I am still struggling with my husband’s emotional affair from three years ago. I have days and months I don’t even think about it, but baseball started again. I don’t want to remove my son from the league but that’s where my reminders are. I have a fear of running into her. Not worried about him doing it again and I am not worried he would talk to her again. He has truly proven to me he wants to work on us, and we have had some amazing times since the truth got revealed. I just can’t get over it when the triggers happen. It’s been three years and I know he has not had any communication with her. She even texted him and he sent me a screen shot immediately to let me know.
How do I approach my husband when I start to feel triggered, so I don’t boil up my feelings anymore? Last year baseball was shut down and I didn’t get triggered. Baseball season is also the time my husband and her talked for hours on the phone. He allowed her to come to the house, invited her to my birthday celebration, my son and her son had become good friends, and even goes to the same school. Once COVID hit, the worry of seeing her was there but I didn’t feel as hurt as I do with baseball back to normal this year. Her son doesn’t play anymore but her boyfriend’s son plays at the same ballpark. I start feeling unworthy again when those triggers happen, and I don’t know how to cope with them.
I’m glad to hear your husband has worked hard to rebuild trust in your marriage after his emotional affair. Even though he’s doing his part to repair the damage he caused, the unwanted triggers can still persist. Even though you can’t control when the triggers show up, your reaction to them can determine how they impact you. Let’s talk about how you can respond in ways that promote healing for you and your relationship.
You’re right that the pandemic allowed us to avoid social discomfort, but as things open back up, it’s time to begin facing the emotions and triggers that didn’t resolve with avoidance. As you’ve noticed, triggers aren’t only about proximity. Triggers surface when events, seasons, situations, people, music, smells, or other things remind us of traumatic experiences. These associations are often subconscious and can surprise us. In fact, many people feel crazy when they experience these triggers, as it can dial up more feelings of powerlessness.
While it’s sometimes possible (and helpful) to identify specific ways to reduce or eliminate triggers, you can also learn how to respond to these triggers in ways that help you keep your emotional balance. You can develop healthy self-regulation skills and also learn to co-regulate with your husband to reduce the impact of these unwanted triggers. Knowing you have options to work through triggers will give you the confidence to leave your house, go to baseball games, and reclaim your life.
When we feel a threat to our safety and security, it’s normal for our brain to immediately go offline as we move into action to protect ourselves or those we love. These responses rarely accomplish anything productive and can leave us feeling more foolish and powerless. The faster you can convince your body that it doesn’t need to fight, flee, or freeze to survive, the faster you can reclaim your brain and make decisions that align with the current reality.
One way to send this signal to your body is to practice grounding and breathing. You can even take a few seconds right now to do this. If you’re sitting down, notice the ground pressing up on your feet, the chair pressing on your legs and back, and the feeling of support holding you up. Take a few seconds to notice your breath moving in and out of your nostrils as you feel your body connecting to the ground and the chair. You might notice feeling a bit more centered and connected to your body and surroundings. This feeling is what’s called “grounding.” We are taught in the scriptures that stillness helps us know we’re safe and secure.[i] When we are grounded, it sends a signal to our bodies that we’re safe. It’s less likely we’ll become reactive and do things that keep us running from perceived danger.
This other woman (and your husband) caused you great anguish and pain. Your brain and body will convince you that she’s an active threat. If your husband was still actively pursuing her, then I would give you different advice. However, since you report feeling better with his restorative efforts over the past three years, it’s time to teach your body and mind that she’s no longer a threat. You can practice grounding before you attend the ball games, and you can continue practicing it during the games when you feel triggers surfacing.
You asked how you can approach your husband when you’re triggered. As I mentioned earlier, your husband is a powerful emotional and physical regulator who can help you feel more emotionally balanced. It’s normal to hesitate opening up to your spouse when you feel like your body and brain have been hijacked. However, his reassurance and confidence in your relationship can resolve the fear of abandonment and betrayal faster than anything else you could do. I recommend you visit with him about how he can best support you when you’re not feeling triggered. That way, he can know what to expect and how he can best show up for you and the relationship.
If you know you’re going to be in a situation where she might show up, you can ask him to stay close to you so you can have that physical reminder that you’re together. You can also let him know you are starting to feel insecure and ask him for reassurance about his commitment to you and your future. You may feel immature or clingy asking for this reassurance. This is completely normal, but if he can respond positively to you, the anxiety will dissipate. Since he has been consistent in his repair efforts, it’s highly likely he’ll gladly reassure you.
We allow ourselves to comfort others who might feel scared or insecure, but often deny ourselves that same need. We also have countless scriptural accounts showing the power of God reassuring all of us that He is watching over us. The truth is that we simply do better when we know someone is there for us. We truly are stronger together.
It will take courage to begin reclaiming your life so you can show up for your son at his games. You’ll begin to experience more freedom as the perceived threat of this other woman interfering with your marriage slowly fades into the past. Your marriage is pointed in the right direction and you’ve made significant progress that give you the confidence you’re seeking.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] See Psalm 46:10, D&C 101:16, and D&C 123:17