Dear Betrayed Wife
Most likely, your husband didn't tell you about his affair, they almost never do. Chances are you discovered it through text messages, e-mails or credit card statements. You don't want to believe this is really happening. You want to believe that the person you rely on most in the world is trustworthy and faithful. Trying to hold these two things in your mind; he's my person AND I'm not his person, is instantly destabilizing. You feel a million emotions at once. The part of you that has been betrayed is crushed and furious. The part of you that has been rejected as not enough is terrified you'll lose him. The part of you that believed his lies feels like a fool smoldering in humiliation. And the part of you that believes you cannot keep both him and your self-respect wants to call an attorney. All of these Parts are real Parts of you and often they are in direct opposition of one another. Furthermore, the Part of you who discovered the truth, the Detective, relentlessly demands more information and is flooding your mind with questions. You can't turn it off no matter how hard you try. In the moment of discovery, you went from safe and innocent to feeling crazy and multiple personality disordered. Your mind is tortured by the competing voices of the Detective, the Fool, the Unwanted Girl, Self-Respect and a fierce Guard Dog ready to attack without warning.
The Unwanted Girl, in her desperation, may initiate sex in order to feel close to him. This is normal. But it leads to Self-Respect becoming furious for letting him touch you. This triggers the Guard Dog to unleash an attack you didn't know you were capable of. All of these Parts are YOU. I imagine these inner Parts of you on a bus and depending on who is driving at the moment, your thoughts, emotions and actions are under the current driver's control. Often, your Parts are struggling with one another for control and you will experience high jackings. When the Unwanted Girl is driving, expect your self-esteem to plummet. When this happens, Self-Respect or the Fool may hijack you to feel powerful and in control.
When you confront him, he will deny it in the beginning, further gaslighting your Detective. He's been living in two worlds simultaneously and told himself you would never find out, therefore wouldn't get hurt. Now that you know, his mind is reeling with thoughts on damage control. The truth is, he doesn't want a divorce. He never has. The truth is that he grew up in a culture where men prize validation by women. Where men see women as trophies to be won. This contributes to him seeing the Other Woman as a temporary solution for finding attention, validation and feeling desired. He also grew up in a culture where men are discouraged from sharing feelings of vulnerability but see anger as a healthy way to express their frustrations; most likely, pushing you away. Without the communication skills to come to you with his unhappiness or loneliness, he gave up and began distancing emotionally. This also contributes to his rationalization for having an affair. "She doesn't care about me," he told himself, and the narrative he begins weaving to justify and rationalize his decision begins. The story he's been telling himself? He actually believes it.
Most affairs happen when a perfect storm of conditions come together. When the number of risk factors goes up, so does the possibility that your husband may cheat. Some of the risk factors include work travel, insecurities, narcissistic tendencies, working in a field with potential mates of the same age or attractiveness and recent weight loss that gets attention. When these factors are then combined with marital emotional disconnection, little to no sex, resentment, fighting or lack of closeness and intimacy, a person becomes vulnerable to attention from an attractive partner. No drug is more powerful and more pleasurable than feeling wanted and validated by the opposite sex. Attention and adoration are intoxicating and part of our mating dance. Our brain is wired to respond to potential mating opportunities and a cascade of neurochemicals provide a serious buzz. Now add a few drinks to disrupt our capacity for good judgment and an affair is born. Is this an excuse? Of course not.
More than half of the couples I see in my practice are recovering from infidelity and most recover with hard work and the healing power of time. If you haven't sought out a marriage therapist with specialized training in infidelity, I strongly recommend you do. A skilled therapist can help you learn how to manage the different parts of you fighting for control of the bus. S/he can also help your husband with the Do's and Don'ts of recovery and put you on a structured path toward healing while holding your hand through it all.
If you've read my post, Dear Unfaithful Husband, you know that infidelity leads to PTSD-like symptoms that mirror those we see in war veterans. When our safety is threatened in an intense and terrifying way, we experience trauma. Our brain's natural threat system leaps to high alert to insure we are protecting ourselves from more incoming threats. Adrenaline kicks in, our senses become more acute and we are plagued by horrible intrusive thoughts, questions and images. This is outside of your control which is why we call these thoughts and images "intrusive". With time and therapy, these symptoms will abate, but the traumatized brain is reluctant to let go for fear of being retraumatized by your partner. Has he told me everything? Could this happen again? Previously innocuous things may now trigger panic. His cell phone, hotels, his place of work, roses, a woman who looks like the OW. Anything the mind formed a painful association with can become a trigger leading to a spike in adrenaline and the compulsion to fight or shut-down.
If you put off seeking professional help, you may find yourself getting depressed. Don't let this happen. Invest in as much self-care as possible including therapy, exercise, yoga and close friendships. Stay away from alcohol as this will unleash your Parts in ways you will most likely regret.
The key to recovery is finding a way to put you and your spouse back on an even playing field. Power dynamics may include your fear he'll leave (he has the power) or your moral superiority (you have the power). Either of these lead to an imbalance that will keep you stuck for years. The only true path to recovery is through finding understanding and compassion for one another. In order to do this, you have to make sure that all of your Parts are in the back of the bus and YOU are driving.
For further inquiries:
Check out Gina Watson, LMFT, at thecouplescouch.com
Phone: (281) 560- 3230