No More Lies! How to Move Through the Betrayal of Infidelity

Infidelity in the United States is responsible for 20-40% of divorces

Posted Dec 07, 2020

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Source: Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

“I can’t even look at him in the face anymore. How am I going to go through the divorce process across the table from him?”

These words were said to me through a client’s heaving tears. She recently found out that her husband had an affair. 

Before she had any chance to process the deception she was thrown into the intense experience of divorce court. 

She is not alone (The American Psychological Association has found that infidelity in the United States is responsible for 20-40% of divorces).

But she sure felt alone. 

She described feeling confused, nauseous and lightheaded whenever she would step into her lawyer’s office. 

She knew she had to focus, but her emotions were overwhelming. 

Managing intense emotions during divorce proceedings is essential. As my colleague, and award-winning divorce attorney Susan Guthrie explains, “the number one cause of a long, drawn out, expensive divorce, is the strong emotional content of one or both of the parties. When you stray outside the marriage, you will find that the emotional storm that ensues will make your divorce longer, harder, and usually much more contentious.” 

Most people who have been cheated on hope that the court will provide some perk to the person who was betrayed in the divorce judgment. However, as Susan explains, “there are generally no legal ramifications to adultery. The legal reality is that cheating has little, if anything, to do with how the law views issues such as the division of property, support and custody.  So often, when we are betrayed, we want some sort of ramifications for the wrongdoer, but the laws do not support this.“

Courts only bring the adultery into consideration if it was the actual cause of the “breakdown” of the marriage. As Susan explains, “the court asks ‘did the adultery actually cause the breakdown?’ While the answer may seem to be an immediate yes, because the discovery of the adultery led to the divorce filing, the way that courts actually view this issue is that marriages that are healthy and intact, do not see people straying. In other words, cheating is a symptom of an already broken-down marriage, not the cause of it.  Whether one agrees with this view or not, that is what the law sees as relevant and so, in almost all cases, the judge does not generally take the adultery into account when making any rulings about your money or your children.”

This legal fine point might seem deeply unfair to the person who was betrayed. Many clients Susan and I work with feel betrayed by the courts after their experience is dismissed in this way. 

What a challenging position to be in. As Susan explains, “even though the court may not take the adultery into account in its determinations, the spouse who has been lied to, cheated on and who feels betrayed almost certainly will.  Their emotions will be affected, and trust is very often difficult if not impossible. The fact is, that when you most want to sit down and have rational and effective conversations about how to reorganize your family and do what is best for your children, it is very difficult for someone caught in the emotional tailspin of finding that their spouse has cheated on them to remain calm, cool and clear-headed.”

So, what can you do to manage emotions after an affair to make sure you do not lose money, time and your mind? 

You can work on ways to process and move the betrayal through your body so you can show up as your best self for your divorce proceedings. I go deeply into how to do this in my online program and in my book Light at The Other Side of Divorce: Discovering the New You (now available for pre-order). 

I will share a few tips here:

Allow yourself to feel your feelings when you are alone. I know there is a lot to do when you are preparing for a divorce, but take time everyday to sit with yourself and allow your feelings. You might try meditation, journaling, or sitting and staring at the ceiling. There is no right way to connect to your feelings. Simply give yourself 3-5 minutes a day to take your emotional temperature.

Reach out to people who support you where you are. Your feelings of betrayal are real. Share them with others. Share them with people who are your cheerleaders and know in their guts that you will make this through. Avoid people who want to continually talk about how terrible your ex is. You can spend some time bad mouthing them, but most of your time should be focused on how you are strong enough to make it through this.

Protect your nervous system by using positive cognitions.  When you are preparing to go to court prepare 1-2 self statements to help you stay focused on your goals. For example, “I will advocate for my needs regardless of how angry I feel.” “I will allow for my wise and rational mind to prevail.” “This divorce proceeding is a place for deal making. My therapist’s office is a place for emotion.” Do not invalidate your feelings, but rather let yourself know there are places for emotions and places where rationality wins out. I like to say to myself, “I am going to put these feelings on the shelf. I will be back for them, but for now I am going to put them to the side.”

Betrayal erodes our innate feelings of connection and trust. Rebuilding takes time. You might not be fully healed by the time you have to step into your divorce proceedings. That’s ok. Take small steps to take care of your emotions in the moment and lean in to the longer term healing. You can do both! I know you can.

Can you think of a time when you had to put your emotions on the shelf to really get what you needed?