Infidelity: the natural disaster you can survive
An affair can be earth shattering. It is normal to feel angry, rejected, isolated and alone. It often invites a myriad of questions along with the immediate urge to do something. How could this happen? Did my spouse ever really love me? How could this person break my trust like this? How do I move past this? How can this be fixed? Strong emotions of rage, hurt, fear, and betrayal settle in and you don’t know what to do.
For an event so traumatic and devastating, it is alarming how commonplace infidelity has become. Depending on the source and its definition of infidelity, affairs affect anywhere between 20-25% to 70-75% of couples. You are not alone and can move on. However, while it may be common, the effect and meaning the affair has on each person is unique, and figuring out what to do next can be difficult.
What Can I Do?
- Give yourself time. Free yourself from making an immediate decision. The time will come for a decision to be made but in the present recognize the swirling emotions of hurt, anger, frustration, fear and grief. Rash decisions often come from acting out of strong emotion, so learn to sit with them and understand those feelings.
- Use this time to take care of yourself. There are other areas of your life requiring your attention. Losing something valuable in one area does not mean you’ve lost everything. Don’t lose yourself in the process. Care for your own needs and the needs of your children. Eat nutritionally and exercise. Notice your work performance. As much as possible, stay involved in your usual activities and hobbies. They will provide a needed sense of stability in such a tumultuous time. Here is a checklist for self-care.
- Communicate with your partner.
- Take a timeout – Implement a specified period of time during which no terminal decisions will be made about the relationship. The time frame will vary depending on the nature of the infidelity and the needs of each partner. Taking a time out can help you visualize both individually and collectively and carefully consider options. It may be helpful to seek the help of a couples’ counselor to prevent premature or overly emotional decisions.
- Create stability – Maintain a routine. Have a conversation about how household tasks will be performed, how children will be co-parented and determine if meals will be shared. Starting these conversations will help make life more predictable before any major decisions are made.
- Establish boundaries –
- Determine whether the situation calls for separate living arrangements – especially if the relationship has become volatile.
- Discuss when and what aspects of the affair will be discussed. This helps decrease conflict and provides space to process your thoughts and feelings, along with those of your spouse.
- Take time to specifically discuss with your spouse who else will know about the situation and which details may be shared. It may also be helpful to discuss how to present yourselves to others unaware of the circumstances.
- Practice hope – Consider the events of the past that have made you stronger. Often, these are the difficult and trying things. Many wonder if they will survive after something as devastating as an affair. Years later, many have learned to live more authentic lives with their spouses or with themselves in another relationship. It won’t happen overnight, but you will get through this. Take it one day at a time.
Baucom, D. & Snyder, D. (2009). Helping couples get past the affair: A clinician’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.
Marriage Advocates. (2013, October 22). What should I do when my spouse is having an affair? Retrieved from: http://www.marriageadvocates.com/2013/10/22/what-should-i-do-when-my-spouse-is-having-an-affair/
Supervised under Dr. Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT, LPC