ask ammanda

How do I stop picturing my partner cheating?

Around 5 weeks ago I discovered my wife was having an affair. It was supposedly only going on for about 5 weeks before I found out about it but it has totally broken me. We have talked about it a little bit and according to her she was in a bad place and didn't really realise what she was doing, meant nothing etc etc.

We have decided to try and make the marriage work (we have been married 14 years, together for 17 years) and have been seeing a counsellor on a weekly basis for the past 3 weeks. The main problem I have is I keep seeing images in my head of them together and remembering the sexy explicit messages and pictures they were sending each other that I was unfortunate enough to witness.

I guess what I need to know is how do I get over this and stop it from happening as it is having a negative effect on our repair. The counsellor doesn't seem interested in this, it just seems she is interested in why my wife was unhappy in our marriage.

The discovery of an affair is often a very frightening event. What you thought you knew, relied on, and loved flies out the window. Recriminations, the constant desire to know what happened but then fearing actually hearing it or, as you describe, seeing the evidence of what went on then finding it impossible to get it out of your head – all of this and more make it painful and gut wrenching in equal measure. Most of all though we tend to fear that it must surely mean the relationship is over. But that needn’t be the case by a very long mile...

There are lots of ‘theories’ about why people have affairs. Some people think there must have been a big problem in the relationship otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. It must mean one or both of you were deeply unhappy and unable to resolve whatever was wrong. Others point to the ability in some people to be perfectly happy in their relationship and yet seek comfort with another if the opportunity presents itself. My personal view on all this is that in real terms regardless of how an affair happens, the end result is as I describe with pain, sadness and loss all struggling for pole position.

Whilst I can’t comment on the therapy you’re currently having I really would urge you to stick with it. People often feel very conflicted when they start work with a counsellor. You want everything sorted, most likely to be how things were before and most of all for the pain and disappointment to disappear. Really though, when something like an affair happens, counselling can be a real opportunity to deep dive into things and just maybe come out the other side with something richer than you had before.

If you’re attending as a couple, it’s not at all unusual for one or other partner to feel that their other half is getting a bigger ‘say’, or having their needs met because the counsellor looks like they’re prioritising a particular line of enquiry. If you’re seeing someone who is fully qualified in working with couples (always the best option) then it should be possible to ask for some individual time to work on the specific difficulties you describe.

Relate therapists see any couple together as well as individually as standard practice because we find this helps us to better understand respective positions. Your counsellor will I’m sure have discussed the working contract between the three of you so do consider revisiting that if it doesn’t already allow for individual time for you and of course for you wife if she thought that would be helpful.

From a general perspective too, at the start of counselling people often want to focus on the one thing they feel most affects them and although not intentionally, to be less interested in what their partner might be saying. That’s natural. None of us want feel emotional pain so concentrating on the event or events that seems to be causing it does at many levels make sense. But the trick here is that actually, if you can both stand back from what has happened and constructively hear each other’s stories about what may (and its always a ‘what may’ rather than a ‘what definitely did’) lead up to either of your actions, you stand a much better chance of finding a shared understanding and the potential for constructive ways forward.

So, it’s not a question of just forgive and forget for either of you, however with time, I would hope that the images you find so distressing find a new home and so lose their power to torment you. I’m sure that feels like a long shot right now but recovery from an affair and all that went with it is possible especially where there’s mutual will to never weaponise past hurts so that they control the relationship’s future prospects.

Do you have a question to ask Ammanda?

Ammanda Major is a sex and relationship therapist and our Head of Service Quality and Clinical Practice

If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send a message to Ammanda.

ask Ammanda

*We're not able to reply individually to every email we receive, please see our Talk to someone pages for further support.

Join our newsletter to get relationship advice and guidance straight to your inbox