Discovering your spouse had an affair comes with an avalanche of emotions. Feeling lost, abandoned, angry, or disillusioned is normal.
The world you know now may feel wildly different than the one you knew before the discovery. I often hear: “I feel like I’m going crazy.” Expecting well balanced emotions, during this time, is expecting too much. You may feel calm one moment, and frenzied the next, sometimes within the same hour.
Your sense of specialness takes a hit. You may ask yourself: “Did he or she ever love me?” It wouldn’t be uncommon for you to turn your emotions inward. Questioning your identity, you may begin seeing yourself as flawed — “What’s wrong with me.” Blaming yourself, you’re likely to grow angry for ignoring the warning signs.
Anger and sadness are expected emotions. In the aftermath of the discovery, below are some reactions you may have not expected:
Obsessive thoughts: You will want to turn the thoughts off. But they are an understandable reaction to the reality you’re facing. The thoughts may be images of your spouse with the affair-person. You may find yourself trying to piece together all the times he or she said, “I was overwhelmed at work. Sorry I’m late.” Your unanswered questions will feel like you’re emotionally trapped in a revolving door.
Disconnection: Isolating yourself feels like the right thing to do. You wonder: “How will my family and friends respond if I tell them?” “And what if I decide to stay? They will think I’m a fool.” As a result, you’re likely to isolate yourself to avoid embarrassment. The struggle of knowing who to confide in may persuade you to keep silent.
Shame: It’s not uncommon to experience shame. Shame convinces you, you are the only one dealing with this. Under those circumstances, you would rather hide. Shame will cause you to feel like a failure, in particular, when you’re emotionally and mentally unsettled. Knowing your marriage is forever tainted adds to the humiliation.
Nothingness: It wouldn’t be surprising if you felt nothing. This worries some people — “Shouldn’t I feel something?” Not necessarily. It’s a common response. Your body and mind are activated as a self-protective response from the overwhelming emotion you’re experiencing.
You may throw plates in the kitchen. You may sit in silence. You may curl up in a corner and cry. You may blast your favorite song and scream. No reaction is right or wrong — good or bad.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. You don’t have the power to make your spouse do anything. The decision he or she made is not your fault.
2. Give yourself permission to feel. You will want to avoid painful emotions. But sit with them. How? By allowing them to happen. And not judging yourself for having them.
3. You may hesitate, but reach out to a close friend (or two) you trust. Invite them to walk with you through this.
The reactions you’re experiencing are normal. Your mind and body are responding to the intense emotional stress that comes with the discovery of infidelity. The healing process will be slow.
Whatever emotions you’re having doesn’t represent some kind of deficit in you. Give yourself permission to express each emotion. And expect less of yourself. You don’t have to have it all together.