Discovery of a Partner’s Infidelity

“When will I stop feeling so lost? The discovery that my husband had been with someone other than me and seeing the evidence right in front of me was like getting kicked in the stomach. It has sent me into a tailspin and I don’t know what to do.” This brief snippet is not a real quote from a client, but an amalgam of conversations I have had with clients.

There is never a cookie-cutter way these conversations go. Sometimes the genders vary. People who share the experiences are not always married. They might be in their 20s or in their 70s. There are sometimes children or a home or complications like caring for a dying relative or a business the couple runs together. These variables are both important and also unique. These pieces make you who you are and provide a context for understanding the pain of this discovery.

As the immediate dust begins to settle, your heart rate slowly starts to come down, and you breathe, you are angry. It’s possible that you’ve had a feeling that things are not quite right between you and your partner. Part of you may find that you had a sense, but you didn’t want to touch the white-hot pain that such a reality would invite into your world.

You’ve experienced inconsistencies in your partner’s schedule, new patterns of phone usage, new smells on them when they come home. Your relationship, like everyone’s has some predictability. You know if you bring up the ways your partner’s behavior is different, there may be defensiveness or unkind words, a slammed door, or a swift exit. Your partner has possibly even hit you or damaged your property. You’ve done everything in your power to avoid these sorts of interactions, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable.

There is also no quick fix to getting through the discovery of a betrayal without experiencing intense feelings that don’t feel very good. Most of us want to avoid emotions like anger, sadness, or fear as much as possible. But sometimes, it is in these moments when we feel our worst that change happens. This may be a relationship that you have had reservations about continuing. Or it may be one that you or your spouse is aware that changes need to occur and neither of you has been able to implement those changes. If you’re in the throes of a recent discovery, it may be hard to envision any semblance of peace, but infidelity expert Esther Perel writes in her book that it may be helpful to see this tragic life event as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity, as she would say, for something new to happen. You may work toward rebuilding the current relationship or begin to look within and work on yourself.

Some things to be mindful of as you are going through the discovery of a betrayal:

  • Take your time – Because of how terrible you feel, you want to get through this process quickly. You don’t want to cry. You don’t want to feel angry. You don’t want to be alone. You don’t want any of it. And who could blame you? It feels horrible. But please be patient with yourself. Going through any ordeal involving our emotions takes longer than we want it to. It also might be best to not rush into another relationship before you are over the emotions of the last one. Think about any long illness or injury you’ve had and remember how long it took to heal your physical body. Healing your heart will also take time, especially if it involves acclimating to spending time alone.
  • Self-care – It might sound obvious, but you really need to take care of yourself. Getting through a betrayal, especially in the early stages, can interrupt your regular routine. You might have sleep difficulties or be sleeping too much as a way to avoid difficult feelings. Your exercise routine might have gone out the window or you might find your eating is off. Your alcohol or substance use might have increased during this time as well. It’s important to keep your life in balance, especially if you are taking care of children.
  • Being with others – You might be tempted to isolate. At times like this, sometimes people feel shame or they want to keep things to themselves. There is no right or wrong way to handle these situations. While you are entitled to share whatever you feel comfortable with, putting up walls between yourself and trusted loved ones might also feel unpleasant. Some people find that being with friends and family who are healing influences can be a healthy distraction. Being alone sparingly to process your feelings or to rest can be good for you also. Finding the right balance that works for you is important.
  • Therapy – Going through this change in your life might trigger emotional confusion or losses you’ve had in the past. Meeting with a therapist to help you through this time could help you heal. A nonjudgmental and supportive therapist can help you understand your patterns and emotions and provide more long-term benefits than talking with your friends.

If you would like to consider the possibility of working together, please reach out to me via email at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552. My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

When Parents Cheat

When you learn of a partner’s infidelity, your head is spinning. Words don’t do justice to the tornado of emotions you feel. You might also find yourself vacillating between two or more emotional states within a matter of minutes. You might be feeling shock, anger, and sadness. At times, you might even feel relief that your suspicions have finally been confirmed.

These feeling are often amplified if you share children together.  You look at your children and you wonder how this happened.  How it happened that one of their parents has caused the other to feel the lowest they’ve ever felt.  Your marriage vows included promises to be faithful and you are in utter disbelief that your partner went back on that promise.  Not only has it led you to question how your relationship to continue, but it has also caused you to ask how you can now parent your children with someone you no longer trust.

