“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 email@example.com or 201-248-5552. My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.