Coping with Affair Discovery 

For the Betrayed

by  Katie Coston

To download  "Infidelity Crisis: How to Gain Forgiveness 
and Respect After Your Affair"
by Katie Coston
 in an instant pdf format click here.

 

If you're a betrayed spouse who has just discovered your partner’s affair, it's likely that you're experiencing emotional turmoil. Finding out that a partner has been unfaithful often brings with it grief – the spouse whom you believed to be faithful no longer exists and your marriage will never be the same as it was before discovery.

Understand that grief is a natural reaction to affair discovery. While grief usually marks the end of something - the end of a life, the end of a way of life, etc. – affair discovery usually signals the end of a way of thinking. You are no longer able to think that your marriage is immune to an affair – and if you’ve got substantial affair evidence – you can no longer think or deny that an infidelity actually happened.

Grief stemming from betrayal and affair discovery does not mean that your marriage is over.  But whether you choose to end the marriage or work through this marriage crisis to build a better relationship – you will still have to work through the "affair discovery" grieving process.

If you’ve discovered an extramarital affair, it would be extremely helpful for you to read literature relating to the grieving process -  to know how specific grief stages apply to your situation. You can do an online search or go to your local library and read articles or books about the grieving process. But while we are here, I will briefly point out three common stages of grief - stages that usually do accompany affair discovery: denial, blame, and anger.

Denial

Many betrayed spouses suffer through initial shock. They have phases in which they tell themselves repeatedly, "This can’t be happening!" They wish it were all a bad dream - that they’ll wake up to discover the nightmare has ended. Some betrayed spouses even continue to look for evidence of the affair long after the affair is established – I believe these people are really trying to convince themselves that there’s been some kind of mistake – that it didn’t really happen.

Blame

In this stage many betrayed spouses wrongly point the finger at themselves or at the other man or other woman in the triangle. I think this is an attempt to salvage "good will" for the betrayer. While it may be true that you were not the perfect spouse prior to your partner’s unfaithfulness – and while it may be true that the third party was relentless in their pursuit of your spouse – it is also true that your spouse is ultimately responsible for his or her own behavior.

Anger

Anger by the betrayed is directed at many sources: at the betrayer for his or her disloyalty and dishonesty - at the third party for their involvement - at themselves for not noticing the signs or being able to prevent such circumstance from happening – at the people who knew about the affair but neglected to tell – and even at God for allowing such painful events to occur.

 

The ultimate goal of healing and working through grief is to come to a point of acceptance. You need to accept that the affair happened. You need to accept that it wasn’t your fault – that guilt belongs to the offender. And you also need to accept that it is okay to be angry – you should be angry. But it is also okay to forgive and move forward – and in time, you will.  But as you work through these initial grieving stages, understand that they are normal – this is an important realization when your emotions are surging out of control.

After you've accepted that your emotional response to affair discovery is normal – you are still left in a crisis situation.  It is likely that you’re having trouble eating, sleeping, and maintaining a normal daily balance. It’s probable that your mind is in constant motion – searching for clues you missed, replaying your discovery day scene by scene, etc. The best case scenario is that your spouse has come clean – admitted their affair – accepted accountability for the inappropriateness of their behavior - ceased all contact with the other person – and desires to work towards healing of your marriage. If this is the case – your grieving time after affair discovery and the resulting emotional crisis for you may be significantly shortened.

Many offenders, however, do not behave in a repentant manner: they may continue to deny their affair despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary; they may deny accountability for their behavior and blame the innocent spouse; they may be in denial over the inappropriateness of their behavior; they may be angry about discovery circumstance or angry to be held accountable for their behavior, etc. Some offenders also become angry because they're now placed in a position of real choice: they are forced to decide whether to give up the extramarital relationship or to give up the marriage – they're no longer able to have their cake and eat it, too. If you're dealing with a spouse who reacts this way to affair discovery – and you want to salvage your marriage – you're facing an additional obstacle to healing.  There is no repentance and this is just as hurtful as initial discovery - because you’re dealing with continued rejection on a daily basis.

