When your partner has had an affair
The most hurtful aspects of affairs is the realisation of the deceit and lies involved when you discover that your partner has been conducting an affair behind your back. All affairs are breaches of trust and betrayal, even if the affair has been an emotional one or a cyber relationship. The emotional impact of discovering that the person you love has been lying to you can be extraordinary inner turmoil. People have described a tsunami of pain, feeling like a constant churn in the stomach, when dealing with the aftermath of an affair. This emotional pain can feel like it is going to overwhelm you when your senses are super sensitive. These feelings can become more intense when you hear the songs that you associated with as a couple and as the memories come flooding back of your special times together. Quite apart from the emotional shock and hurt, there can also be feelings of shame and hurt pride about what family and friends might think if, or when, they find out what has been going on. It can be hugely unsettling at the prospect of a split from someone you have shared every intimate detail of your life with.
It is important to understand that you will not be overwhelmed with the level and intensity of emotional pain all of the time as these states of mind will pass. The intensity of the feelings will come in waves and, if you practice your self-care, your emotional response can be managed. Speak to close friends, allow yourself to grieve, be kind to yourself, avoid isolation and try not to act in a hasty manner. Allow yourself time to digest what has happened and try to avoid becoming hungry, lonely or tired. At times of emotional upset it is even more important to eat well, get good rest and stay connected to your social support network. You will inevitably feel anger but try to find a positive way of expressing it so it doesn’t consume you.
How you find out about an affair can determine the depth of your level of hurt. For instance, did you find out by chance, through a third party or did your partner come clean? The circumstances can also affect how you feel such as whether the affair has come to an end, whether you know the other person and how long it has been going on. There may also be health implications if your partner has had unprotected sex with another. It can be further complicated if you are married, have kids together and what you both wish to do in the immediate future.
Desiring revenge is a common feeling in circumstances of betrayal. You may feel angry not only towards your partner but also towards the third party. The injustice you may feel as a result of your emotional hurt and your subsequent loneliness may fuel your desire for revenge against both parties. This desire for revenge is entirely normal and you should not beat yourself up for feeling that way. Try to be kind to yourself and try to find a way of processing your feelings by talking to people you can trust. Having intense feelings does not make for clear thinking. Revenge, or even contemplating acts of revenge, only ever hurts the person doing the wrecking. There is an old saying that refers to the need to dig two graves if you are planning an act of revenge; one for the other person and one for yourself, as you suffer too.
How to proceed with your partner will be determined by the circumstances of the affair. You have a choice about whether you want to work at your relationship, seek a trial separation or decide to divorce. The obvious issues to address if you choose to try to make it work are your ongoing levels of trust and need for communication about why it happened. Affairs usually happen for a reason. The more that you can understand each other and meet each other’s expectations for one another the more likely it will be that you will stay together. Before that can happen there needs to be an acknowledgement of the huge emotional damage caused.
Couples counselling can help if both you and your partner want to work at the relationship. The process will give you an opportunity to listen to each other in a professional environment where a therapist can mediate your ongoing dialogue. Individual counselling may be more appropriate in the immediate term as you try to make sense about what has happened and where you go from here.
Couples who do manage to work on their relationship and recover from the affair can become stronger together. The more quality time you spend with your partner the more likely you can work things out. Learning to listen to each other again and to resolve conflicts will help to keep you together and to sustain the ups and downs that every couple encounter.
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About Noel Bell
Noel Bell is a counsellor/psychotherapist based in London who has spent the past 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, cognitive behavioural (CBT), humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.