You’ve just discovered their affair
You’ve just discovered their affair. Now what?
Affair recovery is a huge part of our work here at CTI. And the first step in recovery is dealing with the shock, pain, and uncertainty that the hurt partner experiences.
While not all Hurt Partners are the same, there are predictable inflection points just after an affair is discovered that may needlessly deepen and exacerbate the pain and suffering of the hurt partner.
Because after you’ve discovered their affair, self-care is paramount, we asked Certified Sex Therapist and Gottman Couples therapist Angela Voegele what hurt partners should focus on immediately after discovering an affair.
Author Angela Voegele (center) with John and Julie Gottman
Best practices after you’ve just discovered their affair
Here are 13 best practices from Angela when you’ve just discovered their affair:
- Don’t make any big decisions in the beginning while you are emotionally flooded. You are in crisis mode, things seem more permanent and unfixable while one is overwhelmed. Take space, breathe, but don’t decide anything concrete yet.
- Keep safe. Do what you need to do to keep and feel safe. Ask for help, reach out, seek individual therapy – whatever is needed for you to stay safe and… breathe. Take one day at a time.
- Practice self-compassion. Practice grace, kindness, and mercy with… yourself. Recognize how your harmful thoughts impact you.
- Take some time for self-care (like meditation, deep breathing, longer baths, walks, singing to loud music… whatever works for you).
- If you want to ask your partner questions (which is very normal), ask yourself :
Will I feel better or worse after having asked them? If not… don’t ask just yet.
Manage your triggers
I know, this is easier said than done. But the wrong question can install a trigger in your nervous system that will now require ongoing management.
Maybe you could start a journal. Or ask your individual therapist if you can write them down instead – thereby maintaining a safe place to “bookmark” these questions should you both decide to enter Affair Recovery Couples Therapy in the near future.
- Another important question to ask yourself after you’ve discovered their affair is whether your critical issues are seeking meaning or facts? Pursue meaning whenever possible (meaning questions are “what did the affair mean to you?” vs fact questions “how many times did you have sex…and what kind of sex did you have?”).
Facts can often distract us from our core feelings & meanings, and may also intensify other haunting, intrusive thoughts by installing unnecessary vivid images in our already stressed-out brains.
If you want to talk to someone other than your therapist about the relationship, choose someone you really trust. Don’t talk to too many people.
After you’ve discovered their affair, who are you going to tell?
If you tell your siblings, parents, or friends, consider what happens to those relationships should you succeed in repairing your marriage. Now your contrite spouse will have all these additional broken relationships to deal with, while at the same time, they should be focusing primarily on your needs.
Remember whoever you choose to talk to after you’ve discovered their affair will highly likely be biased to some degree. But if they are a close friend or family member, they will also be furious with your partner for hurting you.
The more people you tell, the more people you’d have to handle when you both decide to work on your marriage. Facing infidelity is hard work as it is, having your support system cheering you on to divorce your partner makes it even harder.
Remember affair recovery takes courage! It can feel shameful when trust has been broken.
But nobody can fix your feelings right now. But good couples therapy can help your partner share those feelings with you and lighten your load.
Affair recovery invites your best self to show up
Relationships are not “and they lived happily ever after.” Affair recovery requires daily dedication and commitment, sacrifice, and hard work. Fixing what’s broken also takes tremendous courage, strength, and compassion.
Affair recovery also requires an immediate shift in your stance toward your partner, at least until their motivation to repair the marriage has been confirmed by unambiguous, specific concrete actions, such as ending the affair, being completely and utterly transparent with phone and computer passwords, accepting full responsibility and entering science-based couples therapy with you.
It’s OK to feel confused
You don’t need to know how to fix things, it can seem impossible to you. It’s not your job to know how to fix it, that’s where couples therapy comes in. Your couples therapist works within your mutual presence and consent. The issue of boundaries and bottom lines are often helpfully explored beforehand, with an individual therapist, if needed. Bottom lines for Hurt Partners are essential for affair recovery.
Breathe. I’ve said it before. Breathing deeply is not emphasized enough in affair recovery. It provides more oxygen to your brain which really helps you physiologically to calm down. And it also allows one to become more involved in now instead of glued to what was or what was supposed to be. When overwhelmed, urgency can take precedence. No big decisions should be made while you are emotionally flooded.
After you’ve discovered their affair you may want some therapy
Consider the option of getting an individual therapist for yourself, particularly if your spouse is resistant to entering couples therapy. You may need some extra, unbiased, professional support. Be careful who you choose though – make sure they are pro-marriage, regardless of what you and your partner decide to do.
I can’t tell you how many clients told me that their individual therapist was pro-divorce because of their own counter-transference.
It’s OK to talk to a friend. But choose wisely.
Some friends have issues in their own marriages and will project their anxieties onto yours. They may unconsciously urge you to act out their own revenge fantasies against their own partners.
Don’t stifle your tears: Crying is good science
It’s okay to cry. Cry. Crying cleans out neuro-toxins from your brain. Make time to cry if you have kids and work and feel like you won’t have time but cry.
It’s like a shower for the inside, allowing you to clean out some cobwebs and painful emotions.
Lastly, if you have children, have firm boundaries. Particularly for older couples with adult children who are too often treated as peers who are somehow required to take sides. Keep your adult kids out of it, if you can.
Please be careful not to over-share or villainize their mom or dad. New research tells us that adult children have their own often ignored issues and concerns when their parents are in an acute crisis.
No matter how devastated and angry you are, young children do not have the cognitive capacity (or emotional understanding) to make sense of it. The misfortune of being a Hurt Partner does not give you the moral authority to triangulate with your children…no matter what their age.
After you’ve discovered their affair…
Can you rebuild a stronger marriage?
While it is certainly not true for every couple, some couples emerge from an affair stronger than before.
After you’ve discovered their affair, don’t let this crisis go to waste.
Get science-based couples therapy and have a full and frank assessment of why and how you were vulnerable.
And then take action to rebuild a deeper and more intimate bond.
Research tells us that many couples in the affair recovery process often report having more frequent and intimate sex, better conversations, and a renewed appreciation for their marriage.
What you do in the first few days or even hours after you’ve discovered their affair truly matters.
Heal from the affair, when you’re ready
Originally published December 29, 2018