If you recently discovered your spouse cheated and you are still roiling from the shock, you might feel despair about whether surviving infidelity is possible. No doubt you feel 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 and meet the challenge of surviving infidelity. What do you do next?
Now that you know the truth, you can get a head start on surviving infidelity. These 10 tips will help you navigate the roller coaster of discovering your spouse cheated.
Don’t underestimate the shock you experience.
There’s a world of difference between having suspicions and knowing. The belief that cheating happens only to other people, and certainly not to a loving partner like you, can keep you inside a 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 and flooded by strong emotions that you’re afraid might overwhelm you. You wonder if you’ll ever feel like yourself again. Be assured that you will, but it’ll take time, a support network, and large doses of self-care to get you through. Surviving infidelity is not for sissies.
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 some things you can do right away to start to feel a little better.
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 surviving infidelity.
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, listen, and has good judgment. Talking to someone about what happened is a big step in the healing process for surviving infidelity.
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. Remind yourself again and again that the infidelity is between the two of you and no one else.
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. In the long run, involving family can make surviving infidelity even more difficult.
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.
8. Keep the kids out of it.
The situation is between you and your spouse. Resist your instinct to show your kids what a lout their parent is. Remember they are and will always be your kids’ parent. Research on good parenting recommends that you shield your kids from adult matters that they are developmentally unprepared to understand or manage.
9. The only way to grieve is through it.
Your relationship has lost its innocence in that you probably believed your partner was the one person you could count on in the world, no matter what. Their actions shattered this belief and you feel betrayed. Some find getting past this betrayal the toughest part of surviving infidelity and getting past it.
You will go through what Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified as the five stages of grief. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Ross identified the five stages as a pattern of adjustment experienced by people when they face their imminent death. Subsequent research revealed that people who have lost a loved one by death, divorce, or disease also go through the five stages of the healing process.
The grief process is not linear and no person experiences it in the exact same way. You may skip a stage 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.
When you experience a relapse, you might become skeptical about whether surviving infidelity is possible. 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, medication, or a combination of both can be helpful.
10. Surviving infidelity takes time.
Have faith that you will feel better. You’ll know you’re healing when you have one good day and then good days start to outnumber the bad days. And then one day, when you least expect it, the fog lifts and you feel like yourself again. You might even pat yourself on the back for surviving infidelity and catch a glimpse of a time soon when you’ll begin to thrive again.
At the end of this up-and-down, painful process, you can feel proud that you have handled yourself with dignity and taken good care of yourself. You will have discovered a deeper level of self-reliance. And that is no small thing.
If you feel overwhelmed and want support, I invite you to reach out. We’ve helped many people challenged with surviving infidelity and we can help you get through this too. Your first call is complimentary with no strings attached.