Anyone who thought they signed up for a traditional, monogamous marriage, only to discover their partner had other ideas about monogamy, remembers the horrific moment they realized they had been betrayed. People have described being curled up in the fetal position unable to move, in bed for days, crying and/or screaming uncontrollably for days, rage, revenge, and on and on. The definition of betrayal: "an act of deliberate disloyalty," "destroying someone's trust" suggests why it is one of life's more challenging lessons. Betrayal, particularly in a marriage, is done by someone close to us which contributes to the devastation. The one person we thought we could trust has been lying to us, and betrayed us emotionally and physically.
How can you find out if your partner is having an affair is a topic on its own? In this digital age, many clients have discovered their spouse's betrayal through the digital footprint of texting, calling, dating websites, email etc. There is the old-fashion way of hiring a private detective. If you have followed guidelines for having a healthy marriage, you and your partner will be having lots of conversations and might not have to go through betrayal. Hopefully your spouse would have expressed his/her concerns to avoid the affair, but if not you probably would sense something is different. Now the challenge is, deep down you may suspect but don't want to know your best friend/partner/lover is betraying you. Most of us look back and in retrospect can see the signs but fought bringing them to consciousness. We can't imagine and don't want to live our lives being suspicious so the knowledge usually hits us like a kick to the gut! However, you found out, let's focus on what is next?
My experience is many people will deny their affairs even when confronted with evidence. So again, another challenge, you are fighting to get information you don't want from someone who doesn't want to tell you and may deny forever. Assuming you believe your spouse is having an affair, the stages of grief set in. Denial protects us as we go in and out of disbelief. How did this happen, how long did it go on, what did I miss, what does the other person know about me, what have they done together, I want to know everything, I don't want to know anything, will it stop, how can I ever trust again, how can I trust my spouse again are some of the thoughts that grab our minds with a vengeance. In the beginning, time is the best healer. Our nerve endings are so raw; it feels like we can't make it another day. The course of action during this phase is:
- Hire a therapist
- Take medication if necessary particularly so we can sleep
- Put one foot in front of the other
Once we get to a place where we know we will survive and the fog starts to clear a bit, there are so many practical questions. One set of questions arises if we choose to stay together and another if we separate. As a therapist, I cannot see how you can stay together unless you set some boundaries.
I recommend two boundaries initially. One, the affair must stop and two, you and your partner must go to therapy either both individually and couples when you are ready or couples alone. If your partner is willing to do both there is hope and you may choose to stay together while you work things out. This is a challenging road and with the right help and two motivated people you can heal and rebuild your marriage.
If your partner refuses to do either of these, it is probably best to separate. If your partner says he/she will stop the affair but will not get help, I am not optimistic. What happened and why did it happen are not addressed and you are at risk for the affair continuing or another one coming along at a different time. If you stay together and are in therapy with a competent therapist, all the questions about how to handle the children, the affair not letting go, seeing the affair, how to end the interactions, how to rebuild trust, etc. can be discussed with the therapist.
If your spouse refuses the above two boundaries and you separate, I highly recommend you go into therapy. You and the therapist can discuss how you will move forward when all you want to do is go to bed and stay under the covers. You should continue to do all the things that nurture your soul even if it means being at children's events with "them". Don't get caught up in not letting "them" change your life. Go to what is important knowing that eventually your body will calm down when you see "them" and you will move forward. Reinventing yourself means introducing new things into your life. It can be a win-win if you focus on what is truly Important to you and take a stand for being a part of the events that are important to you and replacing the ones you can discard.
"Be strong because things will get better. It may be stormy now, but it never rains forever."
Dr. Anne Brown PhD, RN of Sausalito, California, is a psychotherapist, speaker, coach, and the author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No . Anne's approach is especially applicable to people affected by divorce. Backbone Power is a no nonsense self help guide to making decisions while having backbone and integrity in all your choices, short term and long term. In addition to helping the divorce community, Anne has over twenty years experience as the trusted advocate and advisor to influential corporate leaders, trial attorneys, athletes, leaders, physicians and others seeking actionable guidance. Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia, BS in Nursing; Boston University, MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing; and International University, PhD in Addiction Studies. In 1997 Brown also reached a personal goal of obtaining her Black Belt in Soo Bahk Do. You can contact Dr. Anne Brown through her website: www.BackbonePower.com .