The experience of coping with divorce because of infidelity is hard to do. It eats at our psyche long after a divorce decree is signed and makes us question everything: our sex appeal, our judgment, our willingness to open our hearts and minds to loving again. It makes us feel less-than easily harming self-esteem and self-worth. Sometimes, it’s not so much the actual affair in and of itself that hurts, as much as the on-going betrayal and lies that occurred. As adults, many of us have had transactional sex and many marriages are salvaged and made better even after short-term affairs. The difficult part with infidelity is coping with the betrayal - the lies and manipulation that one’s most intimate friend and partner created to sustain their actions and justify what they were doing over a long period of time. This is when infidelity cuts deep and hope for a happy future is left behind.
We are fascinated with other people.
We’re deeply involved with the lives of our spouses. I’ve found that after infidelity and divorce, there is this on-going, obsessive thinking loop about what and why and how and when the cheating partner broke marital vows and broke up a marriage. This thinking and ensuing feelings go on a really long time without intervention and perspective. It becomes it’s own self-perpetuating habit and affects everything like binge-watching Netflix in the family kitchen during dinner.
It’s important to put things in a big perspective and pull your attention back from them. They are gone. They were a cheater. They lied, wove stories, manipulated, controlled. It was for a lot of reasons including for a rush of power and control. Sometimes it verges on being sociopathic. Sometimes it’s narcissistic. Sometimes it’s simply mean or the only way to end something that wasn’t working on a very deep level.
For those left in the wake of infidelity, I encourage seeking good help. Your future self-needs some hope and optimism. It’s time to stop the anger, worrying, and righteousness; the habitual self-criticism and shift the focus back from them to your own heart and mind and spirit and life. Easier said than done. There’s no shortcut to healing a broken heart and the loss of trust that infidelity creates. Self-discipline over how you think about yourself, how you talk to yourself, and what you do to yourself and others, as a result, is part of the healing.
Daily, consistent, sustained effort:
Every day you’ll be plagued with questions of how they did it and why; what it meant or means about you as a lover, a person, a co-parent. If you’re not disciplined, you’ll obsess for hours on end. You’ll want to seek revenge (even if you don’t do anything about your fantasies) and you’ll want to use your children to get even. To punish. If you're not careful, you’ll be asking, “why should they see your kids when they broke up the family?” The self-righteousness will eat at you if you let it. This is an important reason why caring for yourself is so necessary. And giving yourself a safe place to process is critical.
Pulling the attention away from them and back on to you while you’re dealing with a new life is difficult. You won’t feel worthy of being important. You’ll make excuses about how much work you have to do and how you have to do everything for your kids. Remember, you matter. You’re entitled to have fun, to laugh, and to smile. Hope is available even when you’re having a tough day!
Eventually, you may even be embarrassed (or ashamed) about admitting you’re grateful to have a new chance at life, at love. Regardless, it’s true. You have a right to a great life with someone, if you wish, who can respect and cherish you more than they care about themselves.
Knowing all this is one thing. It’s easy to say the right things to your friends and family on a good day when you know how to get them to leave you alone. Anxiety creeps in during the quiet moments. Usually late at night or when the kids are with their other parent. Those are the moments to be extra careful and kind to yourself, wary of habitual thoughts or feelings that find their way in when you’re supposed to be relaxed.
These were the hours I worked extra hard at self-discipline and managing my thoughts and feelings. I processed by writing, giving myself permission to feel the things I didn’t want to. It wasn’t ever easy. But it gave me good insight to the parts of my belief system that needed attention.
There’s nothing wrong with you:
You will mend and you will love again if you want to. But unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen. You won’t wake up one day and fall in love without putting in the effort to heal. And it also, usually, doesn’t happen all at once either so don’t panic! That fear is important and justified at the moment. But I also don’t want you to think there’s something wrong. Nothing’s wrong with you! Those tears are normal. Your anger justified. Your fear warranted. It’s staying stuck in these emotional states for a long time (like years and years, and years) that becomes the problem. I call it Post Traumatic Divorce Disorder™.
Feel Your Feelings:
While you’re in fear or crying, please feel those feelings. You need to process what’s happened. Sometimes I find people think they need to be matter-of-fact about the infidelity. They’re embarrassed by admitting it to friends or colleagues. I get it. It makes perfect sense not to spread gossip about yourself in your community or at the office. But then, if you don’t feel safe in your community, you’ll need to find safe support elsewhere. You owe this to yourself. You need to know you’re not alone. You’ll need to learn a new way of thinking about it all (that big perspective), you’ll want to create a new group of friends, and over time, you’ll eventually have the courage to step back out into the world with more self-esteem, proud of the work you’ve done for yourself.
Love is worth it:
Eventually, you may even want someone next to you in your bed at night. (Animals don’t count.) At that point, knowing what you know, you’ll have a better picker. You’ll be more open to dating, more transparent about your needs, able to communicate your boundaries. There is value in being seen and heard, respected and loved. I know love is possible. With scars, it takes courage and time and work. Your heart and mind and spirit need you to focus on you. Your new partner - the one who matters - needs you to focus on you for the time being and then to make the courage to meet them. To trust again.
Join me in doingDivorce right. The hope I speak of is real and attainable when you focus on yourself and your healing. Leave a comment below!
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach here at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura's a writer, public speaker, actress, and the founder of doingDivorce School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and sign up for The Scarlet D™ Letters!