But I Said I Was Sorry; Why Isn’t That Enough?

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this from couples during a session.  Something big happens between them, like one person cheated, the offending party apologizes but the difficulty continues and the person who said sorry wonders why.  The person who got hurt wants to feel better.  The person who has apologized becomes exasperated because he or she feels they have done everything they can.  “I said I was sorry.  What else do you want from me?”

Unfortunately this is frustrating for both people.  Each person wants to feel better, yet both feel like something is unfinished. The person who hurt the other wants to make their partner whole, but the words “I am sorry,” are just not enough.  Why not?  Why aren’t they enough?  Why isn’t just saying I am sorry for what I have done to you enough? 

If it were enough we wouldn’t be talking about what isn’t finished.  And what’s not finished is the healing that the wounded feels and continues to experience.  The person who got wounded is usually in some deep pain.  When the person who caused the hurt says “I am sorry”, that usually lifts the guilt of the person who offended, but it doesn’t begin to heal the deep pain the offense caused.  That’s why just saying “I am sorry” is not enough. 

So what would be enough?  What can couples do to really fix a gaping whole that exists between them?  The first thing I like to help couples do is understand what happened.  It’s much deeper than explaining what a person did to the other.  Often couples feel that if they talk about the problem one time, it’s all done.  Unfortunately many couples will delve into a difficult topic, talk about it once, and then both will feel the issue is settled.  But it’s not.  I know that the first conversation is crucial, but it is only a very first baby step.  That’s all, just one little tiny baby step.

Think about it.  You are wounded by your partner’s infidelity.  You are devastated and you don’t know if you can forgive and forget at this moment.  Your world is rocked and you aren’t sure if you will even be able to go on living with this person.  Now your mate sees your condition and says to you, “I am so sorry for what I have done.  I love you.  Will you forgive me?”

In a moment of feeling lost and alone you hear those words and they feel like medicine on a very hurt heart.  Your partner says he or she is sorry, that they love you, and that they want you to forgive them.  They promise they will not leave you and they deeply emphasize how truly sorry they are for hurting you.  You feel so sad and lost you just want to make everything better, like it was before you were wounded.  You want this so much you say with all the hope in the world, “Yes.  I forgive you.  I love you too.”

And for the moment you really believe you will be OK.  In that one magical moment you hope you will be able to go back to the way you were and make everything the way it was before the affair, before you knew any of this.

And everything is OK for that moment.  But that moment doesn’t last very long because in your mind the next image you have is of your partner with the other person.  You start to wonder when he or she stopped being faithful to you and became interested in another.  You start to think about times when he or she might have lied to you.  You begin to wonder about the moments you might have suspected something but you brushed it aside because you believed they would never do anything like that to you.  You knew in your heart they could never do anything like that to you. 

You live afraid that everything you know is crumbling and you don’t know what to do. You can’t move. You live in disbelief that the one who you committed yourself to has been unfaithful.  You try and bring up some of these feelings because they are eating you alive.  You try and talk to your mate but when you bring up the subject he or she gets angry and says, “I already said I was sorry.  What else can I do?”

Healing after a breach like infidelity takes time and work.  An apology is a place to start, but that is all it does; it open the door to the next process.  And that next step includes understanding what happened, for both people, and asking all the hard questions like, “Do you still want me?”

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com


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When One Person Is Unfaithful

Can a couple survive an affair?  I get this question a lot as a marriage and family therapist.  I’d like to say yes, but that is not always the case.  And yet, sometimes yes is absolutely the right answer.  Couples can survive an affair; an affair of the heart, an affair of the flesh, and an internet or phone affair.  Not all couples survive.  Sometimes there’s just too much pain to overcome.

But for others, two people sometimes find a way to move closer together.  They don’t ever put things back the way they were.  How can it ever be the way it was after one person finds interest in another outside the relationship?  A couple can’t go back to a place of innocence where true love blossomed and each believed in fidelity for ever and ever.  Something is irrevocably broken.

In many cases when an affair is discovered the person who finds out becomes devastated.  Often the first response is anger and disbelief.  How can this happen?  How can this be?  It’s almost unforgivable.  How could their partner have lied to them?

It’s also possible the person who finds out begins to worry what they might have done to create a situation where the other one left.  They also might wonder how they just didn’t know what was happening.  Often they feel stupid and duped, foolish and embarrassed.

If the other person is remorseful and wants to keep the relationship together he or she probably feels terrible seeing the pain they have caused their partner.  This guilt and shame can cause this mate to spin out of control.

Both are hit with something that feels like an explosion in their house.  They used to rely on things being a certain way.  Now everything is turned upside down and nothing is familiar.  What does a couple do when their world has been rocked with an affair?  Couples counseling can be a good place to start.  First it helps to have an objective individual listen to each person.  Chances are there have been a lot of conversations, and lots of tears and heartfelt apologies and promises.  Even so this is not enough to mend the damage.  That’s why a trained counselor is probably needed.

The first session is usually about figuring out what foot to put in front of the other.  Both people are in such a state of shock and the marriage or relationship has just imploded.  Slowly each person will unload what he or she has been feeling.  This is very helpful as many deep feelings get stirred up in this kind of crisis.  It’s helpful to talk about what one is feeling.  When you are guided by a trained professional you might even feel better.  That’s the first step.

What happens next is up to the individual couple.  Each person will have to decide what they want to do.  What would be right for them?  Sometimes both want to work on mending the relationship or marriage.  Sometimes one doesn’t know if he or she can.  This can also be explored in counseling.

If a couple decides to stay together this type of crisis often makes way for deeper understanding and compassion.  Couples learn to move more openly into their emotions and say a lot of the things they have kept hidden from their mate.  This allows a stronger relationship to emerge.  It’s possible to even heal from deep wounds.  It’s possible to build something better and become even stronger.

Interested in free counseling?  If you are dealing with infidelity in your marriage you may qualify.  Send me an email linda@lindanusbaum.com

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