If you’ve just found out your partner has had an affair, you are probably in shock and feel as if the floor has opened up under you. During the initial days after discovery, the betrayed spouse is in a confusing whirl of emotional turmoil. In some ways your emotions feel dead, yet your body is still alive and must continue to live. But how? Will “it” ever go away? Will you ever feel happy again? It seems so impossible. Too often you hear friends and family telling you to just “get over it!” They don’t seem to understand.
Even if you found out some time ago, you may still be in turmoil and unsure of what steps to take, or what it is that you want to do from one minute to the next. No matter how long ago you found out, reading through the following will help you by explaining some of what is going on, and helping you to determine if there is an area you haven’t thought about or a point that isn’t checked off and should be.
First Steps For The Betrayed Spouse
This guide is a compilation of suggestions provided by multiple sources that can help you during, and after, your spouse’s affair. There are plans that have been shown to improve the betrayed spouse’s chances of helping the affair to end, helping you heal from the trauma of being exposed to the fallout of the affair, and helping your spouse heal, should you choose to recover the marriage. These resources include information from professionals who have studied marriages and infidelity, as well as advice from members of Marriage Advocates who either had an affair or whose spouse had an affair, and who are recovering personally, or who have recovered their marriages after the affair.
Step 1: Give Yourself Time to Process
First and foremost:
This is not a time to make any permanent, life-changing decisions.
Betrayed Spouses often put pressure on themselves to take immediate action. You do not have to know right now if you are going to stay or go. You may feel like this is an emergency, and you have an overwhelming need to do something, anything, just take some action right now! You may have left the marital home, or thrown your spouse out, or you may be on the verge of doing so. Despite the desire to do so, paradoxically, know that these may not bring you the relief you crave. Emotionally, physically, mentally — you are in crisis. Give yourself time to make any important decisions. Your emotions are very raw right now; not knowing which direction to go yet is OK. Give yourself permission to take the necessary time to recover your bearings.
Step 2: Seriously Consider Professional Counseling
The second thing we want you to read is: many who have been on the receiving end of an affair require counseling and/or psychiatric help. There is no shame in that.
Infidelity Is A Serious Emotional Trauma
Often the emotional backlash leads to severe depression or even suicidal feelings. If you are having serious thoughts about suicide or depression that are interfering with your ability to function normally, please call a clinic or help line IMMEDIATELY. When you are in their care and ready to come back, we’ll be here.
Step 3: Develop And Maintain A Healthy Support Structure
Take a moment to look around you. Many of the people you know or see on the street have either walked in your shoes or walked in your spouse’s. They have cheated or been cheated on. They survived. Some survived to divorce, and some survived to recover their marriage. A few survived only to sit around and feel sorry for themselves for the rest of their lives.
You Are Not Alone
You will have times when you think your strength is failing. (You may feel that way right now.) Reach out to supportive family and friends. Join peer support groups in your community or online. This support structure will help you by providing a place to find strength when you think you are about to run out, as well as a sounding board for your ideas, concerns, and fears, and by offering encouragement and suggestions when you need them.
Many of those who are also battling infidelity or who have survived the struggle are here to support and help you. Marriage Advocates is an online peer counseling site with anonymous, free, non-profit support. You may want to join and create a thread in our Infidelity & Abandonment forum.
Step 4: Believe In Yourself
Take the opportunity to decide that you can believe in yourself, and that you will do so. Decide that you can and will grow from this. Decide that you are not a victim, and you will not be mired in this situation created by your spouse. Right now you may feel pathetic or helpless. Or you may feel undeserving. It doesn’t matter. This is an intellectual decision. You do not have to feel a thing.
Step 5: Acknowledge That Your Infidelity Situation is Unique
What is necessary for rebuilding a life and a marriage is different from individual to individual. When pondering whether or not to act upon any of the recommendations here, please first consider all the information offered. While many have used this advice successfully, this is a peer counseling website. Very few of us can claim to be professionals in the field of marriage.
Not all marriages, or affairs, are created equal. What you are experiencing will not exactly match what others experienced. Having said that, there are certain predictable patterns in infidelity, and knowing those enables us to help you develop your own plan for personal and marital recovery. Not all of the pattern is linear, so only very rough outlines can be given for any particular topic. Do not be concerned if you read information and find it to be not applicable to you or your situation. There is no point-by-point checklist or 12 steps to take. This is just a general guide of the tools considered to be the overall best. Above all, give yourself some time. As is often said around here – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Step 6: Develop Plans
You might be wondering just what is all this talk about “‘plans?” As you look around Marriage Advocates you will read about many plans. Plan A, Plan B, Plan this, Plan that. Making a plan is so very important because without a plan of your own, you are relying on other peoples’ plan for you. Guess what kind of plan your wayward spouse has for you? Not very much of one, but it certainly doesn’t have your best interests in mind.
Marriage Advocates members will help you to build a plan which will help you meet the challenges that the affair presents with dignity and courage. On the flip side, without a plan, you may be tempted to act on spur-of-the-moment decisions and feelings. However, feelings can change in a heartbeat. A plan gives you something to refer back to, even when everything around you is no longer making sense. Additionally, a plan can be tweaked to fit the purpose as you journey further.
