Within a couple days of the release of Intimate Treason, I got an email from a woman saying how painful her life is not just because of what she has discovered about her boyfriend’s sexual acting out, but due to her own behavior. She went on to describe how she is “reacting, overreacting, misinterpreting, making assumptions, and driving myself crazy.” This is a most normal response. You feel shattered, you don’t know what or who you can trust; you realize you have been deceived but very likely doubt yourself. You want to know the truth, but don’t know how you will get it. You go into detective mode, searching for proof that the behaviors have really stopped, persistently asking questions —often the same ones over and over. You may fantasize about what your partner did and what it looked like, or you could be having revenge fantasies. These are responses to feeling emotionally out of control, common responses to overwhelming trauma. Wanting to give readers a foundation of stability, co-author Cara Tripodi and I discuss the managing of triggers.
Triggers can be events, situations, sensory memories and /or circumstances that remind the partner of the betrayal; they send warning signals you might be in danger. Triggers can reflect a real or imagined threat but foremost are a learned response to the original trauma of discovery. Your feelings are overwhelming and often lead to acting in ways that are only hurtful to yourself or others. We explain what happens in a triggering moment and try to normalize such a reaction. At the same time we offer a variety of distraction strategies, imageries and grounding statements to lessen the emotional intensity and reactivity. Managing triggers may be one of the most challenging of all tasks in early recovery, and consequently it is pivotal to a partner’s recovery work. This is something that takes time, but realizing what is happening when it is happening is a start and quickly trying to identify and employ strategies to calm what is a trauma response will bring comfort to you at this incredibly painful time.