Pain & Guilt–the 2nd stage of dealing with an affair

The trauma of discovering  the betrayal of infidelity can be devastating.  Trying to describe the pain is impossible, because literally nothing in the world is as emotionally painful as a betrayal of that magnitude.  Although no two couples recover exactly the same, we have found generally seven stages in the healing process.

The first stage is “Shock and Denial,” and as we mentioned it can last hours, days, or weeks.

The second stage “Pain and Guilt” begins as the numbness wears off and is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain.  Many people describe it as feeling as if there is a hole in their chest or like their heart was ripped out through their chest.  Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with drugs or alcohol.

During the “Pain and Guilt” stage, you may feel utterly overwhelmed with the emotional pain and wonder if you’ll be able to live through it.  Honestly, people often have suicidal thoughts during this stage or at least think “I can’t do this.  I can’t survive this.”  Your spouse’s infidelity may also stir up guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one.  The “What Ifs” can creep in…or the “Shoulda‘s” (as in “I shoulda done this…I shoulda done that”)  and you’ll feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world trying to figure out what you could have done differently to keep the affair from happening.  This is the stage where you blame yourself for what they chose to do.

What you might be feeling:

  • Extreme mood swings — you’ll begin to get in touch with feelings again, and usually they “feel” like they are all over the map.  You’ll go from hopeful and pretty okay one moment, to literally a pile of fear and hurt the next.
  • Despair and Shame — You’ll feel overcome by a sense of futility or defeat, and your head will wonder how you’ll bear the shame of either letting your spouse cheat…or being a divorced person.  Divorced!  You never thought that word would apply to you!
  • Guilt — Yes you’ll feel guilty about the things you should have done or regret the things you did that you wish you hadn’t…but in addition you’ll likely feel like a horrible person over having completely normal thoughts.  For example, the parent who has the children may think they are a HORRIBLE PERSON because they wish the kids would just leave them alone!  Well it’s normal to want some time to yourself to recover, and that doesn’t mean you wish you didn’t have your kids or don’t love them.
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion —  You might feel like you can’t get out of bed in the morning, or like in my case, the constant adrenalin from always fighting felt like I fell off a cliff once he moved out and there wasn’t the adrenaline “rush” anymore.  Physically, you probably aren’t eating right,  barely sleeping , and probably not taking care of yourself.  Emotionally you feel like you can’t go on any longer.

What you might notice:

  • Tears that come when you least expect them.
  • Obsessive thought patterns, 
  • Lethargy — feeling overwhelmed and defeated, asking yourself “what’s the point?”

What to do:

  • Find ways to turn off the “mind movies” replaying in your mindIf there are moments or images that are particularly traumatic to remember (the way you discovered, for example, or the image of catching them “red handed”), talk through the memories with family members,  friends, or a trusted mentor or counselor.  Talking about it out loud allows you to get the dark feelings and fears out in the open so that you can stop the obsession.
  • Ask for help. Look for a support mechanism that works for you.  Some folks like a group such as a counselor’s support group or a women’s group at church. Some more introverted folks may prefer one buddy who’s been through something similar or a therapist/pastor who can help you work through these very difficult feelings.
  • Force yourself to reach out. It’s easy to hide away or isolate yourself when you feel that you’re “not at your best,” but this is just the time to reach out. Put a few close friends or family members on alert by saying, “I’m having a pretty tough time right now. Can I call you when I’m really feeling down?” Setting this up ahead of time gives you permission to pick up the phone.
  • Let yourself off the hook. If you’re experiencing guilt for things you should have done, or regret over things you wish you hadn’t…just remember that it’s perfectly normal and natural to have these feelings.  It’s nothing to feel bad about if you feel relieved that that the lies and arguing or over, or to feel like you want some time to yourself.  You’re not a bad person…just a normal person.

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