Affairs, Betrayal, and Dealing With It
The discovery of an affair is devastating for both partners. The partner who was betrayed feels like his world has come crashing down around him. The partner who was unfaithful feels anguish over having hurt the person she cares about the most (even if her partner doubts that if she could have ever truly cared).
The betrayed partner can feel like both his trust and his sense of reality are gone. He may think, “My partner isn’t who I thought she was. My life isn’t what I thought it was. ” He may question his own abilities to know what is real.
The partner who was unfaithful can also feel an assault to her reality and identity. She may think, “Who am I that I was capable of this?” While she knew she was having the affair, she will see her behavior and its impact in a new light after her partner’s discovery. Needless to say, the experience is profoundly disorientating for both partners.
So what do you do if this happens to you?
First, take it one day at a time. The revelation of an affair is a traumatic loss of the relationship you once had. When I meet with couples in the wake of an affair, I tell them that how they feel today will be different from how they’ll feel a few days from now, and different yet from how they’ll feel in a few weeks’ time. Your mind is making sense of a new reality and it takes time to reorient yourself.
Second, don’t decide to leave the relationship…or stay in the relationship, yet. In other words, don’t make any long-term decisions about the relationship in the weeks following the discovery. Your mind needs time to process what has happened, and you won’t have the mental energy needed right away to make a good decision about what to do.
Third, seek treatment. Infidelity is not an injury that heals itself. Couples’ therapy is the best (and possibly only) way to sort out everything that led up to the affair, as well as to deal with the damage done to the relationship. Both partners need to understand why the affair happened, and the partner who was unfaithful has to acknowledge her responsibility for the pain she caused. This is especially hard because the guilt can be overwhelming.
In my next article, I will discuss the steps involved in figuring out whether to stay and how to heal. Stay tuned.