Are You Hurting and Grieving After Your Partner’s Affair?
An affair, emotional or physical, takes a tremendous toll on a relationship – one from which some couples never recover. Many hurting couples may not realize that they both need to work through the process of grief to heal and recover. This is a personal recovery for each partner and a possible relationship recovery if that is what is desired.
Learning that your partner has cheated on you is most often a shocking and painful revelation, even if you had suspicions of their infidelity. You may feel that you have lost a considerable part of your world. Indeed, the loss of trust is ground shaking and as real as a physical loss. Your world may never be the same, and you may even suffer PTSD from the experience.
A dynamic that is often overlooked in dealing with the affair is the grief of the offending spouse. If you are the cheating partner and you have decided to end the affair, you too will need to grieve to get past the damage of the affair. Even though your pain and loss are self-inflicted, they are still real, and you are still human. You are not immune to the emotional and natural consequences of your decisions and actions. See the companion blog entitled “Grieving After Your Affair” for practical help.
The Grief of the Offended Partner
The process of grieving is the way to heal from a loss, even the loss of trust. You can’t heal if you don’t allow yourself to go through the stages of grief. Katherine Kubler-Ross described the process of grief as working through five stages. The stages do not follow an exact order, and the hurting person may experience them in any order and may even move back and forth between the stages. For example, applying the stages of grief to your loss of trust might look like the following:
In this stage, it isn’t easy to comprehend that this has happened. It is not what you had envisioned for your life and your relationship. Often, the offended partner will initially seek to minimize the damage and the pain as a way of coping. It is common to question the offending partner, repeatedly asking the same questions but in different ways as they seek to make sense of things. They are struggling to come to grips with the fact that this is happening.
With whom is the offended partner angry? Possibly everyone involved! They are mad at their spouse for betraying them, shaking their world, and destroying their security in the relationship. The affair partner is also the target of their anger for apparent reasons. First, the betrayed spouse may also become angry with themselves, blaming themselves for not being enough or doing enough for their spouse. Then, out of the fear of losing the relationship, the offended spouse may stuff their anger, leading to explosive bursts of rage later.
In the chaos of the emotions surrounding the affair, the offended partner may try to get closure too quickly. Having been made to feel helpless, they are just trying to regain some control. They try to come up with logical explanations for why the affair happened or where to put the blame. “What if the other person took advantage of my partner, and my partner is not at fault?” They may even try to explain it as their fault.
“What if I had asked more questions about who she was texting?” Wondering about the “what ifs” and the “whys” is part of the process, but it is essential to recognize that you may never get all the answers. There may be no logical answers or reasons. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t move through grief and heal.
Now the offended partner begins to feel the total weight of what has happened – the loss of a trusted relationship. One may have the sensation of heaviness and experience a desire to be alone. Questions can arise like: “Was our relationship all a lie?”, “Does my partner love me – did they ever?”, “Am I doomed to be alone?”, “What do I do now?”. It is vital during this stage to just do the “next thing.” If the next thing is to eat, just focus on that until you have fed yourself. If it is to shower and dress, do that. If it is to pay bills, then do that. Keep moving to the next thing as you work through your feelings of betrayal and loss. A word of caution: Depending on your situation, it might be best not to reach out to your partner’s family or your own. This could sabotage the repair of your relationship in the future. This may be the time to seek counseling from a clergy person or counselor to avoid getting stuck here.
Acceptance is when your focus shifts from the past to the present and future. It doesn’t mean that you have resolved all your issues and perfectly answered all of your questions. It doesn’t mean that hurt feelings won’t come back or that you won’t be triggered by things that remind you of the loss of trust. It does mean that you have acknowledged what has happened and how your life has changed. It can include hope to begin the process of restoring the relationship. You begin to envision your future and decide to move forward, even if the path is not yet clear. Begin with forgiving all involved so that you can heal and rebuild your life, free of anger, bitterness, and resentment.
It is possible to heal and restore the trust in a relationship if both partners are willing to work for it. Recon Coaching and Love Recon seminars can help. It’s what we do!