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Trusting Your Instincts After Your Spouse Cheats

How to make decisions in the midst of self-doubt.

Key points

  • Discovering your spouse has cheated can cause severe stress and even trauma.
  • If your spouse has cheated, it can take time to trust your instincts.
  • You can relearn how to trust yourself after discovering your spouse was unfaithful.
Photo by Eddy Billard on Unsplash
Photo by Eddy Billard on Unsplash

You find out your spouse has been cheating. Up until that moment, you had no idea. Never would you suspect they were capable of it or that you would miss the signs if they were.

But here you are, feeling as if your gut has failed you. Left traumatized with a condition some mental health professionals call post-infidelity stress disorder (PISD) and distrustful not only of others but of yourself.

Though not a diagnostic category itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, Debra Yeager, LCSW, CST, describes PISD as similar. “Those who suffer from PISD relive the trauma of discovering their spouse has been unfaithful much as they would if they survived a car accident or violent act.”

In addition to reliving the moment of discovery, Yeager says, “What happens after is that everything in your life gets filtered through this lens. Not only do you question yourself about the cheating — ‘how did I miss it, did I miss it, or did I ignore it?’ — you start questioning your ability to see new relationships as they are, without the experience of infidelity coloring them.”

So, how do you learn to trust your instincts again?

Take care of yourself.

Finding out your spouse has been unfaithful is a shock to the system. As your emotions drain you of your energy, it can affect you physically.

Recovering from a spouse’s betrayal requires mental and physical stamina. Integrative health coach Elise Abbruzzese suggests doing your best to “eat nutrient-dense foods regularly, get enough sleep, move your body, and assemble a strong support system made up of positive-minded friends, a mental health professional, and an integrative or functional medicine doctor to oversee your care.”

Abbruzzese also recommends adopting a daily meditation practice to help minimize stress and relieve anxiety.

Allow yourself to grieve.

Grief doesn’t come with instructions or a timetable. Grieving is also not a linear process; there will be progress and setbacks.

The better you understand grief’s twists and turns, the more realistic your expectations will be for how long it may take to feel like yourself, feel confident that you are looking at your current situation objectively, and trust your decisions.

Yeager says, “You can only pretend you’re OK for so long. Though you may appear fine and tell everyone, including yourself, that you’re fine, until you work through your grief, it will overshadow your thinking, confidence, and ability to assess situations with accuracy.”

Don’t punish yourself.

As you get a handle on your physical health and begin the grieving process, you may start revisiting the circumstances surrounding your spouse’s infidelity, asking yourself: “What led up to the affair? What signs did I miss? Did I do something to cause it? Was there anything I could have done to prevent it?”

Yeager says, “Sufferers of PISD take the questioning a step further, asking, ‘If I was wrong about my spouse being someone I could trust, what do I know for sure?’”

Going down the rabbit hole, Yeager says the aggrieved spouse may question if their spouse ever loved them and wonder if their spouse cheated before.

These are tough questions because they force you to examine yourself and your role. Such introspection can be positive or negative. If you are inclined to blame yourself for others’ actions, you have work to do.

Yeager says, “If you continually view yourself as having misstepped at every juncture, you will have difficulty trusting yourself again. It means you’re not objectively assessing the situation and have yet to begin dissecting it so that it can become instrumental in your healing and growth.”

Acknowledge why you were blindsided.

At a point in your recovery, you will ask the same questions but answer with some clarity: “I had a hunch something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to face the possibility, so I overlooked it.”

Yeager says, “This isn’t self-blame. It demonstrates a willingness to be honest with yourself without being destructive.”

When you can recognize your actions for the role they played in being blindsided, you will enjoy a newfound sense of control, which may have been lacking since first learning your spouse cheated.

Yeager says, “Feeling in control demonstrates that you have begun to trust your instincts again and that what they communicate is information you can rely on.”

Rebuild trust in yourself slowly.

Trust is the foundation on which healthy relationships are built. When trust between partners is broken, it can take a while to rebuild since it took a long time to establish it in the first place.

Yeager says, “The same is true for the trust we place in ourselves, which we develop and nurture from the time we are born and begin learning about the world.”

Given how this process started for us long before meeting our spouse, Yeager continues, “It’s logical to assume that if the faith we have in ourselves was compromised, it’s going to take more than a little effort to get it back.”

Just as when you were a child and began learning to trust others and yourself from small instances — that your parents would return after leaving a room, that if you ate too many cookies, you would get sick, and that if you got too close to a bee, you could get stung — you are going to have to relearn to trust your gut in small ways.

Good news: Even when trust in yourself has been broken, you haven’t stopped relying on your instincts to make decisions. From the moment you wake up, you make choices, choices that don’t require much thought. The key is to recognize decision-making as it occurs and that, most of the time, it’s your gut steering you and steering you right.

As your confidence grows, you will feel empowered and better equipped to tackle the more complex choices you currently face, such as addressing the issues in your marriage or pursuing a divorce. If you trust it, Yeager says, “your gut will let you know which.”

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