Surviving Infidelity: Step One of the Women's Guide to Healing
What You Need to Know Right Now
Healing is probably a misnomer here; you're doing your best trying to make it through one minute to the next. And much of the time, wondering if you'll be able to do even that. Betrayal is one of the most painful events any person can go through, and it's so important to know how to take care of yourself. My work as a therapist in Northeast Florida that specializes in affair and betrayal trauma inspired me to write this post in the hopes that it can serve as a helpful support and guide for women trying to survive and heal from the pain of infidelity.
Before I go into details about how affair or betrayal trauma affects the betrayed partner, and list the best things you can do to take care of yourself in the aftermath, I want to start by simply stating this truth: this was not your fault.
This was not your fault!
There is nothing you did- or didn't do- to have caused your spouse to cheat. Period. You do not need to take responsibility for the infidelity; that responsibility lies with your husband. If the two of you seek counseling (and I sincerely hope that you do), you may learn about some dynamics you might not have been aware of previously, or other factors at play that might have contributed to the infidelity, but the decision to act out is not yours to own.
Which makes the suffering that you're now experiencing seem all the more cruel and unfair.
Understanding Betrayal Trauma
Betrayal trauma may be a term you've never heard before. Managing the aftermath of infidelity is traumatic. One of our primal drives is to be connected to others, and when this connection to our committed partner has been compromised by cheating, essentially creating that connection with another person, our body's hardwired response system flies into action just as it would when faced with any type of traumatic situation. If your spouse has been unfaithful, your whole world starts to cave in on you and you now have no idea what your future will hold. You begin to question your entire life up to this point, and you panic about what will happen next.
Betrayal trauma activates the Fight-Flight-Freeze response, a biological and physiological response to stressful situations that sends an immediate message of Danger! to the command center of the brain, which then activates a series of hardwired responses in the mind and body. Think of what it feels like the moment your brain registers that an approaching vehicle is about to crash into you; that panic sets in and instinctively you respond by yanking the steering wheel in the opposite direction or slamming your foot against the brakes. Your heart is pounding and you feel breathless, and all your attention is diverted to the essential task of keeping you alive and out of harm's way. Betrayal trauma continuously engages this stress response, which then compromises the individual's ability to ever fully calm down and "recover." This chronic state of heightened stress response negatively impacts the mind and body, and research has shown a direct link to cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and an array of mental health disorders. Read this article from Harvard Health about the Fight-Flight-Freeze response for more detailed information:
What to Expect Right Now
Betrayal trauma, like any other trauma, wreaks havoc on your emotional and physical well-being. You can't think straight, your can't concentrate, your memory suffers, you have no appetite or nothing satiates you, and you may experience the most intense- and frightening- mood swings at a rate you didn't think possible until now. You don't feel like yourself, and the thought that you may never feel "right" again is terrifying. This is normal and it happens to the majority of women who are facing the reality of life after infidelity.
One of the most dangerous things about trauma in general is the disconnect it creates in your mind, affecting your ability to think logically and critically. This is especially important when it comes to your safety and well-being because you will most likely have a difficult time managing thoughts about harming yourself or others, and imagining or wanting to escape the pain by ending your life. This is also normal, but it is critical that you seek immediate help if your thoughts about suicide or harming someone continue to increase and become more detailed and involved.
What You Need to Do Right Now
You need to find support. Tell someone you trust what's going on and enlist their help, even if that means they just check in with you once or twice a day. You can schedule an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Or call your doctor; you don't need to share the details of your story if you don't want to, but you can tell your doctor that you're facing something traumatic and describe what you're experiencing, like volatile mood swings and inability to think clearly and concentrate, or trouble falling or staying asleep. Medication for anxiety, depression, or emotional stability might be a huge help for you as you begin to process what has happened and where to go from here. I do not recommend taking medication without also working with a mental health practitioner.
Please don't suffer through this alone. You need a friend or professional or both to walk through this with you. And if you're trying to get help but that help doesn't feel supportive, keep looking! If you're in Florida, feel free to call my office at 978-403-0497 or email a request to firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation call and see if I am the right therapist for you. I'd love to help and currently offer both in-person and virtual appointments. If you live elsewhere, ask around for recommendations if you don't already have someone in mind; you do not need to provide personal details by inquiring.
I will be writing more on this topic and compiling a complete list of steps to take to help you get through infidelity and find healing. I'm in this with you and want the very best outcome for you.
Bethany Greenleaf Paige is completing licensure requirements in the state of Florida as a Registered Mental Health Clinical Intern. She is the founder of Compass Christian Counseling in Fernandina Beach and specializes in affair betrayal and infidelity issues, grief counseling for women struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss, and anxiety therapy for teens and adults.
Find information about her practice on the website: www.compasscounselgroup.com