, but thrived. On Jim’s part, among many other things, he learned how to communicate much more assertively(another tool of anger management) to his wife instead of “stuffing” his feelings about things that bothered him. For her part, after learning to forgive her husband, she turned her attention to her sexual inhibitions and attitudes which had caused Jim much sexual frustration in their relationship.