At first, you won’t think that you could ever survive infidelity. When you first learn about the betrayal, your entire world order is rocked and your trust barometer severely messed up. You may find yourself incredibly present to the here and now - changing the locks on the doors, throwing their stuff into a dumpster. But you may also find fear creeping into every aspect of your life - not recognizing you amidst the jitteriness and the innate, almost primal need, to be on guard. The weird thing is, you may logically get it - they had an affair.
But, you may not realize how deep the lies cut until the feelings overwhelm and you’re unsure of what to do about the pain you feel in your chest.
Friends, those you like and trust, may have seemingly glib responses like, “Just dump them already.” (This is usually from those dear friends who’ve never experienced such deep betrayal. They mean well but they just don’t get it.) Or your friends may rush to your defense and smoother you with their over-protectiveness. (Which is thoroughly needed in the moment of discovery!) This sort of in-the-moment reaction helps you feel as if you’re not so alone.
Usually, however, those friends who love and adore you simply won’t be able to understand why the pain cuts deep and how your heart aches. They may be advising you to “get over it” and I bet, you want to scream,”DON’T YOU THINK I WANT TO GET OVER IT ALREADY?” adding guilt to hurt to shame to confusion; making you pull in when you may have to face divorce and trial at the exact same time you want to hide never to be seen again. Besides, you may be assuming, your wounds show, right? How utterly embarrassing now that they know!
Surviving infidelity takes a strong mind and a solid heart.
The hard part is, a broken heart isn’t solid. A mind twisted from pain can’t think clearly, and friends and family really don’t get what it feels like to be hurt by the person who made you soar with love; the one you thought loved and cherished only you. It’s the kind of pain that puts you on your knees.
(News Flash: on my knees looked like a body-racking shaking that wouldn’t stop for weeks; a daily texting letting my life coach know when I was awake or making breakfast. It was informing her that I had gotten my kids to school, that I had showered and changed. While my heart was in serious pain from this breakup, hiding from the glare of my friends (hiding from the man who hurt me) a major celebrity who’s husband had been caught cheating on her, was being showered with a supportive media campaign. She was given worldwide attention and loads of support. Maybe that made her stronger, maybe that made her hide even more. For me the pain was utterly isolating and debilitating, making me question every decision I ever made.)
The problem for you may be, whom and what do you trust? How can you talk to someone about the betrayal when they’re full of their own opinions and ridiculous advice? They may know your lover, your boyfriend, your spouse. You’re unsure of whom to confide in, how much your children’s teachers should know. And I know you’re imagining what institutions can protect you - your marriage vows have been obliterated and there’s no one who’ll pull that lover out of that bed for you. Lonely, aching, you don’t know where to turn.
It’s your heart after all.
Your marriage. Your relationship. Who are your friends to tell you what to do? It’d be great if you could turn back time and just pretend yesterday didn’t occur. Or last week, last month, last year. Your marriage would still be fantastic if “they hadn’t taken that job” or “sold that business” or if you’d “just had had a little more sex in your relationship.” Or they hadn’t lied to you for your entire relationship. Life would be perfect. But life isn’t perfect and we don’t get to turn back time or change our past. Unfortunately.
Surviving infidelity is hard to do. You will survive it in your heart but you can’t think your way toward it. This is a feeling life.
There are two options that I know of - it’s your choice - go deeper inside than you’ve ever experienced or go bigger than you’ve ever had to go before.
1) Find strength from deep within: deeper than the love they had for you, deeper than the agreements you made with them, deeper than the agreements you’ve made to anyone really. In fact, you’ve probably never made such a deep commitment to yourself before now. It’s an inner core strength that’s always been there just for you.
2) Find strength from something way bigger than you and where you are in your life right now. In order to rise above the pain and hurt, to come out the other side of this kind of betrayal, with trust and compassion (never mind a spot of empathy for your friends who’ll most likely experience such pain in the future) you may have to go bigger than you’ve ever imagined believing. I’m talking about things like hope, faith, God even.
Imagine really being able to trust yourself. What would it be like to have a man or a woman fall so deeply in love with you that you trusted them enough to let them in and to know when it was time to let them go? Without pain. Free from becoming someone whom you didn’t want to become?
How about being so in tune with your own needs - your gut - that you know whom to trust even before they do. You can tell. You just know. That would be amazing wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be incredible to be able to be with your lover at social events keenly aware of their thoughts, in agreement with them, without needing to be on guard, completely and utterly trusting what the two of you have? That’s what survival offers. That’s what getting healed is all about. No more pain. No more fear. Total confidence, love, intimacy, and trust. Bliss really. And you can do it.
That’s the kind of work required to heal from betrayal. And that kind of thinking doesn’t come from the level of thinking where you are today. This normal, everyday level got you into trouble, to begin with. You can’t stay here to survive. You go bigger or you go deeper, you find strength and hope from outside the way you normally perceive the world. You make the decision to grow through this pain, not hide. You make a pact with yourself, above and beyond the lover who hurt you.
You’ll want to find someone who’s been where you’ve been and who can talk with you in your language about your heart in a kind and compassionate way. Someone who’ll help you figure out what your inner self really wants and gives you the guidance and permission to follow what is right for you and your life. This is more your soul’s journey than your head’s, really. No amount of logic (from those dear friends) truly helps.
Remember, there are no mistakes. But in pain and fear, we make mistakes if we act too quickly. Yet your knowing and trusting aren’t mistakes. Trust that you’re being led. (You’re reading this article aren’t you?) Know that you’ll survive infidelity in your marriage or in your relationship if you choose to stay together or not. It’s you who is doing the healing after all.
Caveat: your partner (if you’re in a couple and they want to stay together) also has to make the same sort of commitment. Unfortunately, you can’t do their work for them. The couples who survive infidelity choose to work on themselves individually and then work on their relationship together. Their agreements need rewriting. Their hearts, time to mend. Their minds righted with new thoughts and perspective.
That broken heart, the buckled knee are the keys to your healing and surviving: they’re broken, unguarded, fragile, vulnerable. They’ve been cracked wide open and your knees, unable to hold you up on their own. This is the moment to ask for help. To reach out to the voice you trust. To find a mentor, a teacher, a friend who will be there to help you, and only you, heal so you can survive.
Having been where you are, I recognize the pain and the debilitating thoughts. Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org and set up a Divorce Unloaded™ Session with me. I will help you figure out the steps toward your personal healing so you too can survive a broken heart. And leave a comment or a question below! Your request may be just the thing that helps someone else understand their pain.