Boom. Just like that. In an instant of discovery, your life is forever changed. And now, not only do you need a miracle for surviving his infidelity, you need one for maintaining your self-respect, too.
This concept of self-respect is often overlapped with and even mistaken for self-esteem. And, while the two are definitely related, they’re not twins.
So what is the difference between self-respect and self-esteem? And why is the difference important when talking about surviving a spouse’s infidelity?
Briefly, self-respect equates to self-love. It is inextricably connected to your values, regardless of what others may do to the contrary.
Self-respect is that inner, established sense of worth that, as the saying goes, teaches others how to treat you.
It also serves as the moral compass that guides your treatment of others.
Self-respect is the voice that will tell you to turn and walk out of a party where people are gossiping or getting drunk.
It’s also the beacon that guides your choices for self-care.
Do you choose healthy foods, exercise, get enough sleep?
Do you have a work-life balance that honors those people and goals most important to you?
Do you surround yourself with people who have similar values and demonstrate similar respect for themselves and others?
Self-esteem, while it includes self-respect, is at least somewhat contingent on performance. It’s how you see yourself and your skills, especially in relation to others.
Earning the praise of esteemed people in your area of expertise, for example, can be a big boost to your self-esteem.
Getting a reprimand at work for a job you thought you did well, on the other hand, can be a fender-bender to self-esteem.
If you have healthy self-respect, however, neither scenario will sway your love for yourself, nor your expectation for proper treatment.
What does this all have to do with surviving his infidelity?
A lot, actually.
Infidelity not only creates excruciating pain and puts marriages at risk. It also creates confusion for “the self.”
The self-esteem of the betrayed spouse may take a huge blow — “Why am I not good enough for him? What did I do wrong?”
But it’s the self-respect we’re concerned with here because that goes right to the heart of the person’s sense of worth.
You may have told yourself once upon a time that you would never stay with a man who cheated on you.
Your self-respect at the time was convicted of how you deserved to be treated. And, by golly, no man would get away with betraying that.
And then, as if you had jinxed yourself and tested the universe, it happened. He cheated.
And now you’re staring at your conviction in the mirror…and nothing makes sense anymore.
How on earth could you not just walk away and wipe your hands of him? What has gotten into you that would make you even think of staying?
Have you no self-respect?
This is where you need to be really kind to and patient with yourself. Accept the confusion as normal in the wake of this shocking devastation.
And know that surviving his infidelity does not have to equate to a loss of your self-respect.
Maintaining your self-respect while surviving infidelity isn’t just about what you choose to do. It’s also about why you choose what you do and how you implement it.
Believe it or not, you are still teaching people — and especially your husband — how you deserve and expect to be treated.
Here are 4 powerful tips for surviving his infidelity while preserving — and even growing — your self-respect.
Be clear about who is responsible for what.
One of the greatest assaults to self-respect in the wake of an affair is confusion over who is to blame.
For purposes of healing and healthy communication, we’re going to replace “blame” with “responsibility.”
While blame is an outward projection, usually thrown in anger, responsibility looks at the whole picture. It allows for a parceling of specific areas of concern and accountability.
Responsibility also has implied boundaries.
Blame quickly becomes like a junior high food fight. But responsibility separates the peas from the mashed potatoes so you can more accurately see exactly what’s on your plate.
When it comes to maintaining your self-respect, clarity about responsibility is your superpower.
You are not — I repeat, not — responsible for the choice your spouse made to make himself feel better by having an affair.
If the two of you are going to survive this, you will have to establish this as foundational to every step going forward.
The question for you, of course, is, “What are you responsible for?”
Your anger and pain may naturally tempt you to shout, “Not a damn thing!”
But, by taking an attitude of “responsibility,” you can embrace your own role in your marriage. How did you not give it your best effort prior to the affair? And what is your unique responsibility in helping it heal?
Viewed in this way, responsibility relieves you of assuming you “caused” something you didn’t.
It gives you the ability to strategize as individuals and as a couple.
It also gives purposeful direction to your individual and relational growth.
Taking responsibility for yourself can be very difficult work. But trust me — it really is your superpower.
Accept your feelings, but keep your head in the game.
Your thoughts will influence your feelings, and vice versa. And after discovering an affair, you will probably notice that your feelings are in the driver’s seat.
Separating the two isn’t always easy, especially under stressful, painful conditions.
That’s where professional support and guidance can be a godsend to clarifying, languaging, and working through both your feelings and your thoughts.
Surviving his infidelity does not — I repeat, does not — imply “just getting over it” and acting as if nothing happened.
To the contrary, it means digging deep and unearthing those feelings that both preceded and followed the infidelity.
It means deciding to discover and/or assign purpose and redemption to a life-shattering betrayal.
And it calls you to the best of yourselves when only the worst is visible.
By accepting and anticipating an ebb and flow of feelings, often without warning, you can become your own best steward.
Infidelity can cause you to wonder if you even deserve happiness.
And, if you don’t go into the recovery fortified with awareness and resolve, it can also cause you to expect less for yourself.
The mind is very resourceful in its effort to dull pain. Your goal should be to elevate your thoughts, choices, behaviors, and expectations to transform the pain, not to lower them so the pain makes sense.
Believe that you can create all the goodness you deserve.
You are half of your marriage. In a more expansive sense, you are also the entirety of your marriage, at least by virtue of your ability to influence it.
By taking an approach of acceptance, you can move forward with a sense of direction and realistic expectations.
You will be able to uphold your expectations and boundaries for rebuilding trust.
And you will know when to trust your gut — even a little — to start trusting your spouse again.
Don’t share details of your situation with just anybody.
Fighting for your marriage in the wake of infidelity can itself be a test of your self-respect. The last thing you need is every friend, cousin, and social media acquaintance weighing in.
Streamline your exposure to those few sources who unquestionably have your best interest at heart and can lend objectivity to your journey.
This seemingly small detail is itself a gesture of self-respect. It honors the privacy of your marriage and the pain that both of you are experiencing.
It also affirms within yourself that you are still strong and determined enough to stand by your values.
It may seem more than unjust that, when your husband has cheated, surviving his infidelity calls forth so much of your determination.
But perspective can be life-changing — even lifesaving.
If you are willing to shift even a little in your perspective, you may be able to shift the entire destiny of your marriage.
And that self-respect that once stood on the brink of death can rise from the ashes stronger than ever.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals. She collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, schedule a ½ hour complimentary consultation.