Does lack of repentance mean you should give up?  Not necessarily. Your spouse may come around to repentance once they accept the full scope of what they’ve done.  There is no way to tell in the beginning if they will get to the point of repentance – especially if an underlying depression helped your spouse rationalize involvement in an extramarital affair. If this is the case, they are likely to be in a chemical "fog" that will diminish with time. 

It is a scientific fact that new relationships – especially secret ones – cause our bodies to release a rush of endorphins and neurotransmitters which cause euphoria and act as self-medication to a depressed person. That’s why you hear the phrase, "But I just feel so good when I’m with him or her!"  This is the "fog" stage – and it does diminish somewhat after an affair is discovered and the offending party is forced to look at reality rather than the fantasy of secret love. 

If you spouse is in a fog state – it is best to separate your decisions from his or her behavior for a while. It is perfectly okay for you wait for six months or so before you decide whether or not you want to continue the marriage. As in any crisis – it is best that you do not make any life altering decisions until you've had time to digest your new circumstance. Do not move, sell a house, get divorced, etc. until you feel free of emotional pressure – and this might take months.  

If you feel the need to protect yourself from your spouse financially – talk to a lawyer about getting temporary orders which 1) forbid disposing of marital property and 2) establish financial support orders.  These temporary orders do not mean that a divorce is imminent, but they will help to give you peace of mind and one less thing to worry about while you are coping with an emotional crisis.

And now – how do you cope when you can’t eat, sleep, or think straight?  Here are some tips that might help to make your life a little easier right now:

 

