If you’re wondering how to deal with triggers from infidelity, here are 10 essential tips from neuroscience and science-based couples therapy that can abbreviate your suffering and accelerate your healing.
Your nervous system is burdened with traumatic stress. Anxiety…rage..fear…may hammer you daily.
But your triggers are not you. They are annoying visitors. Triggers should be tolerated with curiosity, not accepted with resignation.
You’ll have good days and bad days.
And on the anniversary of the disclosure or discovery, you will learn that your triggers have a timetable all their own.
The best way to manage triggers from infidelity is to notice what is happening to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, externalize the trigger, and ask your spouse for what you most need in the present moment to self-regulate.
You’ll be doing fine, and then suddenly feel exposed, sad, angry, and profoundly uncertain. This is just your monkey mind doing its job.
Your brain doesn’t care if you’re happy or optimistic. It only cares if you’re safe. And if it’s not sure you’re safe, it will remind you that the issue of safety is still unresolved.
The best mindset around an infidelity trigger is to treat it like an annoying visitor…like a drunk who saddles up next to you in a bar. It would even help you if you had an image in your mind of what this trigger looks like as it slides next to you and whispers in your ear.
This is the powerful idea of externalization. Instead of surrendering to the physiology of the trigger, notice your body. Are there certain, predictable sensations that alert you to an infidelity trigger?
And yes, it’s normal. Notice these sensations. Talk to yourself about what you notice. Breathe and slow down. Surviving infidelity triggers takes a commitment to practice, drill, and rehearse your response to trigger-inducing situations. This is the kind of practice and preparation you get in science-based couples therapy to help restore emotional regulation.
It’s a paradigm shift to appreciate that triggers provide an opportunity for you to learn profound self-care.
And as a hurt partner, when it comes to dealing with triggers from infidelity, self-care is your first responsibility. Managing trauma is hard work.
But your self-care has to navigate the first hurdle, the real possibility that relentless triggers could provoke a victim mindset leaving you inconsolable.
It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. You are, after all the hurt partner. Your spouse cheated on you, and you both will have to process the meaning and manage the memory of that betrayal as you move through time.
It’s reasonable for you to expect certain commitments from your spouse if they want the marriage to survive. But you may have to challenge your own mindset sometimes, or your affair recovery will stall. This is where good science-based couples therapy can really help.
Triggers are a test. Your brain is asking…“are we still unsafe?” This is the concern of a friend. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
When you feel a trigger coming on, ask yourself if you were triggered by something external (a date, object, word, or action from my spouse), or did you generate the triggering thought out of your tormented rumination?
This is when you have to be methodical and deliberate. Notice…your body sensations…your thoughts…your emotions…breathe. You’ll learn to notice more carefully what you are being triggered by. We’ll teach you how to do that.
You notice your emotions in order not to so readily identify with them. Talk to your self about THE rage, fear, or whatever the emotion might be like a visitor and not like a roommate.
Then you’re going to have to decide how you’re going to manage the situation so you can master the trigger.
For couples determined to survive infidelity, external triggers that can be eliminated probably should be.
I’ve seen everything from apartments, sports cars, phones, matchbooks, clothing, etc. disposed of by couples de-triggering their environment.
This is an area your couples therapist can help you to manage together. Dealing with triggers from infidelity is a load-lightening experience. Some things just will have to go.
That means these triggers must be carefully inventoried and thoroughly discussed. We’ll teach you how to do that too.
For couples dealing with triggers from infidelity, a trigger management plan is essential. You both have jobs to do.
While the details of how to do this will vary with each couple, The brain must be persuaded that; “finally, we are safe.”
You do this by reaching out to your partner in a matter-of-fact way, describing the trigger with externalizing language, and focusing on shifting to a corrective emotional experience by asking for what you most need… right now.
Do you know what you need right now? What can you ask for? How can you freely share your thoughts and feelings in real-time? Managing triggers as they happen is an opportunity to rebuild trust and emotional vulnerability.
Hurt partners don’t have a monopoly on triggers. Good couples therapy will teach you how to use triggers as opportunities to earn back trust. You’ll also both learn exactly how to ask for, (and get) language that is less triggering.
Dealing with triggers from infidelity is hard work for hurt partners at first. But with a cooperative spouse and a good couples therapist, you can make rapid improvement.
Surviving infidelity is a crisis that demands a collaborative response. The more skills you acquire in dealing with triggers from infidelity, the faster you heal and repair your frazzled nervous systems.
But more importantly, dealing with triggers from infidelity provides the baseline emotional stability that is so important for affair recovery. You can accomplish this online and from your own living room.
In many cases, 5 years out, couples report that the shared struggle and work of their affair recovery laid a new foundation for greater intimacy and emotional connection. For those couples, successfully dealing with triggers from infidelity was an essential first step.
A Ground Hog Day Fight plays out like theater.
You each know your lines because your conflict is well-rehearsed. Then, your partner says or does something that triggers you.
As you get more upset and enter Diffuse Physiological Arousal, the cortisol will collect in the hippocampus, a part of your brain that is the seat of your short-term memory.
Because of the toxic effect of the cortisol, you’ll tend to forget the exact details of how you were triggered…setting you both up for a Deja-Vu when dealing with reoccurring triggers from infidelity.
So please write your triggers down in a brief, bullet-point style.
Be curious…when you work with Couples Therapy Inc, you’ll learn how to collect your triggers. You’ll learn the Aftermath of a Fight process that will transform your fights into opportunities to make rapid progress.
In intensive couples therapy, you’ll also learn about essential journaling; writing down how you get triggered is fundamental when dealing with triggers from infidelity. Rebuilding trust is an essential early task in affair recovery and managing triggers encourages you to rebuild trust more quickly as you retrain your nervous system to extinguish the trigger.
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Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.