There’s been an affair. Now what?

Shannon brown talk about affairs and what to do when they are revealed.

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Affairs in Law Enforcement Relationships

You hear your spouse’s phone ding, and you lean over just to catch the first couple of lines of the text message coming in. You unintentionally read it, but after you do, your heart stops.

Your stomach sinks.

You feel sick.

You realize they’ve been unfaithful.

Your world stops.

Between shifts, stress, and sleep, connection can be challenging in law enforcement relationships. The challenge with connection can lead to problems with intimacy and sexual relationships. Affairs start as a slow slide and if you want to know more about what that is, listen to Episode 79 about emotional affairs.

What do you do when you find out about an affair, or you’ve had an affair?

How do you recover?

Can you recover?

The first several hours and days after the affair is revealed are crucial. It IS trauma.  It has to be treated as an injury. Shannon Brown, a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, affair recovery coach, and law enforcement spouse talks about what to do after affairs are revealed.

Lack of connection in Law Enforcement relationships

Shift work can cause an immense amount of stress in a relationship. Often your spouse wakes up as you are just going to sleep and there isn’t any time to communicate and connect. Opposite sleep schedules coupled with the impact of the career can cause a break in our connection. Not only mentally but physically and sexually as well. When needs are not being met, it can lead to an emotional and/or physical affair.

Statistically, neither partner is more likely to cheat, male or female, officer or spouse. Most of the time, couples that are affected by affairs have a strong relationship. These are couples that have been together for a long time with a solid and resilient history. They aren’t experiencing a chronic problem of cheating. All people, in all relationships, are vulnerable at times to an affair. While the best antidote to an affair is to work on the relationship every day, there’s still no guarantee. You could be close and connected as a couple, and there can still be an affair.

Why do affairs happen?

Sparkly Objects

Several components can contribute to the slow slide of an affair. One, in particular, is the sparkly object syndrome.  This is caused by biology.  An officer’s brain becomes familiar with the regular hits of cortisol due to the hypervigilance cycle.  This is a healthy response that keeps an officer sharp, acutely aware, and ready to respond to situations.  However, the brain becomes accustomed to having the biological experience of the cortisol and an officer’s brain may try to create a situation in order to receive the chemical dump that it is used to receiving.  It can be like an itch that cannot be scratched.  It can create a “sparkly object” moment.  This same experience can be created within individuals that experience a traumatic childhood or abuse.  The “hit” the brain wants or may connect with can be created through spending, starting fights, or responding to a message from a snap or Instagram follower that maybe doesn’t really need a response.  The brain can interpret home life as “boring” and seek excitement outside of your marriage in order to fulfill the adrenaline rush from the sparkly object.

Shift work

When you’re not part of and not aware of what is going on in each other’s worlds outside of home life, it can create disconnection. When there are one word answer as is the case on the down side of hypervigilance or when information is not shared by an officer, a lot of questioning can occur.

“What are you doing at work?”

“What’s going on for you?”

“Where are you at?”

Officers may feel nagged by questioning.  At times, officers want to protect their spouse from the gory details of what can occur while on shift and in turn, talk to other shift mates instead. This can be a bonding connection for officers.  If this coworker is of the opposite sex, and there is any sort of attraction, it can start the slippery slope and slow slide of connecting with someone else inappropriately.

Normalizing unacceptable behavior within the department

A department’s culture has the potential to normalize affairs.  When you spend 8-12 hours with your coworkers, you tend to seek advice from the ones you are with most. Phrases like, “It’s not a big deal, everyone cheats.” What does your spouse expect?”  are thrown around and create an atmosphere of normalcy. There isn’t accountability for the actions, but rather justifications for the slow slide.

What motivates couples to stay together after an affair?

Every couple has different elements of their relationship that motivate them to work together on rebuilding trust. A few reasons could be the time invested in the relationship, children, culture, and faith.  There may also be the realization and admission that everyone makes mistakes! Many times, at the core, the person who had the affair is still the same person their partner fell in love with. Do we change over time? Yes! Is this something that would change the relationship? Yes.  There be forgiveness?

First-responder relationships, couples, and families experience hardships every day. They don’t have a lot of family time or holidays spent together. They are experiencing the ups and downs of the current social situation of being hated for what they do. They are already doing “hard things”, and an affair can be looked at as just another hardship.

