There’s nothing that quite compares to the day you learned your spouse was having an affair. Whether it was emotional infidelity or a physical affair, infidelity in marriage is devastating. It’s akin to the death of a loved one. In fact, like coping with death, there are stages of coping with infidelity too. Understand the stages and you’ll be more prepared to survive it.
#1 Disbelief and Denial
The first stage of coping once you’ve learned of the infidelity is disbelief. This may last mere seconds or it can last for weeks. You may simply not be able to believe what you heard or saw, even if you see it with your own eyes. If you had 100% trust in your partner, the disbelief and denial can be very strong.
It’s important to understand that not everyone goes through all of these stages and they may not occur in the same order for you. You may skip right over some of the stages or emotions. You’re an individual – there is no right or wrong reaction to infidelity in marriage.
However, one very common and prevalent stage of coping is anger. Initially, the anger you experience may feel all consuming and overwhelming. Some describe it as rage or fury. Anger is a normal and healthy response to the betrayal you’ve experienced. It can last for months, or even years, and may show up unexpectedly when you think you’ve moved past it. It’s important to remember that anger is normal and not judge yourself for feeling this emotion. That being said, it’s also essential to not let anger control your life.
You may feel jealous of the other person. After all, they’ve gotten close to your spouse and you may feel like they have something that you don’t have. You may also begin to feel:
Jealousy is a very negative emotion and while it’s certainly okay to feel it, it’s important to try to move past it quickly. It can be destructive and derail you from the path to recovery. Allow yourself to feel these emotions while keeping in mind that you’re only going to feel them for a short time. In fact, you might consider setting a timetable to experience the emotions. For example, you can set aside a time once a week to spend ten minutes experiencing these negative emotions. Then you can stop and do something fun and positive.
#4 Shame and Guilt
Everyone has their own beliefs about infidelity. You may even have prior experiences with the issue or have inherited beliefs from others. For example, if your best friend experienced infidelity, or you watched your parents struggle with it, then you may have adopted their beliefs on affairs. You may believe that it’s your fault that your spouse cheated, or that infidelity is the end of a marriage.
It’s crucial to explore your beliefs about marriage and infidelity and to make decisions for yourself. Just because your friend or parents dealt with infidelity in a particular way doesn’t mean you have to follow the same path. You are an individual and your marriage is unique. You and your spouse have to make the decisions that are best for you.
As you experience the shame and guilt associated with infidelity it’s important to analyze where these feelings are coming from. Turn them around. Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way and if you truly believe that you have anything to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. If so, then make changes so you can move past it. Guilt and shame are unproductive emotions.
#5 Loss of Hope
This is another emotion, like anger, that may creep up from time to time. Surviving infidelity in marriage is a process. It can take years to rebuild your marriage. When you feel a loss of hope, try to find something positive to focus on. It doesn’t have to be something associated with your marriage. Gratitude for the small blessings in your life can be very powerful.
For example, you may have a disagreement with your spouse and feel a loss of hope months after you’ve been working on repairing your marriage. Instead of allowing hopelessness to settle in, make a conscious effort to think about the good things that you have in your life. Maybe you have beautiful and happy children. Maybe you love your job or maybe you’ve planned a trip with friends that you’re looking forward to. There’s always something to be grateful for. Focus on that and chase hopelessness away.
Vengefulness often occurs right after anger and before jealousy. You may consider lashing out and having an affair of your own. You might also imagine doing something harmful to your spouse or their lover. Again, this is a natural emotion. However, acting on it will only further harm your marriage and cause you great regret. This is another occasion where gratitude can help you move past it. And as George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.” Begin to focus on improving yourself and your life and let revenge go. You deserve better than that.
Assuming you want to move forward beyond the infidelity, there will come a time when you feel hopeful. You can repair your marriage and experience a stronger, better and healthier connection to your spouse.
Mort Fertel, of Marriage Fitness says, “Life begins as a connected experience in the womb of our mother. When we’re born and that physical connection is severed, we yearn to connect again. How we go about creating that connection and how well we succeed becomes the story of our life.”
Feeling hope is the beginning of your future. Ideally, if you’ve suffered infidelity in marriage you’ve sought resources to help you cope. Look at marriage coaching, counselors, marriage repair programs, and expert books or programs to help you deal with the affair.
And according to Marriage Sherpa, “In dealing with infidelity, you suddenly realize your marriage license didn’t come with a manual to help you navigate through challenging marital troubles—especially those that are related to a spouse’s infidelity.”
You don’t have to cope with infidelity alone. Understand that recovery is a process and your emotions are normal. Find resources to help you deal with your emotions and move forward with your marriage and your life. You can survive infidelity in marriage.