Discovering a partner’s infidelity is one of the most excruciating events anyone can endure. While it’s tempting to hyper-focus on getting the cheater into treatment and monitoring his every move, it’s imperative that you – the betrayed spouse – take steps to manage your own emotional fallout.
5 key steps that can help you protect your emotional health include:
Identify qualified therapists. Ideally, you and your spouse should each enter individual therapy and together, enter couples therapy with clinicians trained in treating sexual compulsivity. You should tell your spouse you want him/her to go to individual and couples therapy, but you must go to your own individual therapy even if he/she doesn’t agree to treatment. You may think the affair is 100% your spouse’s problem and that your spouse just needs to be “fixed.” But it’s so key to remember that you still need to attend to your relational trauma. Think of if this way: it doesn’t matter how you broke your leg, you still need to go the Emergency Room and get it treated.
Identify coping skills and utilize them. It’s normal to experience PTSD symptoms the first few days (or months!) after discovery. You may be hyper-vigilant, prone to panic attacks, sleep disturbances, emotional outbursts, and have trouble sleeping and eating. You must take steps to build up your internal resources, especially if it takes awhile to schedule a session with a qualified therapist. The idea is to utilize your coping skills when you feel triggered so you learn self-regulation. Positive coping skills include: guided meditation, taking walks, journaling, reading inspirational literature, grounding exercises (i.e. pressing your feet into the floor and saying “I am pressing my feet into the floor and this is what it feels like”). It’s okay to talk to a trusted friend, but do NOT alert the masses as this will likely invite a torrent of understandably negative reactions that will just re-traumatize you and make social engagements awkward if you do decide to remain in your marriage.
Establish limits for discussing the affair. Most betrayed spouses need to know the “story” of the affair in order to process it and decide if the marriage is worth saving. But there’s a vast difference between gathering necessary information and “pain-shopping.” For instance, it’s important to know when the affair started and who the affair partner is; it is not remotely helpful to you to read a year’s worth of torrid sexting exchanges. Nor is it advisable to converse about the affair 24/7. Talking about the affair can be retraumatizing for you, so set limits. An hour a day is okay, but be prepared to take a time-out if the conversation devolves into a screaming match. Ideally, you should save these conversations for couples therapy where a trained professional can facilitate them.
Transparency with electronics. The only way to re-establish trust is to see if your spouse’s words match their actions. Assuming the spouse has agreed to end the affair, they now need to prove that they have done so. Tell your spouse that you want the passwords to their devices so you have access to them at all times. The intention is not to check his/her phone constantly, but to have the ability to confirm that there is no more contact with the affair partner. Having access to your spouse’s devices can help you figure out what’s “real.” Remember: you’re hyper-vigilant, so you could misinterpret benign events as evidence that the affair has continued. Being able to check out your suspicions and confirm they’re wrong will help you calm down instead of imagining the worst.
Do not become a detective. Betrayed spouses tend to be on high alert; they continually scan their environment to make sure they’re safe. But beware of compulsive “snooping.” Checking your spouse’s devices once a day is appropriate. Losing an entire day because you are glued to their phone and have emptied every shirt and pants pocket is not only a waste of time, but it will also re-traumatize you. You will be reminded of the affair, and may begin to think it’s still happening when in fact it’s over.
Couples can and do recover from infidelity. But if your spouse is determined to cheat, nothing you can do will stop him. That’s why it’s vital to focus on your own recovery. Once you’ve achieved some mental clarity and emotional stability, then you can decide if your marriage is worth saving.
Do you have questions about your legal options after a spouse’s infidelity? Please contact us today to schedule your confidential consultation with one of our compassionate, highly skilled family law attorneys.