The Taking Care Of YOU Plan
Look into seeing if there is counseling available in your area. Many churches offer free or low cost counseling. Other areas you may find support include close, same-gender friend, a family member, pastor, or therapist. As a betrayed spouse (BS) you may be finding it difficult to eat. This is OK for a short period of time, but we do recommend eating the best food you can now. Vegetables, fruit and protein are essential. Try not to succumb to junk food. However, do not beat yourself up if all you were able to get down today was a few chips. Any food is better than no food. Be cautious about alcohol. Many betrayed spouses lose a substantial amount of weight shortly after D-day, and find alcohol affects them more than in the past. Alcohol also has a tendency to loosen up resolve. Some very fine grapes died in the making of a bottle of wine. It would be a shame to waste them on a drunken, sobbing, midnight phone call. The morning-after remorse doesn’t feel so good either.
See your doctor for a general, as well as a sexual, health check up. Wayward spouses are notorious for unprotected sex and may have put you at risk of an sexually transmitted disease/infections. Consider discussing anti-depressants and/or sleeping tablets. Difficulty in sleeping is very common for betrayed spouses. Do be on the watch for side effects, and note that many medications prescribed for infidelity-related disorders are highly addictive. Look at starting some form of exercise. Exercise helps battle depression, the blahs, the pity me’s. At first you may not find exercise enjoyable, but it’s important to keep doing it anyway.
Finally, your personal plan should include options for both staying and leaving the marriage. It is better to have a plan and not need it, than to be taken by surprise and have to play catch up with events.
The Caring For The Kids Plan
Protect your children. As difficult as things are, try to not rock their worlds unless it is absolutely necessary. However, planning ahead, and then sitting down and talking about what is going on – age appropriately – will help them. A child’s identity is composed of parts of Mum and parts of Dad. When drawn into a loyalty battle between parents, the child’s identity, security and self-esteem are conflicted and compromised. A child’s understanding of adult issues is also often limited. If not carefully told about adult “indiscretions,” or when they make such discoveries themselves, children often fail to comprehend the adult issues, instead becoming confused and feeling that their home base is no longer safe or secure. Children often feel they are to blame when parents split up, and it can be a very traumatic time for them. Children are dependent on adult protection, and it is very likely their other parent is incapable of providing adequate support for them at this time. Only you can judge whether they would also benefit from counselling.
Other things to consider as you navigate the children through infidelity/abandonment:
- Some discussion about accepting the inability, or even the inappropriateness, of protecting the child from everything
- Age-appropriate explanation for what is happening
- It’s okay to have boundaries
- What to say to curious friends/other parents
- Children are not the family intermediaries
- Both parents love them and will always take care of them
- This is not their fault
- Keeping household rules intact:
- Maintaining homework rules and support
- Talking to the school guidance counselor. Will this help the children. Is it the school’s business?
- What to do if my wayward spouse wants the kids to meet the affair partner? What are our rights?
- Are they vulnerable to predators during a family crisis? On occasion, kids feel abandoned and look for replacements for whoever left/died.
The Legal Protection Plan
Many households are financially dependent on the wayward spouse’s income or on both incomes. In many, the wayward spouse may be the family bill payer/bookkeeper and/or online banker. You may not even know how to access your own money. Consider the family assets – talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. You do not need to file for divorce right now, just set up a legal separation order. This is also the time to set up some parameters for child visitation, removal of possessions, acquiring spousal support and/or child support, and allocate responsibilities for bill payments. Set up financial and legal barriers to prevent the affair from impacting on marital assets as soon as possible, as well as providing future financial protection for the children from the insane spending habits of the wayward. This will reduce the ability of the wayward spouse to strip the finances in order to support the affair. From experience we know that many wayward spouses thank their betrayed spouse later on for taking that step and protecting them from themselves. Do not think that ignoring the financial ramifications of the affair will help your chances of recovery. All it will do is speed you towards financial ruin. A wayward spouse will bleed through a nest egg in next to no time in order to impress the affair partner. This advice is for those dealing with sexual, as well as emotional infidelity. If the affair was a one night stand, they may not be necessary.
Suggested steps to take include: cancel credit cards, cancel fuel cards, ring the banks and freeze term deposits and accounts and discuss opening a personal account under your own name, contact accountant to discuss tax implications, ring utility companies to have the the wayard spouse’s name and access removed, remove the wayward spouse’s cell phone and internet access from the family account. While this may sound difficult, it is often surprisingly easy. “Hi, my name is [your name]. I have just discovered my spouse is having an affair and I would like……”
The banks particularly love betrayed spouses taking this step, as they hate getting involved in money disputes between couples.
- Pros – It removes concerns that either party will abscond with money and, for the betrayed spouse, that the wayward spouse will tick up bills for his/her affair partner for which the betrayed spouse will become fully or partially liable
- Cons – Not only can paying off a credit card within 30 days and reapplying for a new one be a bother, it can be embarrassing.