You have discovered your partner has cheated on you. You are shocked… feel like the rug has been pulled from under you and now angry that you have been lied to and betrayed so easily. After you get over the initial shock, you can’t stop chasing down every last detail of what happened. You need to make sense of this new reality you find yourself in, where you can no longer trust the person you love most in the world. You are driving yourself crazy online trying to track down every last piece of evidence to satisfy yourself that you now know the truth and there will be no more surprises. It makes you feel worse but you have trouble stopping yourself. An affair can be like a bomb going off in a relationship. It leads couples to feel such a rollercoaster of intense feelings. All you cna do initially is pick up and tend to the individual pieces.
In the beginning, it is very painful and overwhelming, but after the dust settles often there are many different feelings to come to terms with if you are choosing to stay and rebuild your bond.
Understand how the affair has impacted you.
An affair puts a crack in the solid foundation of any serious relationship. In order to deal with it, you need to understand what it means to you and the impact it has had. Your relationship has ideally been the place where you felt safe, loved and accepted for who you are. Life can be tough, so we turn for comfort and connection to our significant person. When this bond gets threatened by an affair our nervous system turns on to high alert. It will then go into overdrive to manage the threat. The body does this by becoming either hyperaroused meaning elevated, racing thoughts so you can’t sleep or eat possibly and feel on edge all the time. Or hypoaroused meaning you feel numb, shutdown and maybe you turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the intense pain you are feeling. Everyone responds differently but many feel angry and scared and sad all at the same time. As time passes perhaps you do some couples counselling and the initial rawness of the pain has passed. But then there is something that is still eating away at your confidence. There is also another strong emotion that can derail any attempts you make to forgive and move on from the major injury you have experienced. This is a feeling that both the injured and the injuring partner feel after an affair and many do not know how to recognise or handle this powerful emotion. You feel shame.
What is shame and why do I need to know about it?
Most people understand that you go through grief and loss when you discover an affair. It is like you are grieving the loss of the relationship as you know it and the trust and safe connection you felt with that special person. Yet another powerful emotion that can cause you a lot of distress is shame. You need to know about your feelings of shame because they can prevent you from moving forward if you don’t recognise and allow them to come out, so you can deal with them.
Many times I hear from the injured person that the affair has made them doubt themselves a lot. They feel like they are not sexy enough, they become even more insecure about their body shape or size and they wonder if as a person they are just good enough in general. After all if they were enough why did their loved one turn to someone else, for comfort, reassurance and connection? It makes them feel mad and sad that they are now second-guessing themselves as a person and as a lover all the time. Shame is often described as an autoimmune disease in that it is the self-attacking the self. Click To Tweet Not only do we feel betrayed by someone one we trusted, we also now don’t trust ourselves or our own worth. Similarly, the injuring party when remorseful can also feel this horrible emotion intensely once the affair is uncovered. They feel inadequate and ashamed of being someone who has leaned out of the relationship and caused so much hurt and pain. They feel so bad about lying to protect themselves. So sad that they have been weak and not protected the person they love. No one emotion ever comes all by itself, but feeling an ongoing sense of shame can be very exposing and damaging to your self-confidence.
What is the way to heal shame?
You need to be believed that you feel ashamed and why. You need someone to get it. Shame likes to hide away and be invisible. You feel exposed and so you shrink, shame needs the light shined on it, painful though this might be. What you really need is someone to empathize, understand and say “me too I’ve felt that as well.” Ideally, your partner can provide this. The compelling eye contact/gaze of your lover that tells you are loved and accepted just the way you are, is the antidote to shame. However, don’t set yourself up for disappointment in the early aftermath of an affair. Emotions are running high and things are very raw for you both. Also although you ideally need your partner’s reassurance and understanding the most, remember that not everyone is good at expressing or knowing how to respond to these strong emotions when they are expressed. Especially when they may have been the ones that caused you to feel that distress in the first place. Sometimes people convey support non – verbally. It’s important to look for cues that someone is trying to connect, however subtle these cues may be. Practise telling your most understanding friend about how the affair has made you feel about yourself first. Work with your couples counsellor to broach shame together in sessions so that they can coach both of you through it. Watch Brene Brown’s great explanation on shame on youtube to help you both get your head around it more and how it may be impacting you both moving forward. Then maybe explain to your partner that you need their help in feeling like you are enough for them after all that you have been through. Afterall, in reality, the affair is more about the insecurity of the person leaning out of the relationship then it is about the injured party. It is this insecurity of the injurer that has lead to your distress. It is not about you being enough, you are fine just the way you are and you need to keep telling yourself this whilst you are recovering from an affair.
Be brave, take the risk to let them back into your heart again
Our raw spots are the parts of us that we really protect when we have been hurt. In order to fully heal after an affair at some point, you have to risk trusting your partner again. Raw spots are cracks to pour our lover’s love in. However, often you put up a wall when you have been badly hurt so it doesn’t happen again. This is normal. You are protective of yourself. No-one wants that type of pain in their life to happen ever again.
However, someone genuinely remorseful, who is trying to make amends will get very frustrated if every effort is met with rejection. The injurer although they need to get used to saying sorry and showing remorse, at some stage need your approval and acceptance again. Otherwise, they, like you will remain feeling helpless, discouraged and full of shame.