Hey, my name is Jim Pourteau. I learned how to move past an affair because I was in one.
I’m not proud of it, but it’s a fact of my past. One thing I’m happy about, though, is that my past didn’t define me. It’s become a place of refinement for me, and I believe that I’m a better person today. In some ways, because of it, my relationship with my wife is better today. Not because of the affair, instead because of the changes we’ve made since it ended. You can move past an affair just like I did.
I realize that you might not be where we are. Maybe you’re still in an affair, and you’re trying to figure how to get out. Perhaps, you’re having a tough time controlling your thoughts and move past an affair.
My wife Shannon taught me a long time ago that in everything that we learn and in everything we do, if we don’t get our thinking straight, we’re in trouble. The way she puts it is, “my mind can be my worst enemy.” Because the person you listen to and believe the most is you.
Being in an affair is difficult and painful, but you can move past an affair and thrive if you’ll do a couple of things.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
You need to realize that the affair isn’t merely physical, and it’s connected to deep emotion. It’s connected to a perceived lack of intimacy in the original relationship and an over-amplified amount of intimacy in the new one. In the old relationship, you can build walls based on your perception of behaviors. You quit sharing things about yourself that are the key to building closeness with your spouse. And when you build that wall, it separates you, and you start drifting apart.
You may have even said that before, “I feel like we drifted apart. We aren’t together.” The old phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” rings true, and things that used to be worth so much; the relationship and our spouse, over time, become familiar.
We forget things. We become parents. We get busy. There are a lot of contributing factors that come into play when intimacy gets stepped on. But at some point, if I begin to perceive your behaviors as being against me, I will protect myself from you.
The problem is that we’re not designed to be alone.
Someone else pays attention, and you begin to fall into limerence when you’re not looking. Limerence is a highly affectionate state with that other person. It’s an “intense” sort of love. I’m not saying it isn’t love- it is a kind of love. However, it’s different from some of the other types of love. Now you feel intimate there, and that’s the emotion you’re feeling.
What Do I Do About These Thoughts?
So, I’m trying to give background so you can see that your situation didn’t start overnight, and you can’t move past an affair overnight. We have to address the intimacy issue, and we have to address the thinking issue.
For you and your spouse to help each other, you need to get these memories out of your mind. You can do this by creating new memories.
There’s no way you can say, “don’t think about something,” and not think about it.
I’m going to give you a challenge. Don’t think about broccoli. I know it’s a crazy thing, but I want you not to think about broccoli right now.
Go ahead, try it.
What you’ve noticed is that every time you said to yourself, “don’t think about broccoli,” you thought about it. If you’re a person of faith, you may have been gone, “Oh God, help me not think about broccoli.” But every time you pray not to think about broccoli, you’re thinking about broccoli. Or maybe you call a friend up, and you say, “I keep thinking about broccoli. What do I do?” And they go, “what kind of broccoli? You know, broccoli is good for you.” Do you see what I’m talking about?
At some point, you have to replace these thoughts with something else. You can’t just not think about something, and this is where I used to go awry. If you’re not careful, you will as well.
You need some thought, some memory, other than the memory of the affair to replace. This might be painful for some, but not everything that happened in the history of an affair was bad to the two people in the affair. They have good memories that sometimes trigger with a song, a restaurant, or a smell. That memory is there. If you stay on the memory, it brings it not from a year ago or six months ago. It brings it into the day.
So what should you do to move past an affair mentally?
Create New Memories
Transition to thinking about something else. Suppose you and your spouse are developing positive interactions. In that case, if you’re recreating intimacy, you are going to be creating moments that you can think about that replace the stuff from the affair. We’re not computers, you can’t just hit delete, and the memory goes away. You have to overwrite these memories. So, as you’re building these good times with your spouse, you’re replacing those memories in your head, and they will become dimmer and quieter as time goes on.
If you don’t create those memories, you’ll find yourself rehashing good times. They might be from the job or from when you were a kid, but at some point, you have to attach positive interactions and emotions to your spouse.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the leading research scientists regarding marriage, says that there needs to be a high percentage of positive versus negative interactions for a couple to feel good about their relationship. Suggestions are somewhere around 5:1. That means for every negative or neutral interaction you have, there needs to be five positive ones that will overwrite them. So, you’re replacing those emotions you had over here with good feelings with your spouse. You can move past an affair by creating a fresh vision, fresh opportunity, and fresh hope.
If you continue talking about and worrying about the past, you’re going to produce an avoidance motive. But if you’re living forward, and you’ve worked on the hard parts and moved ahead in forgiveness and wholeness, you can create these new memories.
What It’s Really About
Although the memory coming into your mind distracts you from your current relationship and shows a picture of the other person, it’s really at the core, not about the other person, but the loss of a new vision.
When you and your spouse were married, you had a vision. Maybe you wanted a house with a white picket fence covering a private yard with 2.4 kids and a car or two. You begin to realize that when life gets in the way that you can’t have the picket fence, and the car runs out of gas a little more often than you thought, and then taxes come due. Reality sets in, and sometimes when that happens, it’s tough to stay focused on your dreams.
