Infidelity: Now What? Ease the Pain of Heartache with These 7 Self-Care Practices!

Infidelity hurts. There’s no sugar coating it, an infidelity is a betrayal and while partner’s can betray one another a variety of times and in a variety of ways throughout their relationship, there is something about the betrayal of infidelity, whether emotional or physical, that strikes a chord that is a bit more piercing than any other form of betrayal.

This blog is not about who is right or who is wrong. There is no blame here and no labels. When infidelity occurs, it is usually indicative of hurts and wounds experienced by both partner’s during the course of their relationship. While there is no justification for cheating, there are drivers to that behavior. This blog is about what you can do and how to take care of yourself, when you first learn about the infidelity. The focus is on self-compassion throughout the process.

As a human being, I have been impacted by infidelity. I have felt my heart stop and then race uncontrollably. I have felt numbness, fear, and insecurity. I have felt the disappointment and the anger.

If you are experiencing an infidelity, I know it is hard, and if your heart is hurting, I am sorry you have to feel that kind of pain. I recognize finding out your partner has cheated brings up different thoughts and feelings for people. We are all so unique and our views about relationships, cheating, and ourselves vary. Although, there are differences in perspectives, most people will agree that infidelity hurts.

As a licensed marriage and family therapist, who has now worked with hundreds of couples, and individuals impacted by infidelity, I have held space for people in the midst of the trauma, in the middle of confusion, and have helped them ground themselves after experiencing days, and sometimes weeks of deep sadness, anxiety, and denial. Their coping skills vary from seeking out support to maladaptive behaviors that can be harmful to them or others.

Breaches hurt, especially when they are made by the people we love and trust the most. That initial shock can be the most difficult time in your process. Whether you are the person who stepped outside of the relationship or the partner who recently learned that the person they trusted has been unfaithful, infidelity hurts all those involved. Most partners do not set out to “cheat,” and what this indiscretion can mean for the relationship may still be undetermined. It is true that some couples come out of this shake up stronger than ever, however, there are times when that is not the case.

One truth is that infidelity changes things. It changes the people involved and it changes the couple dynamic. It can be the catalyst to growth and expansion, whether it be together or apart.

I have heard a lot of perspectives around whether a couple should stay together after an infidelity or part ways. Common questions I receive are:

Can the relationship be saved?

What does it say about me if I stay?

What does it say about me if I go?

These are heavy hitter questions. They are the questions we hope to never have to ask ourselves. For many, infidelity is their greatest fear.

The question I have for clients when they come into my office after learning about the infidelity is…

Question: What does it say about you if you give yourself the time, space, validation, and energy you need to figure this out?

Answer: This is a person that is not reactive, that gives themselves permission to not rush their process, and will hopefully come to a decision that they believe is best!

You get to give yourself the time you need to heal. No one else gets to tell you what to do or how to do it.

When you learn about a betrayal, it can be traumatizing and trauma takes time to process.

You get to allow all your feelings to be felt and acquire tools to learn how to sit with and validate uncomfortable feelings so you can move away from guilt, blame, and shame and get to non-judgment, validation, and acceptance.

Judgment is never helpful, whether it is judgment about your partner, yourself, or your feelings. It is not the time for judgment, it is a time in which high doses of self-compassion get to be taken throughout each day, because you truly need your love and attention as you move through this time.

You may feel overwhelmed. You may feel numb. You may feel angry. You may feel all or none of the above and I am here to tell you that your feelings are valid and you get to feel how you feel! The initial shock is tough and people handle it differently due to a bunch of different reasons ranging from how you were raised, to the current state of your relationship, to whether or not there are children involved.

No two relationships are the same, and the reasons why people decide to cheat vary, so there is not going to be a quick, fast, absolute, or “right” decision to make in terms of your next steps.

The one move that can be most helpful is to seek support. Yes, I am a therapist and I do believe in the therapeutic process wholeheartedly. I am also a person who has experienced infidelity and will share that no one should have to go through that alone. Seek support. Whether it is a friend you trust, a family member, a religious/spiritual group, or a licensed professional. If you are struggling, confused, feel isolated, anxious, and/or it is impacting your job, other relationships in your life, and the way that you are taking care of yourself, I encourage finding someone to support you.

You deserve your time.

You deserve your care.

You deserve your self-compassion.

You deserve your self-love as expressed through your boundaries, using your voice, and taking the time you need to process how the infidelity has impacted you. You get to make the decision that is best for you at this time.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you to take a breath, to slow down, and to give yourself permission to take the time needed to figure things out. Oftentimes, people feel compelled to take an immediate action and make a decision around next steps for their relationship right away. While you do not want to prolong the process, you also do not want to rush it.

People will have their opinions, and their opinions may support you, but your opinion matters most. Again, an infidelity will be the end for some relationships and for others, it will be the catalyst for change within the relationship that supports them with creating the relationship they desire together.

