When a partner finds out about an affair or a history of deceit, he/she will experience the full constellation of trauma symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, hypervigilance, depressed mood, anxiety. As a result, it is completely normal to feel disoriented and not thinking, feeling, acting like your old-self. Many people will describe a drowning-like experience…
Here are a few important ways to cope with distress after uncovering an affair
WRITE IT ALL DOWN:
Countless studies have demonstrated the cathartic value of writing all of our thoughts and emotions down on paper. If you keep a journal or want to write into your phone, it’s important to have an outlet to get it out of your system. So whether you are suppressing your emotions or ruminating, writing it all down will help you avoid digging a deeper hole for yourself. You will begin to gain some emotional release and clarity of thought.
As you transcribe your thoughts and feelings in writing, do you notice recurring themes, beliefs and emotions? A lot of your thoughts and questions will begin with detective questions. Overtime they will become more inquisitive and thoughtful. Be discerning about those elements that keep resurfacing, because those are the very things you have to be most focused on working with your couples therapist. You might will get overwhelmed and crowded very easily by other thoughts, feelings and sensations, but the most important ones are the heart of your pain. Only when those shift that you’ll know you’re coming to the other side.
When intrusive thoughts, images, or flashbacks catch you off guard, first tell yourself that it is ok and completely normal. Don’t beat yourself up about it. No matter how hard you try, during the initial period of finding out about a betrayal, you will have little control over the echos of this traumatic experience. Recenter yourself by noticing when they come, what are the triggers? These triggers might seem so inconspicuous, which is why they seem to catch up in unexpected moments. Take a slow deep breath. Focus on mindfulness exercises, such as square breathing (inhale in 4 breaths, hold for 4, release in 8). Another effective method is using your 5 sense: noticing something you haven’t seen before around you, close your eyes and listen for something new, taste something in your mouth and sit with the sensation, and lastly, focus on your sense of touch. These mindfulness practices will help you stop the spiral of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks so that you can move forward with your day.
As impossible as it might seem, it is essential that you rebuild your sense of self by reclaiming the parts that are not completely reliant on reestablishing security with your partner (that part will take time and guidance from a skilled couples therapist). What are some things you like to do or have wished to make time for in the past? Did you want to pick up a new sport, make time to meditate/yoga or take a class? Notice how none of those example are about “retail therapy” or partying it up to forget your pain? … The goal here is to build resilience and a sense of empowerment through activities that are meant to provide some reflection, connection, and joy. Doing something you enjoy will fill your emotional bank so that you can continue to work on repairing your marriage.