Many spouses fear or believe that quite a bit is missing from their marriage after their spouse cheats or has an affair. One constant that you hear concerning lack after an affair is the lack of sorrow or remorse. Another is the lack of emotion or warmth. You often hear spouses describe the other as “emotionally distant.” What does this mean, exactly? Here is an example.
A wife might say: “when I first found out about his affair, my husband immediately acted like he wanted to save our marriage. He was all full of apologies and he was clearly panicked. He obviously wanted me to say that I wasn’t going to leave him. I promised that I would not do anything without giving it a lot of thought first. And so far, I have not left him. But I am bothered by the fact that he is so distant emotionally. He acts like a robot. There is no spontaneous emotion. No laughing. Or even crying. His fists are balled up by his side like he’s taking huge pains to keep a lid on his emotions. This bothers me. Last week, a good friend of mine got a devastating diagnosis. And I was so upset. I flung myself in my husband’s arms for comfort. He methodically told me that it would be OK. But he kept his arms at his sides – fists balled up once again and he never once put his arms around me. Sometimes, I want to ask him what is wrong with him. I wonder if he doesn’t love or want me anymore or if he has changed his mind about us. Why would a person be emotionally distant after an affair – especially if he’s claiming to want his wife back?”
There are many possible reasons – and not all of them have anything to do with a lack of love for you. In fact, some of them indicate just the opposite. Note that these are only my theories. This is only one person’s opinion. I have watched this happen with my own spouse and I’ve heard about it from others.
The Process Of A Cheater Distancing Themselves From Their Emotions: I believe that a person who has gone through the process of cheating can very commonly turn down or turn away from their emotions. They do this for a couple of reasons. If they didn’t, they would feel immense guilt and shame – which is painful and which might be overwhelming, considering what they are doing to their own life. To carry out their cheating and be able to sleep at night and look in the mirror, they no longer listen to that voice in the back of their head. They become at least somewhat immune to the worry and the guilt. They often try to feel less for their spouse because it makes it a little easier to carry out the cheating and still appear to be somewhat normal. So this turning away from their emotions becomes a lasting habit that is present even after the affair is discovered.
Someone Who is Cheating Is Often Running From The Real Problem: Here is what I believe to be a huge consideration. A person will generally have an affair when they are undergoing some sort of personal identity crisis. They may be reacting to unexpected stress. They may be trying to feel better about themselves. They may be looking for an escape. Now, the optimal way to deal with this would be to get real, take a long hard look at what is wrong, and then methodically fix it.
But this is not the path that people who cheat ultimately take. They run. They run as far as fast from their problems as they can. And having the affair is part of the running. And the reason they can run is because they have turned away from their feelings. They have cut off their emotions from their regular life. So when the affair ends, this turning away or turning down the volume on their emotions has become a habit to them. So that’s the first thing to consider.They Don’t Feel Deserving: Here’s another consideration. Often, the cheating spouse doesn’t feel that he deserves anything from his spouse. He feels that he doesn’t deserve to be the one to comfort her. Also, he’s usually extremely afraid of rejection. He envisions that he will go to comfort you, only to be told not to touch you. He doesn’t want to come off as a creep who is already attempting to make romantic or emotional overtures before any time has passed.
So how do you address this? Well, unless you are willing to wait for some time to pass before he feels more comfortable or sees the necessity of showing his emotions, you might try addressing this with him. You’d probably know the words or phrases that would be effective on him more than I would, but a suggestion is something like: “I know that this is a difficult time for both of us. But you’ve told me that you want to maintain our marriage and so I have to take that at face value. At the same time, your actions aren’t completely going hand in hand with what you’re saying. I need support from you. By now, you know how much my friend means to me. Part of being married is having someone who will comfort and support you when things like this happen. If we’re going to stay married, I need for you to be that person for me. I know that things are different between us and that we have a lot of work to do. But I want to make it clear that I want for you to show me your emotions. If you felt unsure about that, let me clear it up. I don’t want for you to hold back. I need to see what you are feeling. And even though we have plenty of work to do, I still need support from you.”
Sometimes this is all he needs – the green light. Other men may require for you to remind them when you see them slip back into old patterns. But as time goes by and he sees over and over again that you expect to see his emotions, he will understand that it’s safe not to hide them and you should see some improvement in this.