One of the things that makes infidelity so unbearable is the intense grief that accompanies it. That may sound obvious. But you may be one of the many people who go through life up to that point with relative stability. The infidelity can be the most severe feeling of loss that you have ever experienced.
You find that you are underprepared for the onslaught of emotions that you incur upon discovering the affair. It’s hard to understand the surge of emotions (or perhaps non-emotion at first) that you are feeling.
What is going on with you? Why do you feel like you’ve just been sucker-punched in the gut?
The pain is so great because you have genuinely experienced a loss in your life. Betrayal feels like the shock and pain of an unexpected death because you have experienced a death of sorts. Infidelity is the death of the marriage you thought you had. It’s the death of who you believed your spouse to be. Often it’s the death of who you perceived yourself to be.
You’ve lost trust–the foundation to any good relationship. You’ve lost reputation and friends that just don’t treat you the same anymore. You’ve lost the naivete of what you thought was possible for your relationship. You’ve lost security. You’ve lost the exclusivity of your marriage as it has now been infiltrated by a third party. You can probably think of even more things you’ve lost, both tangible and intangible.
So there’s a very real place for grief after a betrayal. It is mixed in with the anger, shock, and depression you may feel. Your mind and emotions are trying to reconcile what has happened, but your beliefs have been so completely shattered that your thoughts become obsessive and exhausting.
The grief experienced after a betrayal feels more complicated than the grief from the death of a loved one.
Unlike the death of a loved one, there is not the same social support and recognition of a death of a relationship. There’s not a wake or a funeral or a family dinner. People don’t send cards and extend condolences after your spouse has betrayed you. So you feel very alone as you grieve.
Furthermore, you may not want to tell very many people, if anyone, about the affair. So you are filled with the emotions of grief, but you avoid the process of mourning because you are trying to keep the affair a secret. You are keeping everything inside. It can feel like you are suppressing the energy of a volcano inside you. You feel like you could just explode at any moment.
It’s tortuous. It’s lonely. It’s frightening. To suffer the pain of grief by yourself is excruciating and will often lead to all kinds of angry or depressing thoughts. It’s at this point that you may want to exit the relationship because of all the pent up anger. In your emotional state, you don’t see any way to work through it. So your solution is to leave the painful relationship, believing that leaving the relationship behind will solve the problem of dealing with the pain.
But it won’t resolve the problem of grief. Humans are wired to need closure. The only way to close something is to open it first. So if you have been resistant to grieving, don’t deny yourself those emotions. Go there.
Cry it out. Feel the pain of loss. Be present in the emotion of grief. Once you go through it you can be done with it. That’s when you get the closure. Then you can move on to the next thing. Then you can begin to think and make decisions from a different place in your soul and mind.
“How do you grieve?” is a really relevant question. Most of us have some experience with feeling sad or disappointed, but not necessarily with grief.
When you first learn of your spouse’s infidelity, you’re most likely caught completely off guard. Even if you sensed something might be wrong in your relationship, you didn’t expect your spouse to be a cheater. So this initial emotion happens whether you will it to or not. It may come and go in cycles as you continue to learn new information about the cheating.
Shock is characterized by feeling empty. You will have a hard time putting your thoughts together coherently. Time will seem frozen and inconsequential. You may even have physical reactions like trembling and difficulty breathing.
Sometimes it’s just too much at first to think that your spouse could have treated you this way. So your mind starts to blame the affair partner, the circumstances, complicit friends, the culture we live in, etc. When you’re in this phase of grief, anyone and everyone caused the affair to happen except your spouse.
Or, you believe there must be some misunderstanding. The texts and photos you just saw can’t really have been meant for your spouse. The sender must have sent them to the wrong number. Someone must be impersonating your spouse because your spouse could never treat you this way.
Anger is one of the largest and most complicated components of grief. It must be expressed or it will manifest itself in your body in the form of aches and pains or sickness. But some betrayed spouses are hesitant to express their anger for a number of complicated reasons.
- It may not feel “socially appropriate” to you if you consider yourself to be a nice and well-behaved person.
- It might feel too “out of control” for you if you are someone who likes to always be in control of a situation.
- It might feel immature to you.
- It might feel like a spiritual failure to you to express anger if you are a religious person.
- It might feel too self-indulgent to you during a time that you recognize to be a crisis that’s bigger than just you.
- It might not feel feminine or ladylike to you to express anger.
But you need to understand that anger in a natural reaction to a wrong that has been done. Even Jesus, when He witnessed misconduct in the temple, became angry (without sinning). Normal human reaction to injustice or sin is anger. To suppress it is to deny a normal part of your emotional processing.
This is about your emotional health. You have to deal with it because you’re the only one that can. All the friendships that you have poured yourself into over the years now need to come through for you and help you through this time. Lean on one or two of those people who have proven to be a safe place for you and express yourself to them during this time. And if you don’t have friendships that can handle helping you through the emotions of betrayal, you need to find a support group. You need to feel heard. You need for people to understand your pain.
One of the most important things for anyone who’s suffering is that they need to be heard. You need to be able to speak without fearing the judgment of your listeners. You need to feel like someone else “gets” what you’re saying when you talk about your feelings regarding the affair.
It’s tempting to let all of your anger out in one place–all over your unfaithful spouse! Yes, it might make you feel a little better in the moment. Yes, he or she needs to understand how much they’ve hurt you. But remember, your unfaithful spouse has really big issues of their own right now and doesn’t have the emotional capacity to be everything you need during this time of pain.
Remember the point of expressing your anger is to try to get healing. You’re trying to relieve your mind and soul of the pain so that you can make progress with your life. You aren’t simply trying to destroy your spouse with your words and actions. That doesn’t move you forward in recovery. That may feel good in the moment, but does more damage in the long run.
So expressing your angry thoughts has a purpose. If moves you forward in the grieving process. It is part of your recovery. The length of your grieving process is largely up to you. The sooner you decide to work your way through it, the sooner you can have closure for the grief.
Grieving is only a part of the affair recovery process. It is one of the aspects of recovery that you have the most control over. You must rely on your unfaithful spouse to stop the affair, start telling the truth, start being open and vulnerable with you, etc. But you can process your grief regarding the affair (and other losses) even without your spouse’s help.
Have you thought about grief in these terms before? Have you given yourself the opportunity to express your grief? Is your lack of dealing with grief hindering the rest of your affair recovery? Did you realize that your anger was so closely related to grief?
Join in the conversation and find support for your grief and recovery at https://facebook.com/groups/AffairRecoveryCoaching
Schedule your free clarity call at https://andyandbeckyhadaway.simplybook.me/v2/