If you decide to work on the relationship and the infidelity opened the door to having difficult conversations, and creating a new, more fulfilling, relationship together, I absolutely wish you the best. The fact is that for some couples, with therapy and support to help identify the drivers that led to the infidelity, solutions and interventions can be discovered to help resolve them, and couples decide to stay together and can have a stronger relationship than they did before.

There are times that with or without processing some couples decide not to stay together. Sometimes that decision is mutual, other times one partner makes the decision for both. When infidelity is involved, it is often unpredictable how a couple will proceed until they have both had time to unpack what it means for them individually and what it means for their relationship.

I would never recommend staying in an abusive relationship. If your relationship is abusive or you feel unsafe, get immediate support.

7 PRACTICAL TIPS TO SUPPORT YOU AFTER LEARNING ABOUT THE INFIDELITY:

I have worked with hundreds of clients who have gone through infidelity, while in group practice and currently in my private practice. Here are some immediate steps:

  1. Prioritize your mental health and well-being: by putting yourself first as you work through these steps.
  2. Validate your emotions: accept all of the feelings you are experiencing without judgment and allow them to flow through you.
  3. Try not to be reactive: try not to make an immediate, emotionally charged decision.
  4. Seek support: either a therapist or someone you can trust.
  5. Practice self-care: nutrition and proper sleep are vital. Practice compassionate self-talk, take care of your hygiene and if you are struggling with self-care, please refer to #4.
  6. Identify your needs: reflect, journal, and check in with yourself around what you need in this present moment.
  7. Establish boundaries: create your own emotional safety by creating boundaries.

I have created a journal that includes prompts, practices, affirmations, and exercises that pull from mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and attachment theory to better understand your feelings at this time. It was created to help individuals work through their initial shock and uncomfortable emotions, create healthy boundaries, and nurture self-love by providing information, validation, and tools that will be useful throughout their lives, long after they have processed the infidelity. I have used the tools in my own life and many of the tools have supported hundreds of clients. I am happy to be able to share them in the form of a journal. The journal is called, “Healing from Infidelity: A Guided Journal,” and is currently on sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. It is not meant to be a replacement for seeking support at this time. It can be a useful tool on your healing journey.

Sending you love and reminding you that you get to be the author of the story of your life. An infidelity does not have to define you or your relationship.

YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND DESERVING OF TRUTH

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/therapy_tam/

“Remember, US?” Wake Up, Your Relationship Needs You! 5 Tools to Help…

Hey, the world is changing (newsflash, it always is) and it is hard to feel grounded in times of so much uncertainty. I get that you are stressed…and confused. I know you are battling with your own challenges, and work is probably CRAZY right now, that’s if you are lucky enough to be working right now. Right now? Let’s be honest, it has probably been crazy. If it is not one stressor, it is another, and another, most definitely another. One thing I have learned personally is that, there will always be ANOTHER FREAKIN’ STRESSOR! We can not help all that happens in this world, but we can learn how to manage how we deal with it and how we treat the people we care about in the process. So you need “me” time, “self-care” time, “alone” time. You need time to decompress, relax, connect with others, and of course connect with self. When you are doing those things, when you are deep in thought and giving yourself permission to be selfish, do you think about how that impacts the person you decided to be in a relationship with? While it is crucial that you take time to connect with/understand self, I have a question for you…

What about your relationship?

The world is indeed in flux right now. We have all been impacted in one way or another. Whether we have been directly impacted or we have been impacted in relation to others, we have been impacted because our world has been impacted. What does that mean? It means you have been impacted. What else does this mean? It means your relationships have inevitably been impacted. It is tough, it is different, why not turn to your partner and team up. Turn towards your partner and get through it together.

Whether you categorize the impact as “good” or “bad” I am not here to support you with putting a value on the perceived current state of your relationship. Perhaps you found this blog because you are looking to save your relationship, fall back in love, or simply feel more connected. The purpose of this post is to remind you that if you have a partner, someone you care about, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or a spouse, etc. Your relationship has been impacted by life events (baby, marriage, death, infidelity) and world events(politics, racism, pandemics, unemployment). As you change, your relationship shifts, and in order to move through those ebbs and flows together, you have to talk.

While I highlight the need to take care of yourself quite frequently in my blog posts and affirmations, I have an internal obligation which compels me to share (just in case it has been off your radar) your relationship with your romantic partner needs attention and relationship-care as well.

In December of 2019, I wrote a blog called, “Remember, “ME,” in which I talked about getting to know yourself fully, intimately, and unconditionally. The message of the blog is important and is always relevant. Self-love is necessary to fully love another person free of co-dependency and wounds. Today I right a blog entitled, “Remember, US.” Us, being your chosen romantic partner. The person you decided to be in some kind of relationship with, spend time with, share life with, marry, be entangled with, have children with, live with…

Your relationship needs you. We are all quick to point the finger at our partner when we are unhappy. We blame them, we resent them, we vilify them. My question to you is, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

Whether it is smooth sailing right now or the two of you are contemplating separation, you share in the present state as well as the outcome. You contributed to the current state of your relationship. What is your vision for tomorrow? What do you want for your relationship?

