If you have just learned that your spouse had an affair, you feel like crap right now. First, I want to tell you how sorry I am that this has happened to you. You do not deserve this and you did not cause it either.
Second, I want to tell you that your life will feel crazy for a while. Hang in there. There is hope for getting through your emotions and helping yourself feel more normal again. I don’t expect you to believe me right now, but in time, you will be able to breathe again.
But for now, let’s talk about what you are going through.
Shock is likely your first response. It’s involuntary. It’s what happens when your brain experiences trauma. If you have just heard the news that your partner has been unfaithful to you, then you have experienced emotional trauma. The shock that follows is normal.
Physically, you may feel like your head is spinning. You may feel like you’re falling. It may be hard for you to breathe. You may vomit. You may feel like you are experiencing your surroundings in slow motion or a dream-like state. Find a safe place to sit or lie down and just allow yourself some time.
Mentally, you may feel completely blank. Your mind is protecting itself by going numb. Or, you may experience the opposite. You have a flood of questions invading your mind. You want to know so many answers to so many questions right now! But deep down, you already know that none of the answers he/she gives will be good enough. So it just hurts. Thinking is painful and exhausting. Your brain is trying to make sense of the words it has just heard from your partner. But there is no making sense of those words.
Emotionally, you feel pain like you have never experienced before. You may blame yourself. You may feel hate, anger, despair, fear or disbelief in the midst of your grief. You feel an agony in your soul that you have never felt before.
You are responding to the grief of this news in a way that is consistent with your personality and how you usually respond in crises.
Your grief may cause you to withdraw inside yourself. You want to find a corner where you can be alone and weep. You don’t want to talk to your spouse or anyone else. You just want to be alone.
Your grief may lead you to express anger or rage. You want to lash out, or throw something, or break a nearby object. You want to inflict pain on someone or something else because of the deep agonizing pain you feel within.
Or, you may feel like weeping or raging, but deny yourself those options. Your inner voice of reason tells you neither of those options will solve anything. So you decide to hold your head up, square your shoulders, and act like nothing has happened. You choose to bury the information and proceed as if life is exactly the same as it was in the not so distant past–before you knew about the affair. This may be the most dangerous course of action of all. It is a refusal to deal with reality.
You may feel terror that life as you knew it will never be the same. Maybe you busy yourself with tasks, chores, projects–anything that feels like you are taking action to make life “right” again. You are desperate to distract yourself, making mundane things of most urgent importance and throwing yourself into them wholeheartedly. The physical distraction of tasks helps numb the pain of the news of the affair. Keeping physically busy with projects tricks your brain in the short term that you are taking steps to mend the real and bigger problem that your mind is not ready to deal with.
Withdrawing, raging, and distracting yourself are immediate ways of reacting to the terrible news of an affair. They can be worked through and then the affair can be addressed. Pretending like the affair didn’t happen practically guarantees that your marriage won’t survive in the long run. It denies you and your spouse the chance of healing from something that has damaged you. The wound will fester until you or both of you can’t stand it anymore.
Whatever emotion you feel is completely normal. People respond to the news of an affair in different ways based on factors like their personality, their past experiences and the dynamics of their current relationship. You are not crazy for feeling the way you do. You are not crazy if you feel completely the opposite ten minutes from now and then an entirely different way ten minutes after that. The only thing you want to avoid is acting like nothing happened and everything’s fine.
It will be months before you can possibly work through all of the emotions that surround the betrayal. But the intensity of your emotions will not always overwhelm you as they do when you first learn the news of an affair in your marriage.
Try not to overwhelm yourself with thinking about how you have to fix your spouse, or fix yourself, or change this or change that in your marriage. Recovery and healing happen one day at a time. More often than not, they happen one minute at a time. Just tell yourself you need to make one decision to survive and hold on to hope. Okay, you survived that minute. Good job. Now decide again to survive and hold on to hope. You did it. Good job. Now decide again….
When your emotions become more stable, your mind will be able to better discern your next step. It is a good idea not to make any life-altering changes in your life for at least three to six months.
Discovering that an affair has affected your marriage is no time for solitude. Do not try to handle the situation by yourself. Find someone who will patiently listened to you. Speak with someone who is not quick to try to fix your situation, but seeks to listen to and support you. Speak with someone who will allow you to just grieve in your own way.
Being betrayed feels like the death of a loved one. The truth is, it is the death of a precious relationship you thought you knew. That’s not to say that the relationship is gone forever, but it will take time and intention to mend in order to feel right again. That thought may be more than you can deal with in the immediate aftermath of learning of a betrayal. (If given time, attention, and proper healing measures, your relationship with your spouse can be even better than it was before. But don’t pressure yourself with thoughts of achieving that level at this stage.)
Let yourself experience emotion. Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief. Cut yourself slack that you may not be able to juggle all the balls of your life right now. Most of them are made of rubber, not glass. You can pick them up again in the future if you choose.
You can survive this. You are not alone. You are a precious and valuable person who has every chance of living with happiness and harmony again.