“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is the cliche advice about how to handle life’s difficulties. That’s why I was curious the other day when a talk show host, who’s husband has been implicated in an affair, brought a glass of lemonade on set as a tribute to her situation. Turns out it’s a reference to the album “Lemonade” recently released by Beyonce. I went and had a listen and a look at the movie that accompanies it. The album is about facing life’s struggles, particularly infidelity. What an amazing representation of the agony, rage, fear and process of dealing with infidelity. I hear many of the same things in marriage counseling as Orange County couples, struggling with an affair, work to turn “lemons” into “lemonade.” If you have had to deal with an affair or know someone who has, you’ll find yourself in at least some of these lyrics. I’ve only given select portions of the lyrics from the album to make this a PG post, but it still captures the movement through the emotional journey that Beyonce herself has apparently been through in the process of reconciling her marriage recently.

You can taste the dishonesty / It’s on your breath as you pass it off so cavalier. (“Pray You Catch Me”)

Can’t you see there’s no other man above you / What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you? (“Hold Up”)

It’s such a shame, you let this good love go to waste. (“Hold Up”)

Something doesn’t feel right because it ain’t right, especially coming up after midnight / I smell your secrets and I’m not too perfect to ever feel this worthless / How did it come down to this, going through your call list? / I don’t wanna lose my pride (“Hold Up”)

Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home / Today I regret the night I put that ring on (“Sorry”)

What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? / Or like walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I’d rather be crazy. (“Hold Up”)

He only wants me when I’m not there / He better calls Becky with the good hair. (“Sorry”)

I’ve always been committed, I’ve been focused / I always paid attention, been devoted, tell me what did I do wrong? (“Love Drought”)

Are you aware you’re my lifeline, are you trying to kill me? /
If I wasn’t me, would you still feel me? /
Like on my worst day? Or am I not thirsty enough? (“Love Drought”)

Ten times out of nine, I know you’re lying / But nine times outta ten, I know you’re trying.
So I’m trying to be fair. And you’re caught up in your permanent emotions
All the loving I’ve been giving goes unnoticed
(“Love Drought”)

We built sandcastles that washed away
/ I made you cry when I walked away
/ And although I promised that I couldn’t stay, baby /
Every promise doesn’t work out that way. (“Sandcastles”)

Found the truth beneath your lies
/ And true love never has to hide. (“All Night”)

The late singer Lou Reed often said that a breakdown often precedes a breakthrough, and an affair is a monumental breakdown of the relationship as it had been known. Infidelity is such a painful and confusing betrayal that it’s hard to know what to do next. Some couples find it easier to try and convince themselves, as in Aesop’s fables, that the grapes they really want must be sour if they are unable to have them. They don’t know how to have the unfaithful partner again so they blame their unfaithful partner, the lover, themselves, the situation or anything else. Or, they desperately try to bury it and continue on as if it never happened. Unfortunately, either one of those ways of coping does not allow the necessary “decoding” of what the affair meant, the very thing that might allow a breakthrough for the individuals and, possibly, the marriage.

Some infidelity is completely random and without much to understand. Someone goes to the work convention, doesn’t realize how much alcohol they drank, is pursued by someone and has an illicit encounter they did not look for nor want. Those are rare exceptions. Most infidelity is symptomatic of much more that is going on for the individuals. The mistake couples make is thinking that the affair was about sex or a wish to be with someone else. In reality, infidelity is more about wanting to BE someone else, not about being with someone else. Someone has an affair to be the parts of who they are that they don’t believe can exist in the marriage they have and still want to keep. Esther Perel, who has much to say on the topic of infidelity, would say that what couples need to find out is, “What did the affair do to you, and what it meant to me.” Statistically, she says, today in Western culture most of us will have two or three significant romantic relationships in our lifetime. Some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over, would you like to create a second one together? This is the very process that can turn lemons into lemonade.

But this kind of dialogue is really difficult for two reasons. First, if couples were good at this kind of relational intimacy, they would have already been talking about their wants and needs and develop selves as they were moving through life together. Second, the dialogue can be extremely painful to endure. I just got back from the dentist today and I would liken the process of working through the aftermath of an affair to be like staying still while getting a cavity worked on without any medication.  Half of my work as a psychologist when helping a marriage or a couple process infidelity is helping steady the emotional rollercoaster long enough to hear one another. If they can do this, couples are often surprised that there is a palpable relief when honesty about themselves enters into the relationship, sometimes for the first time. They may not like all of what they hear, but it does begin to answer so many questions about the relationship, not just the affair.

With nothing left to loose comes a newfound freedom to risk trying something new in the relationship. This can then open up bridges to possibilities for moving forward for the couple where once there was only a dead end visible. This is where the “lemon juice” begins to flow. Couples who continue to talk and decode the affair and feel their way through it until every last drop has been squeezed from the infidelity lemon will have the best chance of better future, whether together or apart. Surviving infidelity as a couple is like someone who has recovered from a near death experience. They wouldn’t choose it again, but the depth and awareness that comes out of such circumstances give a more rich and meaningful life perspective that would be difficult to achieve any other way.

I don’t presume to know the process for the talk show host I saw with her glass of lemonade, but her comments and the mother/child relationship the couple appears to have, seem desperately in need of addressing. For now, it looks as though she has gone to sour grapes by villainizing her husband. At the same time, one of their adult children has responded by posting pictures of her sudden, new romantic relationship while holding a lemon. Again, it looks more like sour grapes rather than wrestling with the painful reality. But, I hope for all of them this is just the beginning, and that they get down to squeezing the meaning from this affair and end up with the sweetest lemonade and best relationship they have ever known.

Infidelity lemonade recipe

  • Ingredients:
    • 1 Or more infidelity lemons
    • 1 Large container to hold the juice from the lemons. Make it very large as you will be surprised at how much with flow out of the lemons. (I find a very skilled marriage therapist does this well)
      Sweeten to taste by both being given the chance to speak honestly and listen intently to the hurts as well as the possibilities.
    • Large amounts of patience
  • Directions:
    • Start by vigorously squeezing out every relevant drop of the relationship and the affair that puts into words and emotions the impact of the affair as well as it’s meaning. This is going to take lots of active listening and tools for communication. This is challenging to do without spilling all over the place. A marriage therapist can be helpful in not only extracting all of the juice from the infidelity, but also by helping to contain it while it is being listened to for sweetening. Realize that the juice runs deep and can take some time to fully extract. Extreme patience and courage are needed in this process to speak openly and listen non-defensively. It is this kind of listening that can, over time, lead to a sweeter future moving forward. Chill and serve.