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Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

After the Affair - Aug 14, 2008

After the Affair: How Couples Overcome the "Impossible"

August 14, 2008

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

In light of this week's disturbing revelations of John Edwards' extramarital affair, Americans are witnessing the sudden decline of yet another one of America's political stars. Indeed, this week's upcoming issue of People features his courageous wife, Elizabeth who is still "standing by her man." But many of us are asking if it is even possible to overcome such infidelity in a marriage? Here to tell us more about these important issues is TXA 21 Contributing Psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: We've heard about Elizabeth Edwards' tearful response to the affair and her courageous decision to remain with her husband of thirty years. Is it even possible for a marriage to "come back" from such damage?

Dr. Sylvia: It is not only possible, it if often one of the best decisions you can make. But coming back from an affair demands incredible grit and determination. Great suffering creates great potential for learning and affairs are one of the most painful experiences on the planet. Because affairs elicit some of our rawest emotions--rage, fury, revenge, betrayal, and disillusionment--they are also the impetus for some of our finest moments. What greater gift can we give to someone else than compassion, mercy and forgiveness?

Q: Why are affairs often so painful?

Dr. Sylvia: Affairs are especially injurious for a variety of reasons:

Rearranges our World: Marriage explicitly prohibits third party involvement and affairs are a direct hit on the basic exclusivity "clause" of the marital covenant. Affairs rob of us our sense of predictability and safety. In addition, many people begin to doubt their own judgment and worth.

Traumatizing Events: The latest relationship research clearly shows that affairs can create post-traumatic stress disorder in the betrayed. Flashbacks of the infidelity, intrusive thinking about the trauma and hyper-vigilance invade the mind and generate overwhelming anxiety. We literally have to treat the individual for trauma before they can be effective in healing the relationship.

Q: According to sources close to the Edwards, he did not willingly and quickly disclose the affair. Does the timeline and openness in disclosure affect the outcome of the marriage?

Dr. Sylvia:

First Step Toward Healing: If someone is fully disclosing the details of the affair, there is an immediate step toward rebuilding trust in the marriage. It relays remorse, guilt and a willingness to pay penance. Full and immediate disclosure is indicative of having a conscience and the empathy for a spouse generated by that conscience.

Lying By Omission is Re-traumatizing: Progressive disclosure re-traumatizes the betrayed who repeatedly learns that they do not have the full story. Even if all information is disclosed in the end, the style of disclosure is a key determinant in whether the marriage survives or not.

Q: Are there specific predictors of which marriage can survive infidelity?

Dr. Sylvia: Remorse, full disclosure, acceptance of reasonable verbal punishment (not verbal abuse), and an earnest attitude about rebuilding the marriage all predict a good outcome. What we unfortunately often see in these situations is ambivalence in the betrayer to confess and break it off with the affair partner. Edwards' behavior exemplified this pattern. To reconstruct a new marriage, he should have surrendered all contact and maintained a marital perimeter.

Q: How do you know when it is over?

Dr. Sylvia: If revenge or relentlessly punishing your spouse with words and accusations are your primary agenda, it may be time to move on. Dissolving the relationship may be the only solution in some cases. In addition, if the spouse refuses to stop cheating, it is time to walk away.

Q: What tips do you have for our viewers who choose to work it through after the marriage?

Dr. Sylvia:

Establish Safety: Seal the marital boundaries and stop all contact with the affair partner. Differentiate between a failed marriage and a challenging passage in a marriage.

History of the Affair: Together the couple must create a story of exactly what happened in the infidelity. They must agree to a common version of the events. Such consensus and stories help us to differentiate between what happened in the affair and the present.

New Vision: Articulate a vision of a new marriage, based on new values. Create new traditions, rituals of connecting, etc. Although your marriage will never be the same, it can still achieve a special magnificence that is only possible through great trials.

Progressive Trust and Forgiveness: Know that all healing is progressive and incremental. It takes effort, patience and calm. Most of all, it takes love.