GRIEVING THE LOSS…OF WHAT?
The experience of learning about a partner’s dishonesty (an affair), for many, can feel similar to the experience of losing and grieving the death of a loved one. The person you had loved and trusted to be loyal and stay by your side was not “real”. In a sense, even if they were, they no longer are. You may feel as if you were living a lie. Or it may feel like their presence in your life was suddenly, without warning, taken from you. Some of the most common questions partners of betrayal ask themselves after finding out are: Why? How? Is this real? How long has it been going on? Could I have prevented it? Did I cause it? What did I do wrong? Am I not good enough? Am I not lovable enough? Am I not sexy enough? Was I a bad partner?
These questions and feelings are common and natural, and although no words will make you feel better or feel any differently, the truth is that, no, it was not your fault. You could not have prevented it. You did not cause it, and unfortunately, you cannot change it or cure it. Your value has nothing to do with another person’s choice of behavior. Even if one hundred of your closest friends and family told you this, however, for now, you may be feeling this way, and that’s ok.
If the affair was more than a one-time thing, such as a more long-term issue like sex addiction, the degree of grieving can vary dramatically. Many victims of such betrayal often explain their grief as the grief of losing their identity. The grief of losing oneself and one’s sense of identity can have a severe and long-lasting negative impact on your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. After all, everything you once believed and trusted was a lie. All your decisions that you had confidently made were wrong. Many victims begin to question their decision-making capabilities, their judgement in people and situations, who they are, and who they can trust. It’s extremely important during this time that you surround yourself with people that are supportive, understand your specific situation, and encourage you to positively process the issues instead of running away or focusing on blaming or shaming. This is one of the most important and necessary steps to healing.
If you are dealing with someone who has been cheating habitually, such as a person with sex addiction, although the grieving and processing time varies, it will likely be a very long process with several ups and downs. Specifically for those partners of a sex addict, it is likely that (I’m sorry to say) “acting out” after being caught will continue even after (if) the person seeks treatment and recovery. This isn’t meant to sound discouraging, but to make you aware of the reality of the disease. Although relapse is most common in the beginning stages of recovery, relapse can (and often does) happen several years later into recovery. One woman explained her experience like this:
It [learning of the betrayals] felt like standing in front of a fire hydrant as someone started releasing the water by droplets. At first I was like, “Ok.. I think I can handle this…” and then the person opens the spout to the max and just blows me away by an overwhelming flood of information… and there are still so many unanswered questions. There are still so many secrets held so tightly, desperately, closely inside my husband’s heart, afraid to let them out. Do I even want to know the rest? Turn the spigot off quick! I’m afraid…
A man, who experienced the victim side of betrayal explained it like this:
“It’s as if my partner (and the world) has been treating me as if I had a choice in the matter. As if I was riding in a car with my partner, who was driving recklessly, and my partner runs into a tree and tells me, ‘well, if you hadn’t been talking so much, I wouldn’t have been so distracted.’ When the fact is, being in a relationship with a sex addict is nothing like that and the world doesn’t treat us that way or acknowledge that our partners have been driving recklessly. We were NOT in the car but in the road and they ran us over, and then backed up, and ran us over again, then pulled forward and ran us over again… and again, and again, and again… And the world expected me to pick myself up and brush myself off and go to some group and open up and everything would be better. But I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit hard…repeatedly…and it doesn’t end…”
As victims of betrayal, for the first few months (and sometimes longer) you may feel like a mental (and physical) mess. In a desperate attempt for answers, some of the more common immediate reactions are spying, snooping, doubting partner and self, questioning partner and self, blaming partner and self, being angry at partner and self, depressed, endless crying, wanting to die, being anxious, and simply just checking out completely on a mental level. It’s like a default way of coping and is completely normal. These feelings are normal (however, if you do feel like harming yourself or another, you should always reach out immediately to a trusted person, mental health specialist/professional, or call 911).
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
As time goes by, whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not, slowly, your grieving may turn into curiosity. You may begin to feel the need to understand what was going on, why it happened, and maybe even understand what your partner was/is going through emotionally and physically. In your search for answers, depending on where you look and whom you reach out to, you may even learn that, unfortunately, this is more common than we’d like it to be. And while that is no consolation to the pain you are experiencing, in learning and reaching out, you will begin to learn that you are not alone. You will hear what others like you are going through, went through, and how they processed it. In a sense, you begin to learn that no amount of spying, shaming or blaming helps the issue (it actually makes it worse), and you begin to take true control over the situation. This is probably the hardest part of healing because we, as victims, have to let go of our belief that we must seek justice, or make our partners “pay for what they did” and eventually transition to a more proactive self-care model. The plus side is that as you shift your focus, you begin to have more clarity on what you’re up against, and determine if this is something you should indeed run from ASAP, or something you believe is worth it to you to work through. There is no one right or wrong way, but there are some very helpful resources out there. You can reach out to a number of them, and some that I’ve found personally very useful are at the end of this blog.
BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO… I FEEL PARALYZED…
I will say this: one of the greatest pieces of advice I was given during my own healing was when someone told me, “You’ve gone through a tremendous amount of trauma and shock. For a while, you may have difficulty making big decisions, and that’s ok. I know you want answers right now, but give yourself six months to a year to think about how you want to move forward.” It was true. After experiencing the trauma of such a shocking life-changing event, our minds are like sand in a jar of water that has been shaken violently. It is much easier said than done, but it is important to allow the sand to settle for a bit so you can see a little more clearly. This calls for patience, and sometimes it means taking a physical or mental time out away from your partner, which is fine too. Remember, it’s about you now, and your own healing moving forward.
Ultimately, you have to dig really deep within your soul and ask yourself if this is something you want to stay with, and that requires that you be in as peaceful and safe a place as possible. Some people choose to sleep in separate rooms, and some people choose to live in separate homes for a while as they sort through their feelings. There is no limit to your options and you can (and should) get creative. This is your life. You have to do what is best for you and your specific circumstance. The only requirement is that you ensure your (and your children’s, if you have any) safety.
In Part II of this blog (stay tuned…) I will be discussing boundaries… What are they? How do you set them? How do you maintain them?