Begin to envision the relationship you want. Do not try to make it how it was. Think about what you want to create for your relationship moving forward. If you want a more loving, warm, and supportive relationship then envision yourself being warmer, being supportive, and being loving. Ask your partner to join you on this quest for a happier and healthier relationship. Are you both invested? Again, IF YOU ARE BOTH INVESTED, you can create the amazing relationship you both deserve.

Even if there has been hurt, infidelity, and/or breach of trust, you can work towards creating a deeper level of understanding and connectedness moving forward. Sometimes, that is not possible. Sometimes, relationships end. If you do not want your relationship to end AND your partner shares the same goal, you still may have a chance to not only save your relationship but also be happy within your relationship! I encourage you to seek couples and/or individual therapy if one or both partners have emotionally checked out and are struggling to engage in the tools section of this post.

5 TOOLS TO BEGIN RELATIONSHIP-CARE:

  1. Identify your strengths as a couple. Question: What do I consider our relationship strengths? (Examples: we are both family oriented, we are supportive of one another, we have shared goals, we have great sex and are satisfied with our current sex life, we have stimulating conversations, we are both neat, we value friendships, we are both independent, we share the same spiritual/religious/political beliefs, we both like to exercise, we are both vegans, we are in a similar/same profession, we love pets, we both respect one another’s alone time, we both take on problems head on, etc…). When you know your strengths, you can use them in other areas of your relationship. It helps when you can remind yourselves that there are ways in which the two of you navigate that are unique strengths that you can build upon.
  2. Ask yourself, what type of relationship do I want? (examples are, how much time you spend together, what do you want to do when you are together, how you show compassion to one another, how you listen to one another, activities you want to try together, how you appreciate being supported, how you enjoy supporting your partner). Schedule time to SHARE your answers with one another, explore what your partner shares, gather information to learn how your partner feels, validate and listen to understand. Remember, in order to create the relationship you both want, you each have to be willing to do your part!
  3. Assess: Are there things you may need to let go of in order to create a relationship you are both happy with? Are there negative narratives about yourself/your partner’s habits, personality, and/or activities they enjoy? Identify what those narratives/stories are, the stories about your partner and the stories about your couple dynamic (examples are: she is closed off and cold, he never listens, we are just not that type of couple, we are a couple that likes to argue, we don’t need all that time together, he/she/they will never change, etc.) Are you willing to let go of past stories? What about your own self limiting beliefs about who you are? You have to be willing to create a new story for yourself as well. You have to be willing to let the old viewpoints go. It doesn’t mean being ignorant of past behavior. It means giving each of you and your relationship room to grow and see things differently.
  4. What are some new things you would like to practice/embrace? The two of you can check in with one another around any ideas you have for new, concrete practices. (Examples: the use of terms of endearment, date night/sacred time, more tender/adventurous/playful/spontaneous/scheduled sex, cooking together, more communication throughout the day, a spiritual practice, an exercise regimen, going for a walk holding hands, taking a class together, more time with other couples, etc…). Step #2 talks about sharing what you want to create, this step puts those ideas into tangible and concrete practices you can take action to achieve. Once you create a plan together, step 5 will support you both with staying consistent and continuing to have connecting conversations.
  5. Action: Create a plan and designate a day to check in with one another. It can be a weekly check in over coffee/tea/wine or a monthly check in. Figure out the time and activity together, considering each of your individual schedules. Holding yourself accountable is crucial. You want to come together as a team and see how each of you are feeling about the relationship. Go into the conversation with a positive/proactive approach, one in which you are taking accountability and are giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. You both get to create an emotionally safe environment for one another. No blaming. No shaming. No name calling. Remember to validate before you share, and navigate from a place of love. If you need additional support, it may be time to get the support of a relationship counselor/therapist.

The above questions and outline can support getting you started and beginning important conversations that can lead to relationship transformation. Relationships take work, they require time, and commitment. Oftentimes, we take our relationships for granted, we do not take the time to support them with growth and expansion and then we get frustrated when they are not thriving. Your relationship is not separate from you. You are part of your relationship. Do you want to feel differently about the relationship? Show up differently and build on the strengths your relationship already has. As a couples therapist it has been my experience that in order for healing and rebuilding to take place, BOTH partners have to be willing to challenge themselves to grow and be fully invested in the process.

I have two other blogs, “Validation Do’s and Don’ts for Couples” and “Talk to Me, 6 Ways to Create Emotional Safety in your Relationship,” that can support each of you with additional tools for tough conversations.

Wishing you the very best and hoping that you find the courage and inner strength to identify what it is that you want, and then do your part to create it!

As always, with love, Tamara

If you are or believe you may be a victim of Domestic Abuse, please see the following links for support:

In New York City: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hra/help/domestic-violence-support.page

In New York State: https://opdv.ny.gov/help/dvhotlines.html

National Hotlines: https://victimconnect.org/resources/national-hotlines/