This is the second part of a 3-part blog series about the immediate aftermath of both partners in a relationship learning about one partner’s infidelity. This blog, which focuses on the specific experiences of the hurt partner, follows considerations for the couple in coping with infidelity and precedes a blog focusing on the unfaithful partner.
The hurt partner – the partner who learns of their partner’s infidelity – is likely to struggle more intensely immediately after the disclosure of infidelity. Even if the hurt partner had suspicions of their partner cheating, having those suspicions confirmed is likely to be devastating and precede a grand sense of loss. If you are in the position of the hurt partner, please keep the following in mind as you try to wrap your head around this traumatic experience:
It is normal to feel a range of emotions.
If you find yourself feeling emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other, that would be normal. You are not crazy. Because you’ve been hit with a complex loss, you are likely to feel paradoxical emotions in varying intensities. Maybe you feel alone, then loved, then unloved, then relieved, then humiliated, then lost. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. As you’ll learn below, you’re dealing with a variety of losses that stem back to your psychological self. You should also expect to continue feeling a wide range of emotions for a long time – good times with your partner will happen if you choose to stay together, but you will likely feel those punctuated with feelings of sadness and doubt at times.
You may experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It is common for hurt partners to have symptoms of PTSD. Most common are flashbacks to either what you observed or what imagery you have drawn up in your head or other kinds of intrusive thoughts, lack of emotional regulation as well as emotional numbing, inability to stop looking for more information about the affair, withdrawal from your typical life, and changes in how you experience your body, such as your sleep hygiene. Like working with survivors of PTSD, therapists can incorporate ways of processing trauma into individual and couple infidelity work.
You are experiencing a loss of your sense of self.
Dr. Janice Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair, writes that the hurt partner is experiencing many losses that ultimately come back to the loss of the self. Dr. Spring outlines the following as the nine kinds of loss that stem from loss of self:
Loss of identity. You may not know who you are anymore since your life and your partner aren’t what you thought they were. Your personality or temperament may change after the discovery of the affair.
Loss of your sense of specialness. You once knew that you and your partner were each other’s person, soulmate, best friend for life, etc. Now you don’t feel that way – you feel replaceable.
Loss of self-respect for yourself when trying to win your partner back. You may feel as if you have acted not in accordance with your basic morals and values. You may hate how desperate you have been to win your partner back.
Loss of self-respect for failing to acknowledge your suspicions. You may have suspected that your partner was cheating on you but didn’t try hard enough to figure it out. Maybe you wonder how you were so stupid.
Loss of control over mind and body. Suddenly you cannot control your thoughts and find yourself going into a downward mental spiral. Your thoughts might become obsessional, and your behavior may become compulsive (vigilant checking up on your partner, pursuing sex, intense exercise and dieting, seeking influence with your partner’s friends and family).
Loss of fundamental sense of order and justice in the world. Your ideas about how the world works and what justice looks like have been violated.
Loss of religious faith. You may wonder why God or your higher being has forsaken you. You may feel angry if your religious leader does not listen to how you’re feeling or just advise you to forgive your partner.
Loss of connection with others. A part of you might want to withdraw from the world and ignore your loved ones, possibly wanting to avoid the sense that you and your life are under a microscope.
Loss of your sense of purpose or will to live. You may feel this way if you are feeling as if you are no longer worthy of love or your life has no value. However, no matter what happens between you and your partner, you will one day feel better about yourself and your life.
You are not alone.
People rarely want to openly talk about the worst moments of their life, and infidelity certainly qualifies as one of its worst seasons. Know that millions of other people have been in your shoes, and they have also made it through to the other side, since the only way out is through. Know that your ability to love yourself, and your ability to love a partner (either your current partner or a future partner) will return.