If you recently discovered your spouse cheated and you are still roiling from the shock, you might feel despair about how to survive infidelity. You may feel totally unprepared for the emotional tumult even if you’ve suspected the cheating for a long time.
As devastating as it is, from here you have to figure out how to get on with your life, how to survive infidelity. What do you do next?
Now that you know the truth, you can get a head start learning how to survive infidelity. These 6 steps will help you navigate through the initial, roller coaster stage that follows the discovery of infidelity.
Don’t underestimate the shock you experience.
There’s a world of difference between having suspicions and actually knowing. Suspicions can be denied. The belief that cheating happens only to other people, and certainly not to a loving partner like you, can keep you inside the bubble of denial for a long time.
The shock of discovering an affair is a big deal. Your world turns upside down; you feel shaken to the core. Strong emotions flood you and you might feel overwhelmed and afraid you’ll never feel like yourself again. Be assured that you will get through it, but it’ll take time, a support network, and large doses of self-care to get you through.
It would be normal to feel panicky, enraged, and confused. You might find it hard to eat or sleep. In stressful times like this, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol race through your body, making it difficult to focus or function. Fortunately, there are tried and true methods for lessening the impact and severity of these feelings and physical reactions. Keep reading for some guidance.
No, really. Take a deep breath and then another and another. Your breath will be your ally and will never leave you. Slow deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety by calming their physiological effect on your nervous system. Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. Breathe every time the shock resurfaces. It will help to calm your nervous system. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in the field of mind-body connection wrote about this in his book, The Relaxation Response.
Expect a tsunami of strong emotions.
You will feel a whole range of feelings, some of them contradictory, and some of them all at once. It can be disorienting and confusing. Anger, betrayal, rage, confusion, sadness, insecurity, revenge, fear, a feeling of abandonment, and grief will sweep through you like wildfire. Allow yourself to feel those feelings; there is no benefit in avoiding them. You don’t have to rush the process of your recovery.
Enlist the support of two confidants.
Reach out to a trusted friend, minister, counselor, or teacher for support. Be selective and choose someone who will protect your confidentiality, is a good listener, and whose judgment you respect. Telling your story is the first step in the healing process.
Hell hath no fury like a woman (or man) scorned.
Anger, hurt pride, rage, and other strong emotions propel people to act in ways they might later regret. Your impulse to hurt your partner and get revenge is instinctive. You might want to call their boss, parents, best friend, colleagues to tell them what a jerk they really are. You’ll want to stalk and troll and rip the face off the person they were with.
While these actions might provide immediate gratification (and revenge can be sweet), they have the potential to create collateral damage and magnify the problem, especially if you decide to stay with your spouse. It is a helpful guidepost to remember that the infidelity is between you and your spouse. In time you will work through this together but for now, it’s best to focus on yourself and how you will survive infidelity in the early crisis stage.
Think long and hard before you involve your family.
Remember blood is thicker than water. Your family will be loyal to you and angry with your spouse. They will take your side and hold the cheating against your spouse. And though you probably can’t fathom it now, if you decide to stay married, your family may not be able to forgive them let alone forget.
Don’t make any big decisions.
You need to right yourself before you make any big decisions. Strong emotions cloud rational thinking. Keep changes in your life to a minimum. Stay firmly planted in your home, don’t file for divorce or custody of the kids, or quit your job. Make no big decisions, financial or otherwise.
Keep the kids out of it.
The situation is between you and your partner. Resist your instinct to show your kids what a lout their parent is. Remember they are and will always be your kids’ parent. Kids should be shielded from adult matters that they are developmentally unprepared to understand or manage.
The only way to grieve is through it.
Your relationship has lost its innocence. You may have believed your partner was the one person in the world you could count on, no matter what. This feeling of betrayal is the toughest part for many.
You will go through what Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified as the five stages of grief. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although the five stages were initially identified as a pattern of adjustment that individuals experience when they face their own imminent death, her findings are applied often to situations of loss of a loved one by death, divorce, or disease.
The grief process is not linear and no person experiences it in the exact same way. You may skip or revisit a stage you thought you had successfully navigated. For instance, don’t be surprised if the anger you thought you got over, comes back with a vengeance at a family wedding, or the night it dawns on you that on your 40th birthday, your husband wasn’t really on a business trip, but at a hotel in the next town.
At these times you might be skeptical there is a way to survive infidelity. If your emotions are overwhelming or you sink into a deep depression which renders you unable to function in your day-to-day life, you should seek professional help. Counseling and/or medication can be helpful.
To survive infidelity takes time
Have faith that you will feel better. You’ll know you’re starting to heal when you have one good day when good days start to outnumber the bad days, and then one fine day, when you least expect it, the fog lifts and you feel like yourself. You’ll feel like you learned how to survive infidelity and begin to hope that you can thrive.
At the end of this episode, you can feel proud that you have handled yourself with dignity and taken good care of yourself. You have discovered a deeper level of self-reliance. And that is no small thing.
If you find yourself overwhelmed and wanting support as you go through the process, I invite you to reach out. We’ve helped many people learn how to survive infidelity and we can help you get through this too. Your first call is complimentary with no strings attached.