Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful can feel utterly overwhelming and for some, even devastating. It can feel like our comfortable secure world has seemingly ended! On top of the pain from the physical/sexual betrayal are the lies they may have told and the horrible, horrible feeling of having been being deceived by the person we trust the most. It is very common for people to feel completely overwhelmed once they discover the infidelity and not know exactly how to feel or react to the situation.
It can leave us feeling angry and hostile, sad and upset, anxious and worried or even numb and empty. When you first find about the deception, the first reaction is probably an emotional shock. We feel the gamut of emotions — from emotional paralysis to rage, disbelief, shock, anger, self-loathing, hatred and maybe even desperate and painful feelings of love for our partner.
Most importantly with all of these strong and often painful emotions, we need to make sure we are feeling safe. If you’re feeling very depressed and have thoughts of self-harm or want to harm others it’s important to contact a mental health professional, call 911, call a “helpline”, or go to our local hospital emergency room.
We especially need to be sure we are taking care of ourselves by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, getting exercise and really trying to believe there is hope at the end of the tunnel and that we’ll get through this!
Here are some ways to perform better emotional self-care: https://roberthammel.com/7-steps-to-emotional-self-care/
Once we’re taking care of ourselves better and we’re feeling calmer, a little less emotional and more balanced, we need to slow down and ask ourselves: What now?
1. What Now?
Once the affair has been discovered, it’s normal to feel completely out of control emotionally. You may find that it is hard for you to think calmly and clearly and very hard to focus on daily tasks like getting to work, running errands or cooking meals. It’s also not uncommon to have no appetite or have significant problems sleeping. For this reason, it is important that you avoid making any rushed decisions that you might regret later. Rushed judgments and bad choices can even hinder your healing process.
Even though it may be difficult, it’s important to take your time to think about and reflect on what has happened and to take note of your thoughts and emotions before making any permanent decisions. As you calm yourself and gather more information, you will be able to make an educated decision rather than a hurried one at the height of pain, emotion and stress.
We want to explore questions like these ones:
- Did the affair actually end, is it really over? Is your partner doing what it takes to make it so?
- What did the affair mean to your partner? Was it just for excitement or is your partner emotionally connected to the other person?
- Has your partner totally checked out of your marriage? Be honest and really see them as they are, not as you want them to be.
- Is your partner truly contrite and sorry and wanting to repair things?
- Do you actually want to put in the effort to continue the relationship? Was it a good relationship in the first place?
- Can you really see yourself as being able to forgive this and move on someday?
- Scary to ponder, but could your life actually be better without this relationship?
- Is this a one-off or has your partner done this before?
- Know yourself. What do you really and truly want? Is that even possible in these circumstances?
- Be reasonable and logical. We can’t go back in time or predict the future.
- Might individual counselling help you get support and sort through this?
- Might marriage counselling help?
- Writing our thoughts and emotions in a journal may be a big help to sort through our emotions and feelings. The process of writing helps us slow our emotional thinking, look at things a little more accurately and make better decisions.
2. Is This Trauma?
After discovering your partner’s affair, it is very common for some people to experience many symptoms associated with trauma. Most people believe trauma is only shown in individuals who have experienced a violent crime, had a car accident, are returning from combat or have experienced some other “big” thing. The reality is, trauma can be also experienced by individuals who are dealing with their partner having an affair. Trauma is simply and accurately defined as being a strong emotional response that someone has to an extremely negative event in their lives.
Trauma symptoms may include:
- Obsessing about or reliving the event in your mind
- Avoidance of people, places and activities previously enjoyed
- Lack of interest in the world around you
- Negative thoughts about self (I’m not good enough, I’m a loser, the affair is my fault)
- Heightened anxious emotions and reactivity
- Shock, denial, disbelief
- Depression, feeling sad and hopeless
- Feeling weepy or crying all of a sudden out of the blue
- Difficulties focusing and concentrating
- Anger and irritability
- Feeling a sense of depersonalization/feeling disconnected from the world around us/like we’re 10 feet underwater
- Hypervigilance and self-protective behaviours like checking your partner’s wallet, pockets, email, phone apps, browser history, etc.
- Isolating yourself
- Going into denial mode and ignoring the situation
- Sleeplessness, nightmares, lack of appetite
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they are really affecting your life, consider speaking with a therapist who can help you navigate your emotions and help you truly heal.
3. How Do I Feel About Me After the Affair?
After discovering your partner’s affair, you may begin to question yourself. You may find yourself asking things like, “What did I do to make them do this?” Or “What is wrong with me?” Or “Why am I not good enough?”
Even the most self-confident people can be humbled into being irrational and insecure self-doubters after an infidelity comes into the light. In a heartbeat, you are taken from feeling safe and secure to feeling insecure, angry, sad, anxious and even afraid for your future. Blaming yourself is a super-common response, even though it’s not very helpful to your overall well-being or getting through the situation at hand — in fact, it can even further your traumatization and delay your healing.
It’s super important to remember that when we’re feeling extremely emotionally distraught after an affair that we may not be looking at the situation or even ourselves very accurately and our emotions may be filtering how we see the world. Try to not criticize yourself and your character because of what someone else did! It’s important to look at our role in the situation, but not beat ourselves up necessarily with negative and critical self-talk about how we aren’t good enough or, how we deserved what we got because we weren’t a good husband or wife.
Yes, you probably have a role in what happened, but it’s not really your fault if our partner made bad choices and acted in deceitful ways. That’s on them and not you.
For a fresh perspective on the hows and whys and what to do’s of affairs check out this Ted Talk from Esther Perel on Rethinking Infidelity.
Are you or a loved one currently dealing with the emotional aftermath of an affair? Do you need help sorting out your emotions and making the important decisions that are right for you? If you are interested in exploring counselling/therapy, please contact me today. I would be more than happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.
This blog is not intended as medical advice, treatment or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a mental health or medical professional.