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I Cannot Get These Images out of My Head


Barrington H. Brennen, January 27, 2016, 2020, Update July 2021



This article can be beneficial to both males and females/husbands and wives.
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Some time ago a husband asked me this question: “How can I get the images of my wife with another man out of my head.”   Note that the husband never saw his wife with the other man.  However, it is not uncommon for spouses to imagine, ask questions, and create their own images of their partner’s unfaithfulness.  There are some partners who have actually seen their spouses in bed with another or viewed graphic photos or texts in a cell phone.  It is serious what the cell phone can do to a marriage. 

Decades ago, long before the cell phone or email, many partner did not get caught.  Since the invention of the cell phone much of what is being done in the dark is coming to light. 

It  is very painful emotionally when a spouse finds out his or her partner has been sexually unfaithful.  What is even more painful is when the unfaithfulness has ended a long time ago and the erring spouse informs the other spouse about it months or years later.  The thoughts about deception and lies jump into the head of the one who did not have the affair.   Anger often takes over and trust is blown out of the window.   There are countless questions piling up in the head of the faithful one.  Who is the person?  When did it happen?  How many times?  Where did it happen?  Am I not good enough for you?  What color clothes you had on?  Etc.

Then the faithful spouse starts producing his or her own movie scripts or a photo album in one’s head about the partner’s sexual escapades.  These photos soon become so vivid and clear they leave the person shaking, doubtful, and full of anger.   But these photos are only the imagination.  They are not actual or real.   The longer one dwells on these imaginary photos the more vivid they become and the more they are factual. So dear husband, what can you do about those picture in your head?

One author writes “Getting the image out of your head can be extremely difficult. As one cheated-on husband says, “Now that my wife cheated on me, the image of her with another man haunts me constantly!” Even if your wife is working as hard as possible to restore the trust in your marriage, the awful image of her cheating is not something that is easily forgotten.”

Here are a few points to remember. I decided to share in full what I read without editing because I think it is so helpful.  These are by psychologist, Andrew G, Marshall in the article “Forgetting Details of Affairs – Does It Matter?”  

  1. You may never literally forget your wife’s/husband's affair.
    “This is the truth, an affair is such an destructive, enormous circumstance that there is a very low chance of you ever forgetting that it happened. You cannot change what has already happened, and that memory is there to stay. Just remember, this isn’t about pretending that the affair did not happen, or that your reactions at the time are gone as well. That is not a healthy, constructive way of moving forward. Lying to yourselves is a terrible way of trying to restore trust. However, you are not trying to forget the affair. What you need to focus on is being able to love your spouse once more without having these feelings of anger and resentment intrude on your relationship. These feelings need to be processes and dealt with. Just remember, trying to forget is not realistic. What you should be aiming for is to try to leave the affair behind.”

  2. Treat the affair as a learning experience.  
    It is not about placing blame on a single party. Learning from the affair is an enormous part of learning to get over what happened. Affairs usually have complex underlying reasons. Elements in the dynamics in the relationship that can often be changed to make sure an affair does not happen again. You may say, “My wife cheated on me! It’s her fault!” While this may help you vent your anger, getting an affair is an opportunity to examine the habits and dynamics in your relationship that led to infidelity in the first place. Focus on what you have been doing that may have contributed to the affair, and examine the choices you have to change your habits and behaviors in a positive way. This is often more about finding out whether your needs are not being met, and making your partner aware of that.

  3. Live in the present. 
    Expecting to forget an affair immediately is unrealistic. You will need a lot of time and space to recover from the grief and anger associated with infidelity. However, it is best to focus on your present feelings rather than on your expectations of the future or on what happened in the past. By focusing on your emotions, you will have less of a problem living in the present, an essential part of moving forward and putting the affair behind you."

It is a good thing that you really do not forget the affair.  The author said because never forgetting builds trust, and discourages moving too quickly.  You cannot heal overnight.  It might take a year or so.

Here are a few of my tips and points for the innocent partner:

  • Keep your dignity.  Avoid allowing the situation to be about you or suck you in to self-pity and depression.  Note that not all affairs are due to poor marital relationships.  Some are just about living out fantasies, not being aware of one's vulnerably, or plane stupidity.  It is not necessarily about you.

  • Do not snoop again.  No matter of you feel, avoid going back and checking the phone/emails.  Why?  Because you will "find" what you are looking for and it would not true.  You can have, for a short time, an agreement between you both that you will randomly check the phone/emails from the perspective of accountability, but that is for a short time and must not continue indefinitely.

  • It is possible that your partner is glad he/she got caught.  I some cases, a individuals becomes entrapped into a extra-marital relationship.  At first it felt good but soon it becomes confusing and difficult and they cannot get out.  Maybe the person is blackmailing them.  One of my clients told me that he had his best sleep in years the night his wife found out about the affair.  He was trapped and could not get out.  It was like his wife released the trap.

  • The guilty partner could be mourning just like the innocent one is mourning.  The guilty partner is regretting what he or she did, even if it was a choice at first.  They are sad that they have cost so much pain.  Regret, depression, confusion, despair, and even disgust with himself/herself could be natural at this time.

  • Avoid repeating questions.  Avoid asking everyday "Why did you do this?"   Remember, many times the guilty partner really may not even know why he/she had the affair.  Avoid the constant dripping of question like: "What color was her panties?"  "What hotel room did you take her to?"   "Was the lights on?" Etc.   Believe it or not, the guilty partner may not even know the answer to these questions because that was not the focus.  There are many partners who cannot even give a clear answer to "Why did you do this?"  What is more important is that your partner acknowledges that he or she was wrong and is willing to change. 

  • Establish clear boundaries and guidelines.  If you both are thinking about staying together or have already decided to remain as a couple, it is imperative to establish simple, yet clear boundaries.   This may include but not limited to:  (a) The use of the phone or email.  (b) Sharing passwords or not having them at all.  (c) Times coming home at nights.  (d) Sharing about information.  (e) Association with friends.

  • Keep in mind that you must decide to stop playing the "movie" in your head.   You might feel justified reliving the pain of the affair, but it is not healthy for you nor the relationship.  As stated earlier, it will only keep you stuck in your pain.

Dear friend, it is not fair to leave your spouse who was unfaithful without honestly seeking to heal and looking deep within your own heart.  In many affairs the "faithful" partner is not really "innocent."   I wrote in a previous article on affairs that often the innocent partner creates the reason for the affairs--lack of affection, love, spending time, etc.   

It is also true that for some individuals, martial unhappiness was not the reason they had a affair.  A partner having an affair is not always a sign of a weak or failing marriage.   It could be because one was not aware of his or her vulnerability, or a cherished childhood or teenage fantasy, social pressure, history of sexual philanderers in the family, not having clear boundaries, etc.

So before you rush out of the house and leave your spouse you have to humble yourself, suck in your pride and take a good look at yourself.  You might need your partner to help you to do this.  You coldness toward you spouse is not an excuse for your partner’s affair but it certain helps you to understand why it happened.

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Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragement.org or write to P.O. Box CB-11045, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.







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