There are no right or wrong answers in situations like this. Only what is best for you and your family. Sometimes it is important to weigh the options of what you share with others and it also may depend on whether you find particular people trustworthy enough to hold this sensitive information. If someone in your life has a reputation for being the town gossip, you may exercise restraint in what to share with that person.

One of the most difficult decisions to be made when you learn of your partner’s infidelity is whether to share this information with your children. And if you do, you consider how much information to share.

It pains you to not be fully transparent with your children because you’ve always said you would never lie to them. However, withholding sensitive details and blatantly creating an entirely different narrative feels like two ends of the spectrum. Chances are, your approach will reside somewhere in the middle for you.

Parents find themselves insisting on transparency with their children because their own parents lied to them. And they do not want their children to feel the same way as they did as children. Young people are savvy enough to understand from context clues in their environment that something feels different. As adults, they may find themselves struggling to discern their own feelings because their questions or experiences may have been invalidated by their parents. Perhaps their parents told them whatever they observed did not really happen. It leads to confusion for children.

As parents, sometimes you strive to raise your children differently than your own parents raised you. It is common to hear adults talk about their parents and say, “I will never do that to my children.” That runs the gamut from how they handle discipline to how to be there emotionally for their children. Humans are very much affected by what we experienced at young ages. And that includes how to (or whether to) divulge that their mother or father is involved in a relationship outside the home.

It is always interesting to hear from adults about how they learned of their parents’ infidelity when they were children. They might talk about how they met “dad’s friend” when they were very young. Or they have recollections of their mom emotionally exploding at their dad, which included some mention of a woman’s name. It was further confusing for them if they also knew and liked these people. It was hard for them to understand as children why mom or dad would be so incensed over a seemingly nice lady or nice man.

How you proceed with telling your own children also involves asking yourself whether you need to or not. You may decide that you have been able to keep a boundary with your children to not discuss any of this in front of them. And thus, you don’t see a need to tell them. Their age may also play a role in how or what you tell them. Or if you tell them. You may also decide to share this information with them when they get older and begin to be involved in relationships as adults.

Some things to consider are being mindful of how information is transmitted to your children if one of their parents is involved in a relationship. It does leave an impact on a child when they become a repository for a parent’s anger. You are entitled to being angry. But your child does not need to be exposed to unhealthy generalizations like “never trust anyone.” Statements like this, especially when they are expressed in frightening or confusing ways to children, can leave lasting impressions about how they understand healthy relationships in the future.

Navigating parenting is difficult enough. But if there is infidelity occurring, it makes everything feel so much more difficult. It is understandable that you feel angry and betrayed and confused. It can be helpful to utilize the services of a therapist during periods like this.

You can learn more about me at http://snyderlcsw.com/therapist/.  If you would like to consider the possibility of working with me, please email me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or call me at 201-248-5552.

Isolation

Isolation and Infidelity

In my practice, I don’t only see people whose partner has strayed from the relationship. I also see the person who has found a connection with someone who isn’t their primary partner.

The person who is on the receiving end of infidelity in a relationship can find himself or herself struggling. I also have compassion for the person who has betrayed their partner. It can be hard to be you, too. It is hard to be the person that society has dubbed “the cheater”. So many people even utter the word with disdain.

But “cheater” isn’t always someone skulking around in the dark of night, tiptoeing out of the house while everyone else is sleeping. Many people reflexively envisage this person to be male. That is not always the case. While percentages of women participating in infidelity has grown over the years, women often feel a double standard – that men are expected to stray but people assume that women who engage in the same behavior are considered “less than” or branded with ugly and derogatory names.

The one who has relationships or flings with someone other than their primary partner is indistinguishable from you or me. They are usually respectable, law-abiding citizens. The neighborhood gentleman who shovels the walkway of his elderly neighbor or the warm and caring woman who works in your child’s daycare center. It’s the guy who fixes your car, the mom who volunteers at a food bank. It could even be your best friend or sibling. Or your girlfriend. Or the husband with whom you celebrated your 25th wedding anniversary on a spectacular cruise in the Caribbean.

The life of someone who is seeing someone else is one of secrets, half-truths, omissions. Most of us have a differing comfort level with how we function in these various states.

You didn’t set out to let it get so far out of control, but you almost feel too far in to start cleaning up the damage. You might feel terrible about it. You might feel nothing about it. You might feel numb. If you were able to talk about it, you might discover your feelings. And that may scare you.