  1. Force yourself to eat regularly and in a healthy manner.   Treat yourself just like you were your own child – you wouldn’t let your kid skip breakfast, have beer for lunch, and a bag of chips for dinner, would you?  Don’t let yourself do it either - take your vitamins – and eat even if you aren’t hungry. You will have more energy to deal with this crisis if your body is not exhausted from lack of nutrients.
  2. Do not abuse substances or medication.  Do not choose this time to start drinking a little more than usual – do not double up on your prescription medication dosages – and do not smoke more than you usually do.  In the middle of a crisis, it is not uncommon for a pack-a-day smoker to indulge in two or three packs a day – or – for a light drinker to have a couple of extra glasses of wine at one time.  Don’t do it!  If you catch yourself doing it, refer to tip number one and treat yourself as you would your own child.  The same goes with coffee – because all of these substances will impair your body’s ability to rest properly.
  3. Get plenty of sleep.   If you’re having a hard time sleeping because of reoccurring bad dreams or trouble getting to sleep because of reoccurring negative thoughts – give yourself permission to take a break from your worries and temporarily forget them. You do this by keeping a journal at your bedside and writing down everything that is troubling you – especially things that you don’t want to forget.  Because you will have written these thoughts down, your subconscious will give you permission to forget them temporarily – because a hard copy is available. This really works – so do not dismiss this strategy! You can also trick your subconscious by only allowing yourself specific worry times. For example, make an appointment for 6pm to worry for an hour. During that hour – brainstorm everything you have to worry about and write it all down in a worry journal. If you come up with a new worry before 6pm or after 7pm – quickly jot your worry down in the journal and promise yourself that you will evaluate it during your next worry appointment. I know this sounds silly – but try it, because it really works to free your mind so that you can both rest and concentrate on other things.
  4. Clarify your priorities.  Free your mind and your schedule by clarifying exactly what is a priority to you – and doing only priority projects. When you do this – realize that each and every chore that faces you during the day shouldn’t be a priority. For example: the car doesn’t have to be washed for it to get you to work tomorrow, the kitchen will not be condemned if its floor isn’t mopped, your teeth will not fall out just because you cancel one dentist appointment, and your friend really will forgive you if you stay home and nap instead of going out to the movies with her, etc. Decide exactly what is important – and do only that which is important.
  5. Do the least amount of work possible to meet your priorities.  This step is almost as important as clarifying your priorities! For example, if your kids need to be fed dinner and it’s a priority – then you can make them sandwiches or order a pizza instead of spending an hour cooking and washing dishes. If your kids are begging for attention and this is a priority – curl up on the couch and watch their favorite movie with them instead of walking to the park. This same concept applies to employment as well as home situations. For example, if your boss asks you to write a report – the report needs only to be accurate and concise – it doesn’t have to be good enough to win a writing contest, etc. If you have the option of not working overtime – go home, instead. There will be time to play super hero when you feel better – and right now, you need to take care of yourself.
  6. Ask for Help!   It is likely that you have several people in your life right now who could ease your burdens considerably – and telling them that you feel overwhelmed is often enough to get them to volunteer assistance. This doesn’t mean you have to tell them about the crisis you’re dealing with, you can just say, "I’m worried about something that I don’t feel comfortable sharing, but it would sure help me if…." Then ask for specific favors: get another mom to pick the kids up from school for you, ask another family to baby-sit for you overnight, ask your coworker to cover your shift, get the kid next door to cut your grass, etc. You can always return favors when your life settles down – right now, you need to concentrate on getting some rest, coping, and grounding yourself emotionally
  7. See a counselor. Even if your spouse refuses to go to counseling with you – go alone! Talking to a counselor will help you to weed out destructive thinking and self-blame, especially in the beginning.
  8. Give yourself permission to not make any important decisions.  Guess what? You don’t have to decide whether or not to continue the marriage right now. You probably don’t have to move right now. You probably don’t have to make any decisions right now – so give yourself some time to grieve first and then make your decisions after you’ve regained some emotional balance. If you're worried about financial issues – get a temporary order forbidding disposal of any marital assets along with a support order as mentioned above.  Be firm with your lawyer - tell him or her that this is just for your peace of mind and that you do not plan to make any decisions soon.
  9. Set boundaries with friends and family.  Just because your sister wants to know everything that is happening in your marriage – and just because she has strong opinions about what you should and shouldn’t do - it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to her.  It is okay for you to say, "I know you want to help and I am thinking about these things on my own, but I don’t really want to talk about it, so please respect my wishes."  If she insists, then tell her, "I know you want to help – but do you know what would be most helpful right now? I need someone to watch the baby for a few hours.  Are you up for that?" Change the script to fit your individual circumstance but remember that well-intentioned people who insist on giving you unwanted advice usually do want to help in some way – so assign them alternate chores to free your time and mind.
  10. Give yourself permission to make your own decisions.   Do not feel obligated or pressured to act on anyone else’s ideas and opinions.  If you want to forgive – forgive.  If you want to work on your marriage – do it.  If you want to end your marriage – then make sure that it is your decision and not a decision that is pressed onto you by an outside party.  Everyone and their brother will come out of the woodwork to give you advice right now so be true to yourself – because in the end, this is your life and not theirs.  I'm going to make an exception here, though - if your friend is reminding you of spiritual issues that you have held dear in the past, pay special attention.  Sometimes we have a tendency to blame God for the behavior of other people when we're hurt.   Remember the footprints in the sand - sometimes we can only see God's faithfulness when we're looking backwards.
  11. Clear your calendar for feel-good activities. Be sure to pencil in some "normal" time with your kids, your friends, and your family members. Such times should be free of tension and affair or relationship discussion – give yourself permission to take a break from your worries. Take your kids to the zoo, see a movie, go out to coffee, etc. and get back in touch with your world outside of affair discovery.  This might seem easier said than done at first, but allow yourself time to concentrate on what is good and right in your life - there is something in your life to be thankful for.  Relish those things with regularity.

 

To download  "Infidelity Crisis: How to Gain Forgiveness 
and Respect After Your Affair"
by Katie Coston
 in an instant pdf format click here.