At the end of the day, the reason to decide to stay in the relationship should be because it feels right and healthy.

Affair recovery and building trust

After an affair has been revealed, it is important to remember that healing and recovery can look different to everyone. Everyone has their own process to overcome and then the couple has a process to go through toward rebuilding and reconnecting.

Support

You must have support during the road to recovery. This can be from a therapist, coach, church, or someone who is a friend of the relationship. If you are looking towards friends or family for support, they MUST be “pro the relationship.” It doesn’t help to have someone pick sides and pin spouses against each other. Helpful guidance is something that can help rebuild your relationship, not continue to knock it down.

Commit

Both people must commit! There can be ambivalence at times of “Should we stay, or should we go? That type of mindset will get in the way of affair recovery vs making a commitment and seeing what happens. When you have full energy and full commitment to affair recovery, it sets your relationship up for more success by focusing on progress rather than questioning.

Talk about the possibilities!

Once an affair is revealed there is a lot of hopelessness. “Will we make it?” “Can I trust again?” Instead of questions, talk about the possibilities of what can happen from going through the process of recovery because possibilities inspire hope! They can lead to deeper conversations, and maybe a more meaningful relationship with a stronger bond than you had before. That doesn’t mean rewriting the history of your relationship! All the good moments you’ve had with your partner over the years did not just disappear. They didn’t just get erased. They’re still there. This is still the person that you fell in love with. They are just a person that made a huge mistake.

Full disclosure

Part of the recovery process is to have full disclosure. This needs to be done with a professional to help guide the conversation so that it is productive, and not more damaging.  It is vital to remember that honest disclosure, while difficult is necessary.  It creates additional trauma if a partner finds out additional information after the initial disclosure or if the information is slowly revealed.  Do disclosure right the first time and get some help.

The betrayed partner needs to call the shots in terms of what they want to know, except for sexual details. When it comes to a physical affair, there isn’t a need to know the details. You can’t unlearn anything and once you know it, you can’t erase it.

What’s important, is to give timeframes so the betrayed partner has a generalized puzzle put together in their head. This speaks to trust building and security building.

If the first responder is the one betrayed, their hypervigilance cycle no longer has the opportunity to shut off once they are off shift. Their home life, which was once looked at as a place of security, is now a place full of triggers. There isn’t the opportunity to relax and oftentimes, they will be more observant and hypervigilant about every action their spouse has.

Trust takes time

One of the biggest components in reestablishing trust is time. Wounds have been created and “if those emotional wounds were physical wounds, what would they look like?” Time would be needed to fully heal the scar. What couples are doing with that time is crucial. There needs to be constant openness and willingness from the unfaithful partner. This could look like them checking in with their spouse often, sharing their location, Face Timing, etc. Full transparency 24/7, over time, will cause the betrayed partner to start to relax and trust again. The betrayed partner needs to accept when their spouse is being transparent and open without going into their fight response of wanting to accuse their partner. That type of confrontation will never be productive and forward-moving in the recovery process.

Have the awareness to know triggers!

Know the betrayed partner’s triggers. Partners can be triggered multiple times a day and want to go into attack mode. If the unfaithful partner is aware of the triggers, they can support their partner in a moment of insecurity. “The person who hurt them, who created that wound has now just come along and put some medicine on the wound, a new bandage, and said, does that feel better?”

Don’t shame the betrayed partner when their triggers occur! Hold space and allow your spouse to be vulnerable. This is a way to manage triggers in a supportive way and can promote reconnection around those moments.

Affairs do not have to end your relationship. As a couple, have the vision to reconnect and rebuild. Talk about the possibilities of creating a new platform to operate from. Find deeper connections and infuse your relationship with them. Move through this process together and strengthen your bond as a couple for a better relationship.

Shannon Brown is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has been practicing for over 20 years, an affair recovery coach, and a law enforcement spouse.  She offers a program online that provides an easy-to-understand and direct approach to recovering, healing, and reconnecting after an affair.

To get in touch with Shannon or access her free resources and webinar, visit: Reconnectedrelationship.com or @reconnected_relationships 

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There’s been an affair. Now what?

Shannon brown talk about affairs and what to do when they are revealed.

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