4 Ways to Care for Yourself After an Affair
If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “affair,” you probably think about it as an extramarital sexual relationship. Almost everyone would feel betrayed if a partner had sexual intercourse with a third person, but other amorous, intimate behaviors are often equally destructive––lunch with an old girlfriend, for instance, viewing online pornography, or flirting in online chat rooms. All of these behaviors may be violations of trust that destroy the fundamental beliefs that the hurt partner had about the unfaithful spouse and the relationship.
When important assumptions are violated in one aspect of the relationship, the whole relationship is thrown off balance. With feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty churning within you, you may wonder:
- “How could I have been such a fool? I can’t trust my own judgment anymore.”
- “I don’t know my partner anymore. How could this happen?”
- “Did I fall short as a spouse? What was wrong with me?”
Upon first learning that a partner has been unfaithful, the hurt partner is likely to experience a profound sense of loss. As Janice Spring (2012) explains in her book After the Affair, “Gone is your fundamental sense of order and justice in the world. Gone, too, are you sense of control over your life, your self-respect, your very concept of who you are. . . . Battered by feelings so intense, you may start to wonder, “Am I going crazy?” (p. 2)
The hurt partner may become depressed or have post-traumatic symptoms such as flashbacks, excessive vigilance, and difficulty sleeping or concentrating. All of these experiences and feelings are perfectly normal responses to an acutely traumatic event. During this time of extraordinary emotional upheaval, it’s common to be intensely angry, get depressed, or obsess about the details of the affair.
During this tumultuous time, there are steps you can take to care for yourself and your family and begin to find healing:
- Accept any obsessive thoughts as understandable reactions to a shocking revelation. With your sense of order and control shattered, it’s only natural that you want them restored. Obsessive thinking is the mind’s way to trying to make sense of what happened. You will probably ruminate about the affair obsessively because you want to feel in control again; although this isn’t fruitful, try to respect your need to do it in response to the affair.
- Find ways of feeling safe that don’t cause additional damage to the relationship. The need to feel safe means protecting yourself from your partner. Indeed, you may wish to check up on your partner excessively in order to avoid being hurt again. While a certain amount of checking can rebuild trust in the relationship, constant vigilance will only exhaust you physically and emotionally. It won’t restore trust in the relationship or make you feel better.
- Wait on making any major decisions about your relationship. After the affair becomes known, you will need to decide whether to work on rebuilding your relationship or to end it. The decision is weighty for all involved and you should consider more than your feelings when making it. Acting on what feels right to you now may lead to regret, as your response will likely be impulsive, hasty, and unprocessed.
- Consider counseling. Marriage counseling can help you manage the intense feelings that you and you partner are experiencing, establish boundaries and expectations to keep your family going, and teach both of you how to talk to each other without making things worse. Even if you’re ambivalent about rebuilding your relationship, therapy can be help you make your conflicting feelings and make in informed decision about the relationship.