When an affair is discovered, it is devastating. It’s not unusual to feel in shock, anger, rage, depression, or even hopeless. Sometimes the initial shock can be paralyzing. Every person’s initial reaction is a little different. This blog, in particular, is for those whose spouses have committed infidelity.
There’s not necessarily a handbook or step-by-step manual of what to do next. What I can tell you is that there are some steps that need to be taken quickly. The following tips are what I have learned in my years of practice, and what I would encourage anyone to do should you discover your partner has been unfaithful.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind, if you are in an abusive situation, these do not apply. Get out and get help!
Don’t Make Knee-Jerk Decisions
Your first thought may be to go file for divorce. I understand that some couples do end up divorcing. Please do yourself a favor and take some time before making impulsive decisions out of hurt. Take some time to hear what your spouse wants moving forward. Do they want to reconcile? Do you want to reconcile? Is your spouse regretful and apologetic? Can you work through this together? Take as much time as you need to process the “next steps”.
You may struggle to have your spouse in your bed or in your house. It’s okay to request that they stay in another room or another location for a few days. It’s okay to take some time to process what you need and want. Just don’t make any rushed decisions that you may regret later.
Don’t Ignore It
I have worked with couples who come to counseling decades after an affair has occurred. The spouse who was cheated on was too scared to address it at the time. Maybe they were afraid that the other person might leave them. They were fearful, codependent, and didn’t set boundaries moving forward. They swept it under the rug and tried to move forward the best that they could.
The problem with this is, affairs don’t just go away. You can’t just pretend that it didn’t happen. An affair breaks trust, loyalty, and shatters the world you live in. Even if you think you have “moved on”, there’s a very real chance that the health of your relationship continues to suffer because of the affair.
Don’t wait years to address infidelity. Don’t be too scared to discuss how hurt you are and the devastation you feel. If your spouse leaves you or picks the affair partner over you because you try to set boundaries, let them go. Is that the kind of marriage you want to stay in?
Get into Therapy….Immediately
If your spouse is willing to reconcile, get into therapy NOW. Don’t wait weeks or months. A therapist can help you process the immediate crisis and set ground rules of what needs to be done. They can provide consistent accountability. A good therapist will help to make sure you both are working towards re-establishing a foundation for your marriage. They can help you figure out why this happened and help you both work towards being healthier individually and together.
If your spouse is not willing to go to therapy, go alone. Infidelity is devastating and can cause anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and hopelessness. Get support and validation for what you are feeling. Figure out what your future looks like moving forward. Work through the grief you feel and move towards healing.
Do talk about it
You need to talk about what happened. This means not just yelling or you talking at your spouse. This means taking time to process who, what, where, why, and how. Ask questions that you need to be answered. Share with your partner how you feel. Allow them to share as well. Schedule time daily to process how each of you is doing, and what you need from each other.
It is absolutely necessary to set boundaries moving forward. This can be very difficult and takes a lot of communication. Express to your partner what you need to be able to start rebuilding trust. Set time boundaries, intimacy and physical boundaries, and communication boundaries. If you need your spouse to check in with you at least once a day, it is okay to ask. If you want your spouse to come straight home from work for a while, that’s okay too. Whatever you need right now is okay to request, within reason.
Moving forward, you need complete honesty and transparency from your spouse. This means accountability of their whereabouts, who they are with, and what they are doing. This is not forever but will help to start to rebuild some trust. They need to cut off any communication with the affair partner and show you proof of that. This transparency may feel invasive to them, but it is necessary to prove that they are willing to do anything to save the marriage. For more information on ways to rebuild trust, click here.
Don’t tell absolutely everyone
You are hurting, and it may feel vindicating to tell everyone around you what has happened. You want others to know how awful your spouse is, and you want your spouse to hurt as well. Here’s the thing: other people won’t forget. Should there be any chance of reconciliation, you need to be cautious who you share this with. Other people may not be able to move on and forgive the other person, even if you want them to, and even if you choose to.
Pick a small, close group of trusted people to share with. Let these people be your support and your community while you grieve. Be cautious about telling your family members, especially. If you reconcile, they may have the hardest time accepting your spouse being a part of the family.
Let yourself feel your feelings
When an affair is discovered, it can trigger grief. You may grieve the loss of the relationship, the loss of trust, and the loss of who you thought your spouse was. This is all normal. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be angry, sad, in denial, and question everything. It may be hard to function or get out of bed. These are normal reactions. Allow yourself the time to process and work through the many feelings infidelity may stir up. Your feelings are valid and real.
If you are reading this, and any of this resonates with you, please reach out for help. You don’t have to go through this difficult time alone!
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.