Eventually, the dream dies in the relationship, and then we create a new one. We associate that negativity with a person, but it’s the death of that dream that we’re mourning.
When I left my relationship with my affair partner, I had great plans for what we would be. These plans would be successful, happy, and in contrast to what I believed I had in my previous relationship. Well, that vision is gone because you’ve broken it off, or they’ve broken it off with you. Now you’re turning towards your relationship with your spouse, but you need a new vision.
That’s where these positive interactions come in. This is where working together towards new aspirations becomes essential. These things are important. Without these two pieces of foundation, you’re going to have a tough time doing the three things I mentioned in the title of this article. Get these two base-level things first.
Develop good interactions between yourself and your spouse, and stop with a negative control in your actions. This will create an excellent opportunity to have a positive influence on one another. These things create a pull toward the relationship, not a push.
1. Move past an affair by learning the power of leading your thoughts.
Most of us are subservient to whatever thoughts hit our minds. They hit based on emotion, and we respond to it. Few of us challenge the emotion that we’re feeling at that time. Here’s what I know for sure about you and me, that if we let our emotions take over and lead us, we’re going to be in the place where we were when we are asleep and unaware of your situation.
These thoughts could be from the past relationship or good interactions you’ve had with the affair partner or from the negative interactions you’ve had with your spouse. If you don’t conquer those, you’ll fall right back in the same trap you were in, seeking safety in another place. So when a thought comes in, you have to recognize it and redirect it. Don’t let your thoughts direct you. Stop.
You might have a friend that helps you with it. I had a friend that when I couldn’t control my thoughts, I would call him, and I would say something like this, “Hey man, nice day outside.” He knew that was a part of our regular discussion. We had talked about it. It was his responsibility to get my mind off of the thoughts of my past affair relationship.
He didn’t ask, “are you having trouble thinking? Because that would make me think more about it. Maybe you can misdirect those thoughts if you want to do something else by stepping up and into an activity, work, or something like that.
So what do I do to get over this grief? One of the things you can do, first of all, is you need to lead your thoughts. Most of us are in the habit of letting our thoughts lead us. I mean that we have a stimulus or stimulation, rather something kicks in, so we just pursue where it’s leading us. We don’t challenge it. We don’t address it. We jump on it.
Usually, when I hear someone tell me that it was clear or obvious, it really wasn’t. It was just what they saw from that perspective. One of the things you’re going to have to learn as you look around the sphere of your life and see that it’s there is that you need to be in control of your thinking.
Remove any triggers that are in your control. It’s not uncommon for people to have mementos, clothes little things that remind them. I knew a couple one time that had a little bread tie that goes on bread bags, and they’d fashioned a ring out of it. One of them kept it in their jewelry box as a remembrance, and they would be triggered to remember a different time. If you’re trying to move past it, you get rid of it.
Resist reminiscing. We think that’s not a threat, but that is a threat if you’re in a married relationship. Do your best not to think about it. When it comes along, distract your thoughts and don’t reminisce. You can’t move past an affair otherwise.
2. Move past an affair by using thought diversion.
If you don’t do this, no one else will. I can’t divert your thoughts for you. So one of the ways you can do that is to recognize that your thinking isn’t in line with your vision. Anytime you have thoughts that don’t line up with the vision of reconciliation, you’ve got to push those aside because if you don’t, you will constantly be at war inside yourself over a decision. You’ll hesitate and be confused because you’re entertaining options—the best way not to have to worry about making a choice. Eliminate the choice. That’s your decision. We can help, but you have to decide to do that.
3. Move past an affair by developing new experiences with your spouse.
You were not created to live in old experiences. I love gumbo. Two or three days after the leftovers sit in the refrigerator, it tastes better. Do you know why it tastes better? All the ingredients that were in there were good to start. If there’s junk in it or something’s rotten, the whole batch turns.
See, I don’t want to reminisce about my past and stuff that doesn’t go with it. I don’t want to think about things in my past and say, “you know, that was good or that was great.” Even in your relationship with your spouse, I want to create new memories. I heard it said not too long ago, “the best is yet to come.” I want to make that my motto that no matter how good it was, I’m not dead no matter how bad it was in my past.
I’m alive, which means I can choose to do something different today. Your past doesn’t define you. It refines you. Take these pieces, take some of our tools, apply them. It won’t happen overnight, but it will get easier and easier as you do it consistently. And pretty soon, you’ll find yourself in a different place doing different things.
If you want to move past an affair or are currently struggling with one, please check out our Affair Toolkit. If you want to Explore Reconciliation, we have a Toolkit for that as well.
Of course, we have the full course called “Save My Marriage” and that covers a huge spectrum of things. If you’re interested in any of these or some of our other tools, give us a call here at Marriage Helper (866-903-0990) or fill out the form on this page to schedule a meeting with one of us. You can get a client representative to call you, or check us out on YouTube. I promise you we’re here to help you reach your vision and goal for your relationship. Take care.