Help! My Spouse Just Disclosed an Affair!
Anyone experiencing the disclosure of their spouse's affair knows that it is like experiencing the sudden death of a loved one. It's surreal and hard to adjust to the reality of the loss--the loss of what you "thought" your relationship once was. Emotions vacillate between anger at the "other" person, anger towards the spouse who had the affair and anger at yourself for not seeing it coming. Questions like,
"How did this happen?"
"How could you do this to me/us?"
"How will we get over this?"
"Should I leave or should I stay?"
It's very difficult to think clearly. There is the initial shock of the information, then anger, and then the rumination about the what, who, and when. How you manage these first few days and weeks after disclosure can determine whether your relationship can survive this devastating betrayal. As a relationship educator and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, I work with many couples post-affairs and I've gathered these tips that can help during the first few days and weeks post-disclosure of the affair:
1. Practice self-care. Emotions are heightened when we go through strong emotional experiences--for both partners. Our heart can feel like it is literally breaking. Self-care is vitally important during this time. What is self-care? Anything that calms us, grounds us, and helps us get through those moments when the emotions seem to blindside us and overwhelm us. They are healthy coping mechanisms designed to reduce our anxiety and lesson the intensity with which we experience those moments. While drugs and alcohol can produce this same effect, when we become dependent on those to calm and soothe us, we eventually cause other problems in the relationship. When moments seem to be too much, go for a walk, call a trusted friend or family member, or even your pastor. If you have a favorite animal in the house, sit down and pet it, lay down and take a nap, listen to some soothing music (something with no words is often helpful so that nothing in the song re-triggers those strong feelings), meditate or pray. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep and good nutrition are especially important in the days and weeks ahead.
2. Do not make any major decisions during emotional times. While you may need to distance yourself from your spouse when emotions run high, don't make the split decision to divorce, separate or move out. Let some time and space give you some grounding before making these decisions. Seek counsel from a pastor or trusted friend who supports your relationship whether you stay together or not, as well as a professional therapist. Many people react in anger and hurt soon after disclosure and then later regret having made the decisions they did. Take some time to vent to someone you trust. For the spouse who had the affair--you may be grieving the affair relationship and wondering whether you can survive your spouses anger and hurt during this time. You too, need someone who is for the relationship to vent to--someone who can give you sound advice and keep you grounded during this time.
3. Create a "sacred circle" of people that you can call in the middle of those upsets. This is key in those first few days and weeks after disclosure. Many times the person who was betrayed loses track of their hurt and begins to tell anyone and everyone in an attempt to get empathy and understanding and to soothe their pain. This can be damaging later on in recovery. Many friends and family members will take sides and then as you begin and go through the process of recovery it becomes something you can't reign in later on. And those people who took sides may not relent and block your progress of reconnecting after infidelity. If you cannot make these decisions together as a couple, pick one person each to talk to who will support you in recovery until you can sit down and talk about who else to "tell." It's important that you have key people to vent and talk to during this time, and the fewer the better.
4. Get information about affairs and recovery. There are many books and resources available to help you understand how to manage your hurt and pain (for both partners). Knowledge is key during this time--it can help you organize recovery, validate your pain (you are not alone!), and give you concrete tips to get through this.
5. Get professional help. There are many professionals trained to work with infidelity--psychologists, marriage & family therapists and spiritual directors who specialize in this field. Find someone who comes recommended, but if you cannot, look for those who work with couples in infidelity recovery. And if you find a particular counselor is not a good fit, find another! Both spouses need to feel understood and connected with the person who will be helping you navigate through this process. It may seem expensive, but many couples cannot recover on their own or by reading a book. While you would take your car to a mechanic if it had major engine failure (especially here in Southern California where we have to drive everywhere!), why investing in your relationship is just as important--even if you aren't sure you want to stay. Understanding how your relationship got to this place can be key to your own self-recovery.
Repair is possible and you CAN get through betrayal together. If you are in the San Diego area, I am specially trained to work with couples recovering from infidelity and would be happy to speak with you about support. Even if it's been a while since the affair, therapeutic support can help deepen the repair and connection. I can be reached at www.KimberlyMcNary.com.
Reprinted from original article 2012