Learning that your spouse has cheated on you is one of the worst discoveries you can make in a marriage. Whether you find out because your spouse comes to you and confesses, or you uncover clues that lead you to the unpleasant truth of his straying, the realization that you have been betrayed can make you feel shocked, angry, filled with self-doubt, depressed, and most of all, in deep pain.
Knowing that your husband has been adulterous may have you asking yourself a multitude of questions. How could someone who claimed to love me do something like this? Was I not good enough? What does the other woman have that I don’t?
Your marriage has been hit with a huge, life-impacting situation. Here are some of the ways you can cope with adultery:
What to do in the immediate: Take stock
You have been made aware of your spouse’s cheating. You are still in a state of shock but it is essential that you act rationally. If you have children, this would be a good time to have them visit your parents so that you and your husband can talk openly about this crisis situation. No parents close to you? See if a friend can take the kids for a day or two.
If children aren’t involved, let yourself process the news of your spouse’s adultery for 24 hours before you attempt to talk together. You need time to let what has happened sink in. Allow yourself to be with your own thoughts before discussing the whys and hows of his unfaithfulness. Cry, scream, pound a pillow with your fists. Let out the anger and hurt. This will be helpful in preparation for sitting down with your spouse once you feel you are capable of doing so.
It is normal to be experiencing some traumatic thoughts
Almost every spouse who finds out that their partner has been intimate with someone else states that they had obsessive thoughts focusing on what their partner did with the other person. They imagined them on a date, laughing and holding hands. They wondered about the sexual aspect of the affair. They alternated between needing to know each and every detail about the relationship, and not wanting to hear one word about it.
Having these invasive, repetitive thoughts about what went on during the time of the adulterous affair is a way for you to try and take control of a situation that is clearly out of your control. And although your spouse may try to convince you that it is better not to know anything about what he was doing to and with the other woman, marriage counselors disagree. Answering the betrayed spouse’s questions for as long as she feels the need to ask them is an important part of her ability to cope with the adultery, and, more importantly, to help her move forward with her healing process.
Beginning the conversation
Despite your angry feelings towards your spouse, you owe it to each other to talk about the betrayal and to see where you want to go from this point onward. This is not going to be an easy or short conversation, so settle in: You may be talking about this for weeks and months to come. Depending on the nature of the affair, the discussion will take one of two paths:
- You both want to work to save the marriage, or
- One or both of you wants to divorce
Whichever path the discussion takes, it can be useful to enlist the help of a licensed marriage counselor to help guide the conversation and keep it sane and productive. A licensed marriage counselor can provide you both with a neutral and safe place in which to unpack what happened and, if it is your choice, work towards putting the marriage back together with trust, honesty and a new commitment to fidelity.
Self-care strategies for coping with adultery
You are talking, both together and in the presence of a marriage counselor. You are focusing on healing your marriage and the issues that led to your spouse’s straying. But remember: you are the hurt party in this situation, and you need to pay special attention to self-care during this tumultuous time.
- Seek a balance between being mindful of the tremendous shift that your marriage has gone through, and distracting yourself with uplifting activities. You don’t want to dwell in the hurt, but you don’t want to try and ignore it either. Make time to reflect on the state of your marriage, and make equal time for exercise, socializing, or just chilling in front of a light television series.
- Think carefully about who you will share this information with. You want support from your close friends at this critical time in your life, but you don’t want to be the focus of the gossip mill. Confide in the people you know will treat this information with the sensitivity it deserves, and not go spreading hurtful rumors about you and your spouse through the neighborhood.
- Remind yourself that your husband’s extra-marital affair was in no way your fault. He may try and convince you otherwise by accusing you of being unresponsive to his needs, or that you had let yourself go, or that you were always too busy with the kids or work to pay attention to him. While there may be some truth to what he says, none of these things is a reason to step out of a committed marriage. Smart people communicate about problems before they resort to marriage-threatening adultery.
- Remember the saying “This too, shall pass.” In the immediate aftermath of adultery, you will feel devastated. But trust that this feeling will change over time. There will be bad days and good days, ups and downs in your emotional state. As you and your husband begin to untangle the reasons behind the infidelity, you will begin to experience more good days than bad days.
The road towards healing is long and windy
When you exchanged wedding vows, you never imagined that adultery would be the “worse” in “for better and for worse.” Know that you are not alone: it is estimated that somewhere between 30% and 60% of people have an affair at some point in their married lives. Many of those people go on to mend their marriages and make them stronger than ever. It takes dedication, communication, help from a caring therapist, and patience, but it is possible to come out the other side of an affair with a happier, more-solid and loving marriage.