Why Can’t You Move Past the Memories of the Affair
By Kajay Williams
An affair can cause problems in a marriage for years and years to come following the actual discovery of the affair. First comes the incredibly emotional experience of rebuilding the marriage – trying to move from the affair and to forgive the straying spouse – and ideally, to forget that the affair ever happened.
But sometimes, things happen that make it almost impossible to forget that the affair happened – seeing the affair partner in the street, hearing a certain song that reminds you of your spouse’s actions or smelling a certain perfume or aftershave that reminds you of their indiscretions.
Feeling like you’re constantly remembering the affair and your partner’s actions can make it not only incredibly difficult to move on, but it can also make it difficult to forgive, as you constantly remember your spouse’s betrayal and how that made you feel.
But is there anything you can do to move on from the memories of the affair? In short, you just have to give it time. There are a number of reasons why you can’t seem to let go of these hurtful memories, and we’ll outline these below, and then we’ll try to give you some tricks and tips for letting go of the memories.
The solution is in the brain
As we know, your brain is responsible for emotion. Until recently, it was thought that the hippocampus, which is a brain structure known for being responsible for memory and emotion, was the most important brain structure in the role of memory. Recent studies have suggested that different brain structures may be responsible for different types of memory, such as long-term memory, short-term memory and emotional memory.
These studies found that the hippocampus is responsible for memory about facts and details – and this is known as your declarative memory. However, your amygdala is responsible for emotional memory – a different brain structure entirely. This brain structure works in a similar way to our body’s natural fight or flight defenses – in that we are programmed to know when to flee or when to stay and fight. Certain triggers cause our body to release adrenaline which will prompt a flee response, or to give us the strength to stay and fight.
The amygdala works in a similar way in that when certain triggers occur, it prompts your brain to tap into that emotional memory. For example, when a certain song plays that you associate with a traumatic experience such as a break-up or a funeral, it could make you experience feelings of sadness – because that memory triggers the emotional response.
When certain triggers occur, your amygdala releases a wave of emotions in an emotional response. This explains why certain triggers can make you feel so depressed, angry, upset or emotional – and why they can make you remember the affair.
You can forget the details but remember the emotion
Research by the New York Rockefeller University, led by Bruce McEwen demonstrated that excessive and chronic stress can actually cause you to forget the details of certain stressful or upsetting life events. In contrast, excessive and chronic stress actually stimulates and enhances the function of the amygdala.
This means that being stressed or upset – for example, in the aftermath of the affair – can lead you to forget certain details about that first stressful encounter. But that stress will also enhance how your emotional memory works, so in the future, when certain triggers occur, you might still react emotionally in response to that trigger despite not remembering the full details of what caused the trigger in the first place.
How to move past the memories
The key to moving past these memories is to give it time. But before you let time take its healing course, you must accept what happened to you. Acceptance is different to forgiveness, and accepting that something has happened to you does not mean that you condone it. A traumatic life event such as an affair can make us feel utterly helpless and alone, so it’s no surprise that it is difficult to accept that such a thing could happen.
However, before you can possibly forgive your spouse, move on from the affair and the memories of it, you need to accept what happened to you. It’s not nice, it’s not fair and it’s not right. But unfortunately, it did happen. Accept it, and then you’ll be able to come to terms with it.
Remember too that forgiveness – one of the first steps in moving towards a stronger relationship and moving past those painful memories – is hugely important. However, because of your emotional memory it can be fairly difficult to be able to forgive, because you’ll keep having these emotional responses to the emotional triggers.
One of the first steps in forgiveness and moving forwards is for both spouses to communicate with each other about the problems in the relationship and the problems that were caused by the affair. If both parties are completely honest about how the affair made them feel, what they think caused it, and what makes them upset now that the affair is over, it will be much, much easier to move forwards. A straying spouse that is open, honest and willing to be transparent is much more forgivable than a surly, aggressive or mean spouse.
When painful memories do occur, it is important to work through them together. Not by being accusatory and making statements like “I’m upset because of what you did” – instead, statements like “I’m experiencing some painful memories right now. Can we talk about them?” will be much more helpful and less aggressive.
Instead of the betrayed spouse keeping all of the emotions in, and the straying spouse feeling irritated or angry with the betrayed spouse for “still” being upset about the affair, it’s important that you try to move forwards as a couple. That way, you can fight back against your emotional memory – it doesn’t have to control you!
What To Do If Your Partner Is Having An Affair?
Time To Act: There is hope.
An affair may be the best thing to happen to a marriage or relationship.
Contrary to popular belief, experts say that many couples survive infidelity and are able to rebuild a stronger, better and more fulfilling marriage after the betrayal.
Whether you suspect your partner or spouse is cheating on you or whether you have just discovered your spouse’s affair or whether you are wondering if you want to save your marriage or opt for separation after an affair or whether you want to redefine the boundaries of your relationship or marriage to make sure you and your partner are on the same page, I can help you.
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