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” but it is really that first emotional trauma right after discovery. Whether you found out accidentally or had a “gut feeling” and did some investigating, once you’ve found out for sure, the first thing that happens is a sense of shock that serves to protect you from the intensity of the emotional loss. Some people may describe it as feeling “numb” and it is a completely normal reaction to a profound loss. This should not be mistaken for lack of caring–it’s just that the loss is so deep and so overwhelming that the nervous system sort of shuts down.
For the first hours, days, even weeks afterward, you may feel like you just CAN NOT absorb what’s happened. It might feel like there’s a glass wall between you and your feelings. You know you’re hurt, but you can’t actually feel anything. The numbness protects you from dissolving, but it may feel a bit frightening, too — why can’t I cry?
Your spouse’s infidelity — especially if they move out to be with the Other Person — may also bring intense feelings of emptiness as if there is a hole left in your life. You’ve spent the past months or years loving them and caring about them, and it’s natural to feel aimless and like you are suddenly no longer needed. There is no purpose in life, and it seems like you are just “going through the motions” of living. This can’t be happening!!
What you might be feeling:
- Numb and traumatized — “This can’t be happening to me. This is a bad dream. When will I wake up?”
- The world just keeps turning — Your world has stopped and is all dark, and the whole rest of the world is still in the light and just keeps turning as if nothing happened.
- No purpose — The definition that connected me to the world and kept me going every day is no longer there.
What you might notice:
- Memory gaps — such as staring off into space for …you don’t know how long, being unable to remember what you did yesterday, or not knowing the last time you ate.
- Feeling out of touch with your real feelings — reacting in ways that don’t feel like “you,” such as snapping at the kids or feeling nothing when a friend tells you some happy news.
- Being disorganized and “spacey” — misplacing your keys or cell phone, losing your car in the parking lot, forgetting which day of the week it is.
What to do:
- Give yourself permission to feel however you feel. You’ve just been through an emotional earthquake, and the aftershocks are going to continue for a while. It’s okay if you can’t cry, and it’s also okay if you cry all the time or at inappropriate moments.
- Break through the denial. Recognize that numbness has a purpose: It keeps you from falling apart. But if feelings of distance and unreality are bothering you, use family members and close friends as touchstones. Prevent yourself from “stuffing” your feelings by checking in with others: How are you holding up? Talk to them.
- Pragmatic advice. Buy yourself some lotion tissues and some soup. If you cry a lot and use tissues that don’t have lotion, you’ll chap your eyelids and nose, and that hurts! And you’ll know you need to eat, but how do you swallow past that huge lump in your throat? Soup can be choked down, and it’s something warm and nutritious.
On Mondays I link up with this godly link-up:
- Broken Heart Syndrome: Now doctors say you really CAN die from a sudden shock to the system (mirror.co.uk)
- Managing traumatic stress: Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events (wisewolftalking.com)