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Early Discovery of Infidelity: Part 3, The Unfaithful Partner

This is the third 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 unfaithful partner, follows considerations for the couple in coping in the immediate aftermath of infidelity and a blog focusing on the hurt partner.

While the unfaithful partner is likely experiencing fewer losses at this stage than the hurt partner, the unfaithful partner is still going through conflicts upon discovery of their infidelity. The unfaithful partner may actually be boosted internally by their affair and have their sense of self validated instead of shattered, as it is for the hurt partner. Just because the unfaithful partner has taken actions that most of us would agree were wrong, it doesn’t mean that the unfaithful partner isn’t worthy of support. Consider the following if you’re the unfaithful partner:

You are deserving of help and support, but don’t expect your partner to empathize with you.

Now is not the time to look to your partner for empathy. Your partner is going through potentially the most devastating loss in their life, and your actions played a large role in this; you’ve also had some time to process what has happened, and your partner has not. Please talk to a friend you don’t share with your partner or a trusted family member; you also should talk to an individual therapist at this time, even if you are in couple therapy with your partner.

Don’t assume that how you’re feeling now is how you’ll always feel.

The infatuation of a clandestine relationship does not last forever. You’d be doing yourself no favors if you took the intense feelings from your affair and assume you’ll always feel that way about the relationship. In fact, even if you feel over the moon about your lover, if you think there’s even the slightest chance you’d like to repair your relationship with your partner, you should end your affair while you work toward seeing if reconciliation is possible with your partner. Remember that now that your affair is out in the open, just like any other relationship, your lover will become less idealized over time, and your affair relationship will have problems in the future, if it does not already.

Like your partner, you are likely to feel a wide but different range of emotions.

According to Dr. Janice Abrahms Spring in After the Affair, these are the most common emotional responses from the unfaithful partner after the hurt partner learns of the infidelity:

Relief. You may feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders or like you have begun the healing process. You no longer have to lie about the affair or worry if you’re covering your tracks.

Impatience. Once you have disclosed your infidelity and have begun to make amends to your partner for your actions, you may feel impatient waiting for your partner to catch up to you. You may start to feel angry and try to avoid feeling guilt each time your partner expresses their anger.

Anxiety. While distracting yourself can be a useful skill when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can become extreme when you distract yourself constantly to keep you out of touch with your emotions. This is common in unfaithful partners who busy themselves in avoidance.

Lack of guilt. You may not feel sorry about the affair right now. Usually, that is for one of the following reasons: you already know you want to leave your partner; you have a personality disorder; you’re angry at your partner, you’re still intoxicated by your lover, or you believe certain things that justify the affair.

Grief over loss of the lover. You may feel guilty because you have ended your relationship with your lover after you had promised them so much. You may feel devastated by the loss of the way you felt with your lover. If your partner knows you feel this way, they may be angered at your grief over the loss of your lover.

Guilt over the children. You may feel guilty over the impact of your infidelity on your kids. You may relive your own traumas from childhood if you had a parent who had an affair.

Isolation. You may feel isolated from your network, either because you have withdrawn from your loved ones or they have distanced themselves from you after learning about your actions. You may not find the support you expected in your parents.

Hopelessness. You may commit to trying to repair your relationship with your partner while feeling a sense of hopelessness about the chances of it succeeding. Consider that if you feel hopeless about your marriage but optimistic about your affair, you may have fallen into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Paralysis. You may not know what to do and feel as if you are standing at a fork in the road – the biggest fork in the road in your life – and have no skills or insight into what decision you should come to.

Self-disgust. You may feel disgusted at yourself for violating your own moral code and wonder how you could have ever cheated on your partner.

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