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Moving on in the Aftermath of Infidelity

Infidelity in marriage is a devastating experience. It may take years to heal from shattered trust and intense feelings of betrayal. Some marriages recover; many end in divorce. For any hope of recovery, both spouses must deal directly with the pain and commit to creating a better relationship.

However, when the betrayed spouse cannot forgive or the betrayer shows a lack of remorse or openness to change. It is almost impossible to repair the relationship. It also depends on what the person defines as betrayal. Cheating is not just sexual. Many consider an intimate, emotional relationship with another partner, use of pornography, or keeping secrets as marital infidelity.

Sypmtoms of Depression are Common

For the injured spouse, periods of depression are common. Like a runaway roller coaster, intense pain, fear, anger, and sadness come in waves leaving him or her feeling out of control. Depending on the length of the marriage and the depth and breadth of the betrayal, these disorienting and disconcerting emotions may ebb and flow for a significant amount of time.

Some experience symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) including difficulty eating and sleeping, aversion to members of the opposite sex, mistrust, anxiety and panic, flashbacks to the discovery of the infidelity, images of the spouse entwined with another partner, distress at reminders of the infidelity, emotional numbness, and feeling easily irritated or jumpy.

Recovery is not a Straight Path

Recovery is not typically a straight line. Typically, there are many ups and downs with setbacks as well as successes. This is all part of the grieving and healing process. Only with patience can the couple persevere.

Regaining intimacy after infidelity is an emotional hurdle. Words, people, locations or a specific situation can trigger the trauma of past betrayal trauma. Equally common are overreactions to situations or reluctance to be vulnerable to hurt. Since all intimate relationships generally include some bumps along the way, being too guarded or avoiding vulnerability slows the healing process.

Here are some suggestions for moving toward healing if you are the betrayed partner.

  • 1. ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL. Expressing fear, pain, anger, and sadness through talk, physical movement, therapeutic writing or journaling is cathartic. Avoid numbing feelings with alcohol, drugs, shopping, or sex. Instead, be mindful of how your body feels. Sit with the feeling, with faith that they will pass after you have honored them.
  • 2. LEARN SELF-CARE. Take time to think about what makes you feel good; what nurtures your soul. Meditate and spend time alone working on your friendship with yourself. Practice self-compassion and kindness. Refrain from looking at yourself critically or through your partner’s lens.
  • 3. FIND YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF. This is a great time for self-exploration. What are your true interests and passions? What type of life do you want to create for yourself?
  • 4. FORGIVENESS. Acceptance and letting go of resentment is the final objective of recovery. Forgiveness does not mean condoning infidelity. It means you are letting your partner off of your hook and putting them on God’s hook. As the saying goes, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, LCSW

©2016 Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation

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