Infidelity is one of life’s most painful and gut-wrenching experiences. Finding out that your man has been unfaithful to you can be quite devastating and unraveling. In my private practice, I have worked with women who come in after learning that their partner has been cheating for a while — and they come in feeling angry, disappointed, fooled, sad and confused.
The first few days after the unveiling are the hardest. You may feel emotionally, cognitively and spiritually violated, and such an unexpected experience can drive you to a level of anxiety you have never before experienced. What’s the anxiety all about? Not knowing why it happened, and getting caught off-guard.
You may be filled with questions: “How can he love me and still cheat with someone else?” “Did he ever love me?” “Was our love real or was it all an illusion?” “Is he the man I thought he was?” Not having the answers to these questions can result in heightened anxiety that you’ll find difficult to control or appease.
To reduce the anxiety, people often engage in a series of interrogation sessions with their partners: “Why did you do that?” “Who is she?” “How old is she?” “Where did you meet her?” “How can you do this to me?” Their partner may or may not succumb to answering all the details about the affair: If he does — he’s giving you more ammunition to further obsess and ruminate about the situation. If he doesn’t — this may create more anxiety and compel you to find the answer on your own (with Facebook and Google, it’s easy to obsessively search for personal information).
The obsession with his infidelity can take a life of it’s own, and can be very distracting. With all your emotional energy focused on his cheating, you may find yourself neglecting other areas of your life, including yourself, your children and work.
He’s Been Cheating — So Now What?
Undeniably, infidelity can make anyone feel emotionally insane. But, with a few mindful practices, you may actually turn this difficult experience into something of value. Granted, when you’re in this situation at first, it is REALLY difficult to envision how this challenging experience can turn out to be a life opportunity. Only time will tell.
For now, the following short pieces of advice may help you sleep better at night and reduce the turmoil you may feel:
It’s Not About You
As you go through this experience, you must remind yourself that your partner’s infidelity has very little to do with you. Even if he ultimately shares that he strayed because he felt too controlled or disempowered in the relationship, it is HIS responsibility to deal with this situation in a healthier manner. The affair usually stems from the relationship that you and your partner have — and that’s the piece that needs work.
Don’t Engage in Behaviors You May Later Regret
I have heard of women who intentionally friend their partner’s lover to learn more about the affair. Some women become so obsessed with “the other woman” that they follow them around in their neighborhood — hoping to “see” who this other woman is. Be careful with what you decide to do to calm your anxiety. Sometimes, the less you know, the better. Remember, this affair has also nothing to do with the other woman.
Don’t Make Any Fast Decisions
Making important decisions when we are emotionally distressed is never ideal. As much as you may want to “act” right away, consider taking the time to let things be.
Don’t Forget Your Children
When children are involved, this complicates the situation even further. Regardless of their age, children are always affected by their parent’s infidelity. If they are old enough to understand what’s happening, they are likely to share the same feeling that you feel. If they are young children, they will feel your emotional distance, as you try to grapple with everything that’s going on. Just like you and your partner need support at this time, your children need to feel secure in your love, care and attention.
Seek the Support of a Few Close Friends and Family
A selected group of friends or family members can serve as a significant source of emotional support and guidance during this difficult time. Notice, however, that the key word here is “selected” group of friends or family members. Avoid telling the whole world about your circumstances. Out of desperation and anger, you may find relief in sharing your story with co-workers, neighbors or friends, but realize that not everyone can provide the type of support you’ll need at this time. Be selective with whom you go to for support or venting. And if you find that you prefer to keep things more privately, seek the help of a professional counselor.
This Will Pass – as with everything else in life — you will overcome and rise above this difficult moment. Keep strong, keep your head held high, and be positive.