As a counselor who sees a lot of couples whose marriages are in trouble because of infidelity, I often wish there were some things I could tell the betrayed spouse before they decide to call me. I find that those first 24 hours after learning about your partner's infidelity are crucial. Here are the top 5 things I feel every betrayed spouse needs to know in the aftermath of this devastating news:
- It is not your fault. It is not because you aren't fit enough, young enough, attractive enough, rich enough, or any other thing relating to your shortcomings. Affairs are an escape from everyday messy life where partners see each other at the worst and their best. In an affair, partners put on their best self. They only see small glimpses of each other which makes them appear more attractive. I often hear from betraying spouses that in the affair, they felt better about themselves. Their affair partner didn't see their faults which made them feel more attractive. The affair partner devoted all their efforts to getting to know them, which made them feel more interesting. The affair felt easy and relaxed.
- Get tested. Your life depends on it. You need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections right away and need to avoid intercourse with your spouse until he or she is tested and has ended the affair. While it might seem like couples would avoid having sex with their betraying spouse, some betrayed spouses feel as though they can restore something that belonged to them that the affair partner took by having sex with their spouse. You aren't ready for this yet. Get tested. Even then, you aren't ready mentally for this yet. I will talk about this more in another post.
- Use caution with questions. Often, finding out that your spouse has been cheating can leave you feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under you. It can leave you feeling like you can't trust your own judgment. One way betrayed spouses try to deal with this feeling is by trying to absorb every bit of information they can so they don't have to feel like they are in the dark anymore. It is important to get your questions answered. However, you need to know that whatever you learn about the affair will stay with you. Images you have seen (or pictured in your mind as you learn the details) will stay with you and create PTSD-like flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. They will come to your mind unexpectedly and you will be paralyzed emotionally by them. Situations, places, people, sexual positions, dates, and many other things will trigger anxiety about your partner's affair. These can be worked through but the more you put in your mind to ruminate about, the greater the work in recovering from it.
- Find an outlet for your emotions. Many emotions come to the surface with an affair. They are similar in nature to the phases of grief. Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Anger. Bargaining. Emotions tend to run high with the revelation of an affair. Anger can create an unsafe situation. Even people who typically can control their anger, sometimes find it hard to manage when betrayed. You need to learn to implement time outs. You need to notice when you are becoming emotionally heightened. One way you can do this is by paying attention to your physiology. Is your pulse racing? Are you having shortness of breath? Do you feel like you want to crawl out of your skin? Do you feel hot in your face? Are your muscles tense? These can all be indications of heightened emotions. When you feel this way, you need to do something to cool down and restore your physiology to normal functioning so you can get oxygen to the rational thinking centers of your brain. Otherwise, you can put yourself in a risky situation where domestic violence can occur.
- Don't call the lawyer just yet. I have seen many couples work through the betrayal of an affair and come out on the other side of the pain as stronger individuals with a stronger relationship than before the affair. Learning to deal with the intricacies of rebuilding trust after an affair can require professional help. I would encourage you to explore all of the options for rebuilding the relationship if there is willingness. A marriage and family therapist is trained to help you work through all of these issues and help you determine if it is possible to rebuild the relationship. If you would like to schedule an appointment with me to discuss any of these issues, I would be happy to meet with you to explore your options.