As a mental health counselor in private practice, I often get confronted with the emotional aftermath of infidelity.The devastation is obvious when a betrayed partner walks into my office. Finding out your intimate partner has cheated feels like the floor has been swept from under your feet. Nothing seems the same anymore. Normal daily tasks become a heavy burden and the person is on survival mood. Finding out that the person you love has lied to you, kept secrets from you and shared intimacy with others hurts deeply. Trust is now non-existent and this all can lead to a depressed mood.
Finding out about infidelity in your intimate relationship can impact your sense of basic safety and can even cause post traumatic stress symptoms. Nervousness, a knot in the stomach, eating disturbances, sleepless nights filled with nightmares and waking up in panic, recurrent dreams or flashbacks of images seen or imagined, or avoiding situations or places can all get in the way of daily functioning. Being cheated on can make you feel like you landed in a living nightmare. If there are children involved the situation gets even more complex. Decisions to be made will influence not only the lives of the parents, but also the lives of the children. Therefore, making decisions to stay or divorce in a highly emotional state of mind is never a good decision.
Often the hurt party felt or intuitively ‘knew’ that something was just not right, that there was a part of their partner that they just could not comprehend. Sometimes there was a lack of intimacy, a lack of empathy or a lost connection in the midst of a busy daily lives filled with feeding hungry kids, driving to soccer clubs and ballet lessons and meeting work obligations. Often there were arguments that lead to nowhere with accusations and verbal attacks that only lead to more distance between the two people who once where so in love.
My clients ask themselves where it went wrong. What if they had been more attractive, thinner, younger, a better cook, more active and so on… Doubting yourself when the veil is lifted off your eyes and you are now aware that there has been infidelity that contaminated your relationship is a normal, but not a healthy reaction. Even though we are rarely the best we can be in a relationship, this never gives the other the excuse to cheat.
Often the betrayed party wants to know everything there is to know about the deceit. Again, this is a normal reaction in order to try to regain control over the situation. But is this helpful? Does it hurt any less to know that he slept with someone else twice or 50 times? Does it really matter if he chased 10 women or 50? The fact of the matter is that he was not keeping his promise to be exclusive. He was not thinking about the needs and feelings of his life partner when he was doing all these things. For a married man this means he did not keep his vows. Just thinking about the wedding, wearing a wedding ring or looking at wedding photos can cause distress for the betrayed spouse.
I believe and I have seen that healing a relationship is possible after infidelity if the relationship was ‘pretty good’ before the infidelity was discovered. For repair to have a chance to be successful there are three crucial elements.
1. The infidelity needs to stop immediately and the third party needs to be notified that there will no longer be any contact with the cheating partner (no emails, phone calls, meetings… absolutely cutting all ties).
2. Before relationship repair can take place, both partners need to first work on themselves. For the betrayed partner that means healing from the emotional wounds caused by the infidelity by taking good care of yourself, stop blaming yourself, and talking with a trusted friend or therapist, releasing anger and when the time comes… forgiving. Forgiving may seem impossible at first but it is crucial for moving on (with or without the other partner). Forgiving is necessary for yourself not for the other. Forgiving means accepting what happened (not forgetting!) and knowing you don’t like it, but you let go of all anger and resentment in order to move on. Without forgiveness one may stay angry and become bitter (or worse…get sick). For the cheater it means soul searching; examining his reasons for cheating, what is most important for him in life, his beliefs about marriage, honesty and faithfulness and feeling remorse for the pain that is caused by his behavior.
3. After steps one and two, there is room to work on the relationship again. Trying to fix a relationship between two ‘broken people’ is not easy, if not impossible. Only when the unfaithful spouse feels in his heart and admits that he was wrong, shows empathy for his partners suffering and both commit to healing the relationship there is a chance for being happy together once again. It doesn’t mean that a couple who is dealing with infidelity can’t live together while the healing process is happening. For some it may help to see the process the other partner is going trough. For others a (temporary) separation may be necessary.
If you still love each other, there is hope. Remember that time heals wounds. A therapist can help in the healing process and monitor the progression. A couples counselor can help with improving the communications and healthy expression of emotions between the couple. Trust can be restored if both are willing to work on themselves and the relationship. Couples that have survived infidelity have told me that their relationship is different now, sometimes closer and even better than before. It is a long road but it is not impossible.
For information on coping with infidelity, improving communication skills and improving your relationship check out workbook To Stay Or Not To Stay? It is designed to guide husbands and wives step-by-step in the decision to stay married or file for divorce. In each chapter, the reader is encouraged to examine the quality of their marriage and acquire a wide variety of new coping skills through various exercises provided. The reader will feel empowered throughout the book to be honest and introspective to gain clarity of mind. Readers will be able to identify with personal real life stories of people who walked in their shoes.
In some cases, repairing the relationship is not possible, then divorce is a last resort. If children are involved I recommend children’s book Nina Has Two Houses, to help young children and their parents, who are going through a divorce, adjust to the new situation. It can open up the topic and give parents the necessary tools to discuss important issues children of divorce are dealing with. Like the book on Facebook and find helpful tips for parents.
Danielle Jacobs, LMHC is in private practice in South Florida. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, A Parenting Coordinator for the courts, and a certified Hypnotherapist. To learn more about current workshops and groups, visit www.PositiveChangeForYou.com
- He Cheated, Will A Judge Hold Him Accountable?
- Are You Cheater Obsessed? Feeling Like No One Cares?
- The Top 8 Reasons Women Cheat: This May Surprise You!
- So He Cheated… Does That Make Him A Bad Guy?