The trauma of discovering the betrayal of infidelity can be devastating. Trying to describe the pain is impossible, because literally nothing in the world is as emotionally painful as a betrayal of that magnitude. Although no two couples recover exactly the same, we have found generally seven stages in the healing process.
The first stage is “Shock and Denial,” and as we mentioned it can last hours, days, or weeks.
The second stage “Pain and Guilt” begins as the numbness wears off and is replaced with unbelievable pain.
The third stage Is “Anger and Bargaining“. Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out in irritation at those around you–even those who have been supportive–and you’ll DEFINITELY lay all the fury and condemnation for adultery on your disloyal spouse!! In the first stage you might be so stunned that you commit a “crime of passion” but this stage is different. In this stage part of you begins to rise up and say “HOW DARE THEY treat me like this! I am not a quivering bowl of jelly!” It’s part of you regaining your self-worth. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotions, but please do try to be mindful that a relationship can be permanently damaged if too much anger is released.
You may lose your faith, because how could a loving God do this to you? You ask yourself “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? It’s not fair!” You may think “I did NOT sign up for this!” You may also try to bargain in vain with God for a way out of your despair (“I’ll go to church every week if you just bring him/her back”). You may read some books on infidelity or join some forums and bargain within yourself “Okay I understand now. If I do X they will come back to me” or “If I stop doing A and start doing B, they will love me again.” The bargain is your way of trying to protect yourself so that this level of devastation can never happen again.
What you might be feeling:
- Sudden attacks of self-pity and frustration or bursts of outrage and a sense of injustice. I remember very distinctly thinking “Why me?” and “This isn’t fair!” and “This isn’t what we signed up for.” It also very common to feel like all the other couples in the world are in love and you’re alone.
- Bitterness or resentment. If are dealing with infidelity relatively young, you may feel bitter about having friends who tell you “You’re young! You can move on!” Or you may feel resentment over losing your hopes and dreams to an unfaithful partner. Many people describe feelings they’re not proud of, such as, “Why couldn’t it have been someone else instead?” One person may lose their spouse after 30 years of marriage and upon hearing that her granddaughter is divorcing may be bitter and think “I’ll trade you any day! My whole life is destroyed!”
What you might notice:
- Irritation when others complain about things that seem petty and unimportant compared with what you’re going through. “Why are you complaining about the dry cleaner, my spouse CHEATED!!!”
- A desire to avoid certain social situations, particularly those where others are celebrating (like a wedding) or self-congratulatory (like winning an award). You don’t feel like celebrating or like a winner!
- Anger and bitterness over others’ sincere expressions of sympathy. Someone saying “I understand,” or “Is there something I can do?” might make you want to scream, for instance.
- A tendency to react with mistrust and sarcasm.
What to do:
- Tell people what happened. It can be hard to bring it up, but it’s even more uncomfortable when people who care about you put their foot in their mouth because they aren’t aware. There may not ever seem like “an appropriate time” so sometimes you just have to say it. People can be more supportive than you think, and some will really “get it.” This may also stop most of folks who are just having a bad day from dumping on you.
- Have compassion for yourself. When feelings of anger and bitterness are separating you from others, instead of berating yourself for your lack of compassion, turn that compassion on yourself. You’ve just had a MAJOR emotional trauma, and it’s natural to take some time to recover. Talk to yourself with sympathy and forgiveness and remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way.
- Avoid those who bring you down. If you notice that certain people or situations bring on a dark mood, a trigger, or anger, it’s perfectly okay to politely decline — you’re protecting both of you. For instance, if a certain friend tends to initiate a “pity party,” put that friendship on hold for awhile. If being around your happily married siblings leaves you in a puddle of tears, you can decline until you feel up to it.
On Wednesdays, I join these godly link-ups:
- How Divorce and Death are Alike (christinehammondcounseling.wordpress.com)
- Healing Anger (emotionallyintelligentleader.wordpress.com)
- Pain & Guilt – the 2nd stage of dealing with an affair (affaircare.com)
- Forgiveness in the Face of Turmoil (And a Confession) (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com)
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