I have been married for 23 years and during the first ten years my husband had three affairs (that I know of). I was devastated but we managed to stay together. I recently found out that the second affair went further than he had originally told me. This has completely destroyed me. Why is it bothering me as if It happened yesterday? Little by little I am finding out details from the affair and it destroys me and throws me off for days at a time. I will start to feel a little better but then something new comes out. I feel disgusting, ashamed, embarrassed, like a clown, and like I am not good enough. I don’t know how to move past this and shake these feelings.
He has apologized and is really trying, but I can’t get past this. I am so hurt. It consumes me every day. How can I trust him again? How can I stop living in the past? We are still together, and I still love him, but I can’t get past the pain I feel every single day. I envision them together even though it has been supposedly 17 years since they last talked. My anger and pain are killing me. They destroyed me to the point I almost miscarried my daughter and then finding out the truth now hurts just as much as 17 years ago. I really don’t know what to do anymore. Any advice would be helpful.
I’m terribly sorry to hear that you’re experiencing ongoing betrayal in your marriage. Even though your husband says he hasn’t cheated on you in a long time, keeping secrets about what really happened has been a daily betrayal all this time. If you’re still finding out new information about your husband’s behaviors, your marriage won’t be a place of peace until you completely know the truth.
It’s good that he’s apologizing and trying, but good intentions aren’t going to be enough to immediately calm down the trauma you’re experiencing. You’re experiencing betrayal trauma, which is a type of posttraumatic stress disorder. You already experienced years of active betrayal when he was cheating on you and learning these new details years later throws your body, mind, and heart backward as if it’s happening right now. This has nothing to do with letting go of the past or forgiving him. This is an automatic trauma response your body is experiencing to help protect you from the very real danger you experienced when you found out he was cheating on you.
When you learn new information now, it brings up the very real fear that you’re not safe and there may be more information that could be a threat to your physical and emotional safety. The truth is, all trauma is dangerous to your physical health. Fear, anxiety, loss of appetite, depression, suicidal thoughts, sleep problems, and other trauma reactions create immediate and long-term physical consequences.
Here are three things you can do right now to help you cope with the devastating effects of betrayal trauma:
- Educate yourself about betrayal trauma. I recommend you start with Dr. Jill Manning’s safety checklists and other betrayal trauma resources to help you meet your immediate emotional and physical safety needs (https://drjillmanning.com/digital-downloads/). These will help you get the soothing, safety, and direction you need to begin healing.
- Build a support system of other women who can help you through this. You can join a free 12-step support group for betrayed women. The Church has spouse and family support groups available around the world. SA Lifeline also has free online support groups you can join to help you get the support you need.[i]
- Seek professional help from a therapist who is trained in treating affairs and betrayal trauma. You’ll want you husband to go through the process of a full therapeutic disclosure since he continues to reveal more details. Have your husband stop telling you details until you can get the support and structure from a therapist. He can write down the things he needs to tell you and share them under the guidance of a therapist so you don’t continue to get re-traumatized every single time he brings something up. If you have questions, you can write them down and share them with the support of your therapist. Having someone there to help you both rebuild safety and trust is critical right now.
Even though there is more work your husband needs to do so he can heal and help heal your marriage, it’s important that you don’t wait around for him to do something so you can feel better. There are things you can do right now to help you get the support you need. Your body and mind won’t slow down until you know the truth and have the proper supports in place. Follow these three recommendations so you can get the peace you need.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. 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.
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