HELP … my partner’s had an affair – What do I do?
I am so sorry if you are having to deal with this reality. It is devastating – but as painful as it is right now, in the long term, it doesn’t have to devastate your life, nor even your relationship.
Of course each affair or incidence of ‘cheating’, is complex and unique, but here are some basic guidelines that are useful in most situations.
Stop trying to find what may have been missing, or ‘not enough’ in you!
If your partner chose to ‘cheat’, it says a lot more about them, than you. They didn’t cheat because you’re not enough – it’s more likely, they don’t feel enough. (Yes, really! Because if they truly felt enough, they could have chosen to handle whatever is going on for them, in a really different way!)
Yes in a counselling session you would explore the dynamics of your relationship that may have played into the cheating scenario, but honestly, their infidelity isn’t because you were lacking. There might be things you would like to change about yourself or how you act in your relationship, but that is not the reason they cheated – that was all their choice.
So you can put all thoughts of, “I mustn’t be ‘pretty enough’, ‘fit enough’, ‘smart enough’, ‘young enough’, ‘sexy enough’, ‘loving enough’…. etc” – put all of those out of your mind.
Their actions tell us what they are lacking … like, they weren’t honest enough, brave enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, caring enough, wise enough, emotionally mature enough.
Practice healthy self care.
I know – it’s so easy for me to say ‘put that out of your mind’ and so incredibly hard to do right now. You will most likely be in shock, pain and confusion – your brain will want to race a million thoughts a second. It is simply trying to find some safety, because let’s face it, this is a really scary time, so much about your future is unknown. You really want to reach out to your partner for a sense of calm and safety, but they are the one that has hurt you, so your normal way of dealing with trauma and upset, doesn’t even work at the moment.
It’s not just your partner and your relationship that you may feel like you have lost, but often your sense of self, feels lost at this stage too. So first and foremost, go gently and kindly with yourself.
Try and get some rest, try and eat healthy foods, go easy on any alcohol or drugs, get sound emotional support from grounded, wise people (Yes a counsellor is best for this, but you will also need the support of other trusted friends and family). Practice self care strategies, deep breaths, Tapping, Havening, Tai Chi, yoga, warm baths, long walks, anything that allows you to calm and centre, to come back to who you really are.
This will pass.
Don’t ask them for all the grim details.
It’s natural to want to know how this all came about – your brain is trying to assimilate what you thought your life was like, with the new reality of what you now know. You’ll also be wanting to work out if you can trust your partner from here on, by checking if the whole truth has come out. BUT, their honesty is a bit blown to pieces at the moment and it’s going to take a lot more than the story finally adding up, for you to fully trust them again.
Knowing all the details can really make it hard for you to heal in the long run. Every little detail that goes into your brain now, becomes a trigger point to wound you in the future.
Yes, the big picture of the affair, you probably need to know, but the details, less so – they just wound you, and you’re hurting enough right now.
Allow your feelings, but don’t act from them.
Often the only thing that you can salvage from this chaos of pain, is your dignity – guard that with all you have. No matter what they have done, they don’t get to steal your dignity – that’s yours!
So be careful of drinking too much or taking drugs – it might wipe the pain temporarily, but it can also obliterate your dignity at the same time. Definitely don’t be tempted into some revenge porn or revenge sex – don’t let their foolishness or heartlessness, draw you into being someone you wouldn’t like or respect.
You are loveable and wonderful – don’t let their actions tell you otherwise – hold onto your dignity, you deserve that. As challenging as it is, speak from the gentle vulnerability of your sadness, loss and pain, not from the anger, or rage, or resentment or spite that rises up to try and protect you.
It is truly challenging to maintain a sense of emotional regulation when you feel so hurt. I’m not saying suppress the feelings. I am saying, find the words to express them in way that doesn’t disrespect you. Yes, you will probably need the guidance of a good trauma relationship therapist to support you through this stage.
You can heal.
Set safe boundaries for your self.
I know you hurt, I know you want it all to just disappear – but trying to magically make up with them, won’t truly create the repair that is needed long term. So don’t initiate wild sex with them to prove you’re a better lover. Don’t try to contact, blame or shame, the other person. You weren’t in relationship with them. You dictating boundaries for them, or even your partner, won’t create the level of safety you will need for a future relationship of mutual love and trust. Your partner, if you want to continue the relationship, has to offer you safe boundaries, so that you’re not forced into being the policing person.
No one deserves to be cheated on – you don’t have to prove anything!
You are enough just as you are right now … your partner on the other hand, has some work to do.
Protect any children that may accidentally be caught up in this.
Children will naturally pick up on your distress – yes even when you try to hide it. It is ok for them to know you have feelings and are hurting and upset right now, but they do not need to know the details of why. They need to feel a sense of safety even when their parents are experiencing strong feelings. They need to know that both their parents still love them and will work through this as wise loving adults, whom they look up to, and depend upon.
This is when you can shine as a parent, mentoring how to manage difficult feelings and challenging situations with mindfulness and respect.
Don’t rush any decisions. You are in grief – you have lost the trust and relationship you thought you had. It is not a wise time to make big decisions right now.
You will survive this.
Get tested for any sexually transmitted diseases.
This one really brings home the injustice, and I hate having to raise this with my clients who are already in a world of pain.
However please do this – it’s an act of self care.
We are trying to support you to protect yourself, as best as we can, and as best as you now can.
Get professional support ASAP.
There is scientific evidence that if we gain psychological help with 10 days of a shock or trauma, we have a much greater chance of healing quickly and completely. Most good therapists keep a few appointments for emergency sessions.
You deserve that support right now. So do some online research and gain referrals from trusted friends or family, and just book in.
Counselling will help!