“His affair is driving me crazy!” my client declared after sitting down on my couch. “I can’t sleep, I’m hardly eating, and all I want to do is monitor where he is and what he’s doing. I can’t think about anything else. I’m not even sure how to respond. What should I do?” Over the past few years I have had many women share similar experiences and ask the same question. As a result, I have developed a list of five questions you can ask yourself if you spouse has been cheating.

Question #1: What is the best response after discovering my husbands infidelity?

Soon after discovering infidelity, it’s normal to have a racing mind that feels out of control. It’s usually hard to focus and nearly impossible to stay on task. As a result, directly after discovering that your spouse has cheated, it’s best to avoid making any rash decisions. Let me give two examples that illustrate the problem of responding without thinking. In the first example, a client said to her husband just a few days after discovery, that she forgave him. A few months later, after realizing that his affair was not over, she realized that quick forgiveness, what Janis Abrams-Spring refers to as cheap forgiveness, was not helpful and in fact may have contributed to her husband’s continued betrayal. She wondered out loud, “Did my forgiving him make him think it wasn’t that big of a deal?” 

In the second example, a woman right after discovery told her husband that their marriage was over and that there was no hope for repair. Over the next few weeks, she realized that she didn’t really want a divorce, but due to her initial response, he had stopped trying to repair their marriage. His relationship with the other woman had ended, but his pride and her unwillingness to open up and discuss her true emotions prevented them from having a meaningful conversation about what they both really wanted. 

In both of these cases, rash statements hindered the change and healing process. While it is common to make quick judgments, a better response is to slow down and think through what has happened. I often tell people that discovery of an affair is like getting into a terrible automobile accident. Initially, you are in shock and may say and do things you wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. Once you have gathered your senses and have stabilized, your responses will be more effective. A good rule of thumb is to avoid making any important decisions right after discovery. As you gather more information, you will be able to make an informed decision rather than a rash decision in the height of emotion and stress

I have found that by slowing down the decision about whether the relationship should or should not continue (the recommitment process) allows time for couples to process what changes need to be made in order to heal.  You can read more of my thoughts on this topic at this link: Save Your Marriage After Infidelity.

Question #2: Am I experiencing trauma symptoms?

After discovering your partner’s affair, it is very common to experience symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, many people misunderstand PTSD and believe that such symptoms only manifest in individuals coming home from war or who have been in an accident. PTSD can manifest in multiple ways and may be present in up to 70% of individuals after discovery of sexual betrayal. (1) Since research suggests that trauma symptoms are common, it may benefit you to identify which of the symptoms of PTSD you may be experiencing.

The symptoms for diagnosing PTSD are as follows:

1.    Feeling a threat to life
2.    Reliving the event
3.    Avoidance of people, places, and activities previously enjoyed
4.    Negative mood and cognitions (e.g. I am not good enough)
5.    Emotional arousal and reactivity (e.g. Anxiety, hypervigilence)

If you would like to discover your level of trauma you can do so at www.discoverandchange.com/tipsa

Question #3: How has his affair changed how I feel about myself?

After discovering your spouse’s betrayal, it is very common to begin internalizing what happened. You may find yourself saying things like, “What is wrong with me?” Or “Was I just not enough for him?” I have witnessed individuals who are usually strong and self-confident experience significant self-doubt and fear after discovery. Their whole lives have shifted from feeling secure and safe, to anxiousness and fear. They have internalized their spouse’s behavior and now feel like there is something wrong with them. If you find that you are internalizing what your spouse did by blaming yourself, this is actually very common. In my research with more than a thousand women I asked them to rate this statement, “I feel like my partner acts out because I am not good enough.” While I thought the number would be high, I was very surprised that nearly 77% reported that they felt that way at least half of the time. 

You can see their responses in the chart below.

Kevin Skinner
Source: Kevin Skinner

What I have discovered is that this type of internalization doesn’t help the problem, in fact it leaves women further traumatized. If they believe their spouse’s sexual betrayal is their fault, each time their partner acts out they will feel again that they aren’t enough. Such beliefs don’t ever make the pain go away. 

In my book, Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal, I address one of the reasons why we blame ourselves after sexual betrayal. I have discovered that by taking the blame for sexual betrayal, somehow we think we can control the outcome. It sounds something like this in the mind, “If I was better, he wouldn’t have done this. So if I look better, lose weight, and have more sex his affairs will stop.” Unfortunately, ideas like this rarely create the change that really needs to happen after an affair. This is especially true when sexual betrayal stems from sexual compulsivity.

So how can you heal? 

If you are going to heal from betrayal, the answer lies within you. Learning to see yourself as a person of deep worth and value is a good starting point. The difference is that as you gain internal strength, you will naturally create boundaries in your relationship. You will realize that you matter and that such behavior is not okay. As you take these steps, the negative self-talk and feelings of self-blame melt away. 

Summary

If you are dealing with your husband’s betrayal, ask yourself these three questions: 1) What is the best way to respond after his affair; 2) Am I experiencing trauma and what is the level of my trauma; and 3) How has the affair changed how I feel about myself.  If you ask yourself these questions, you will make more informed decisions about your relationship, understand that what you are experiencing is trauma, and that the negative thoughts you have been having about yourself simply aren’t true. 

If you would like more ideas on dealing with your spouse’s affairs, I have 10 online videos that explain the process of healing after betrayal. You can learn more about how you can heal at www.discoverandchange.com/tipsa/solutions.

References

Steffens, B A., & Rennie, R. L. (2006). The Traumatic Nature of Disclosure for Wives of Sexual Addicts. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13, 247-267

About the Author

Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D.

Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the author of Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery.

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