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Adam Maurer, LPC, LMFT
“Slow down. Breath. Beyoncé made it through an affair and so can you.” These are the words of comfort I offer folks who find my couch after a relationship betrayal. Being a relationship guru, I work with a number of folks trying to navigate the aftermath of an affair. There are racing thoughts and intense feelings that flood both the betrayed and the person who broke the relationship agreement. This is a time of crisis for many couples and without any guidance, folks tend to make a difficult situation even worse for themselves. If you are facing this issue or supporting someone who is, here are some basic tips for crisis management after an affair — and how to titrate the traumatic effects.
- Be Aware Of Communication About The Situation – Seeking comfort, clarity, or even a container for intense raw emotions; people sometimes overshare about their relationship crisis. A Facebook post from the injured party blasts the behavior and character of their partner. Calling up contact after contact on the phone and dumping the challenging mess in the lap of the person who happened to pick up the phone. Some folks feel so hurt that they even ask their children (who are minors) to be their emotional support. Though this might feel relieving in the moment, it can create a whole bunch of problems in the big picture. Imagine if, after the shock of the betrayal, you decide to stay together. Now you have to engage with every friend and family member you spoke with to try and shift their opinions about your partner (and continued relationship) so that time together is not awkward. Everyone’s at your house eating Christmas dinner while giving your partner the side eye because they all know what happened. Instead of telling everyone, consider who might be a great support. Think about who do you know that could empathize with you as well as your partner? Find someone mature enough to give you space to vent without judgment of either one of you. This could be a close friend, family member, or even a therapist. While some folks struggle with too much-unfiltered talk about the issue, others isolate and cut themselves off from supports altogether. Their fears, pain, shock, humiliation, all seem to conspire to silence their voice when they need help the most. Having no one to talk to about the affair leads to running thoughts and increased emotional intensity. This tension eventually surfaces in the relationship in any number of challenging ways, such as continued snooping of a partner’s connections to others: email, phone, social media, credit card statements, etc. When emotional intensity builds like this and comes out sideways the situation can easily get worse. Again, a connection to a wise listener will disrupt the ruins of isolation. Once the relationship betrayal has been brought to light, it is important for the person who has broken the trust, to be honest. Now, this can be a difficult task. A hurt person might have a number of questions, and there might not be answers immediately ready during a discussion. At this point, trust is needing to be rebuilt so any lying, covering up, or agreeing only to appease an injured partner will only make the task of reestablishing trust more difficult. If you are worried that an answer might hurt your loved one, state that concern as opposed to covering up the truth. If you are unsure if you can honor a partner’s request 100% then state that concern. A betrayal hurts, and it will take the time to heal. There is no quick fix and being dishonest will not help the relationship in the bigger picture. Again, this can be very painful and a relationship counselor can help guide you all through this difficult landscape.
- Journal Journal Journal – A betrayal is going to likely release a flood of challenging emotions and they will need someplace to be expressed, so get a journal and write. Write without hesitation or editing, don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just write without stopping for at least 10 minutes in the day so that those intense emotions have a place to go, later you can review your writings and uncover themes in your words. Not only will this help both parties process the situation so that they are better able to discuss it later, it will make it easier to continue with the everyday tasks of being a human. Allowing yourself a place and time to weep will make it less likely that you’ll find yourself unexpectedly sobbing in the grocery store. Respect that both you and your partner need a space to process without judgment, so you will have to resist the urge to read your loved one’s unfiltered writings. Once things calm down, you can process together what you learned through journaling. If emotional intensity makes this too challenging a task, then utilize a therapist trained in relationship work to help you.
- Take Time For Self-Care – A betrayal in a relationship will take its toll on all involved so you have to take the time to replenish your resources. Workout, get a massage, meditate, whatever you have to do to get a break from the chaos and recharge. Self-care will allow you time to just be present in the moment and connect with yourself. The emotional intensity in a relationship after an affair can be exhausting. After a betrayal folks are usually pulled into the past, trying to create security by rehashing the events that unfolded; then suddenly they feel flung into the future with anxiety over the next steps and dread of possible losses. So, make sure to do something positive for yourself so you can continue to be your best self as you figure out how to move ahead in your relationship. An affair is a devastating event for most relationships and it can actually lead to a better partnership. Once people manage the hurt of an affair, they are often in a place to better communicate their needs in their relationship. This can lead to greater satisfaction with a partner. It is hard work, and it can be worth it. If you find yourself facing this challenge know that we are here for you. We can help you and your partner find a way to reconnect, recommit, and get more out of your relationship. You too can be like Beyoncé.
If you like this blog, check out some of my other writings on relationships, sex, and love. Also, feel free to contact us to make a counseling appointment or for a free consult. You can also read about couples counseling on our dedicated page.