I recognize that you may not have told anyone. That not one soul knows about the person who replies to your texts after she puts her kids to bed. Or the guy you meet up with when your boyfriend thinks you are staying late at the office.

You are out there. And despite what society or your friends or your faith might think, you deserve as much compassion and humanity as anyone else.  I also understand how alone and isolated you feel at times.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please contact me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.

Why I Don’t See Couples

Whenever people discover that I specialize in working with infidelity, I think it makes sense that I’d see couples and help them repair their relationships.

For a number of years, I did work with couples, many of whom were dealing with the aftermath of an infidelity revelation. Over time, I began to realize that not everyone – on either end of the infidelity situation – may want to engage in couples counseling. I have found that there is great benefit of working with individuals because it allows us to truly drill down into their personal histories and gain insight on their own behavior.

Before I go on, I will emphasize that I do believe in couples therapy and it can be a very helpful tool. There are many layers to the issues that clients deal with and, therefore, many ways to address these things. Couples therapy can be an opportunity for a spouse or partner to share a space where they can tune in to each other and listen and hopefully, be heard. If you have arrived at my website wishing to access couples therapy, please send me a message (christine@snyderlcsw.com) and I could make a referral to someone who can better serve you.

So as I mentioned, there are some scenarios where clients might find individual therapy beneficial, depending on whether they have been unfaithful or whether they have been betrayed.

The person who has been unfaithful
In terms of the person who has been unfaithful in the relationship, there can be some factors at play that make couples therapy somewhat counterproductive. There is so much gray area in infidelity situations that these are only a small portion of situations where clients find themselves struggling.
* A person who is unfaithful may be involved with someone that has caused them to feel uncertain about continuing their primary relationship. They may find that this person provides them something their partner may be lacking and they are not sure they want to terminate this relationship.
* Perhaps they had wanted to terminate their primary relationship and entering into an affair with someone allowed them to transition out of the relationship. For some clients, it is easier (nothing is ever easy in infidelity, though) to tell a partner that they are cheating rather than tell them they no longer love them.
* They might also be in the process of breaking up with their affair partner and are struggling with the loss of that person from their life. In some occasions, people have long relationships with affair partners and it can be difficult to cope with the void that a breakup would cause. Sometimes people who are dealing with this loss do not find couples therapy helpful because they know their spouse does not want to know or hear how much they miss their girlfriend.
* This person may also feel exhausted by keeping secrets and I am the only person in the world with whom they’ve shared their secret.

I’d also say that it’s hard for some people to accept that someone involved in a transgression should be shown any compassion. On this, I have to strongly state that I do not feel that way. My job is not to shame or to pass judgment. I recognize that in some areas of your life, you may be struggling. Just because you are having an affair does not necessarily mean you are having the time of your life. Or maybe you are and you don’t feel guilty about it. It isn’t my position to correct your behavior. What you decide to do is up to you and I am here to support you and help you understand yourself better so that you can decide what direction to take.

The person who has been betrayed
It is not universally the case that the person whose spouse has gone outside the relationship wants to work on the relationship. It seems that there’s a societal expectation that if your spouse has cheated, you call a couples therapist and you both get to work on mending the hurt. But sometimes it isn’t that clear-cut. Here are some occasions where people who have been betrayed may find value in individual counseling:
* The person may be so hurt and distraught that they can barely communicate with the partner who hurt them, let alone be in the same small room together with a therapist. There is a possibility that they may come together for counseling at some point, but some people feel the need to process a hurt like this on their own with a therapist.
* The person who has been betrayed may have wanted to terminate this relationship and they would like to speak with a therapist to process whether to work on the relationship or end it. They also may come in with some existing insights such as their understanding of why they stayed in an unsatisfying relationship and they’d like to work on changing that characteristic.
* They might also have had a history of anxiety or depression and they have had difficulty managing the symptoms alone. A crisis such as a revelation that their partner has gone outside the relationship may need to be handled first before processing the direction of their relationship.
* As a result of discovering their spouse has been having an affair, they realize they have been cheated on in prior relationships and have a desire to understand why this has happened to them. Sometimes people recall in the course of therapy that one of their parents may have had a history of infidelity which affected them in their own relationships.

If you find yourself in any of these situations and would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please reach out to me at christine@snyderlcsw.com. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.