What to Do When You Find That Your Spouse Has Had an Affair
It could be your worst nightmare to wake up one day and discover the love of your life had or is having an affair. Your spouse having an affair might be something you saw coming. For others it is a bomb dropped out of the blue. Regardless of how you found out about the affair, it is PAINFUL. To know your husband or wife was potentially touching, kissing, holding hands with, saying I love you to, or having sex with another person is devastating. You may obsess over the details of what might have happened and at the same time not want to know any of the details at all. It is possible you do not want to know what happened because knowing the details would make it even more painful. Or maybe you can’t stop thinking about what he or she did. You might spend hours or even days checking phone records, Facebook messages, emails, credit card statements, text messages, etc to find out what happened. These feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are so common. To be betrayed in this way is devastating, so devastating you may not know where to start to pick up the pieces of your marriage or if you should even try.
Here are some of the common phrases I have heard from men and women who have discovered their partner had an affair:
- How could this happen?
- Was I not good enough sexually? Am I not attractive enough? Am I not romantic enough? Am I not skinny enough? Am I not witty enough? Am I just boring?
- What do I do now? Do I get a divorce? Separate? Work it out?
- Who do I talk to about this? If anyone knew they would judge me or us?
- This will ruin our reputation of being the “it” couple everyone views us as
- What really happened? Did they have sex? How often did they have sex? Where did they have sex? What positions? What was he or she wearing? Did they have sex with them the same day they had sex with me?
- Does my spouse have an STD? Do I have an STD now?
- What else has my spouse been lying about?
- I need to find the person whom my spouse had the affair with and talk to them. Maybe it will help me.
Couples who have experienced this type of pain have often shared the above statements with me and in desperation do not know where to start or where to turn to get help. Affair recovery is challenging and therefore the following are some fundamental truths I have come to understand are essential for those who have been hurt by an affair to understand, so that they can heal in a HEALTHY way:
Healing Takes Time and Energy
Once you discover your spouse’s affair occurred you will mostly likely experience emotions many people experience when a traumatic event occurs. These symptoms mirror what many people know as post-traumatic stress disorder. It is common you will experience distressing recollections of finding out about the affair or images of what could have happened during the affair. This may be accompanied by distressing dreams about your spouse and the affair partner. There may be times when you actually physically feel like or act like the events leading up to the affair or the discovery of the affair are happening in the present. Also, you may experience intense psychological distress when exposed to objects and places that resemble aspects of your spouse’s affair. These symptoms may scare or confuse both you and your spouse and may have an even more of a negative impact on your marriage or the situation. These feelings and experiences are NORMAL in situations where affairs have occurred, but can make you feel alone and hopeless. These types of flashbacks and symptoms require therapeutic assistance and care.
Wanting to move on quickly or sweep what happened under the rug in the name of forgiveness or not dwelling on it is unhealthy. It is important to allow yourself to feel what has happened and to process through your pain over time. Learning how to process through this pain may require help from a professional.
Imagine being shot in the chest on purpose by someone you love. Would you expect the next day that you would be able to get up and walk around? Would you think that you could wake up the next morning and just let that person know it is okay they loaded a gun and shot you in the chest? In the same way we cannot just “get over” an affair after someone has hurt our heart. It will take time to nurse your own wound, as well as, it will take time to heal the relationship with the person who hurt you. You have to allow it time to heal properly, so you can truly heal. “Moving on” by putting it out of your mind and trying to forget about it is not a means of cleaning the wound. It is similar to putting duck tape over a wound. If you were to do this with a gunshot wound you would experience internal bleeding, infection, and possibly death. Similarly, if you just glaze over your pain and do not allow yourself to deal with it you will end up hurting yourself more and possibly experiencing the death of the marriage.
Your pain will come out in angry outburst at work or at your children. You may grow a silent bitterness towards your spouse if you decide to stay together that will continue to grow each year if it goes unchecked. You may hurt yourself physically or have self-hating thoughts. We must not avoid pain because in the end we will suffer more. We must be willing to deal with the pain temporarily, so that we can heal and move forward.
You Have Time To Make A Decision
Also, it is important to understand that making a quick decision during this time about staying together or getting a divorce may not be useful either. Just like someone who has been shot in the chest will have a hard time making big decisions it is the same way for someone who has just learned that their spouse had an affair. You will need to take time to assess the situation when you have healed in order to make a decision you feel good about. It is important to take time to gain an understanding of what happened. When you learn your spouse has just had an affair you may feel as though everyone is looking at you to see what decision you will make next. You may feel like you are on some sort of timer to make a decision about your relationship today or tomorrow. This is a FALSE sense of urgency. You may have friends say to stick it out with your spouse or to leave him or her. You may have your kids in mind and thinking about what they would want you to do. All of these factors make it difficult to make a decision. Instead of being impulsive, take some time to think about the decision you want to make. Allow yourself to hurt feel the pain, and process through it. After that begin to decide what you want to do. Consult with people you trust who are not biased and seek professional help.
There is Right Way To Heal
Similar to cleaning out a gunshot wound there is a PROCESS FOR HEALING when an affair occurs during a marriage. Putting duck tape over the wound may make the blood stop from oozing out of your for a few minutes, but will not heal the wound. In the same way there is a process for helping couples and individuals to navigate through after effects of an affair, so that they can move on and have healthy, functional, and fulfilling lives moving forward. Millions of people have experienced affairs. Fortunately because of this, there are materials and trained professionals out there to help couples to navigate through the pain of affairs. You may feel as though you can make it through by yourself, but there is a better and more effective way to move past the pain. Seeking professional help to assist you personally or to help you and spouse navigate through the pain may be essential in helping to heal. A trained therapist will help you to recover from the affair and will help you to navigate through the trauma. They will help you to understand what happened and why. Lastly, it will help you to make decisions where to go and what to do during each stage of recovery. We have therapists in our office who specialize in affair recovery and can to help you navigate through this tough time in your marriage.
Your marriage matters to God and because of that it matters to me. You do not have to walk alone through affair recovery and if you need help it is available to you.
Resources: Helping couples get past the affair a clinician’s guide Baucom, Donald H., and Douglas K. Snyder. Guilford Press; 2009.