By Concentric Counselor Jennifer Larson, LCPC, NCC
You have discovered or have been told that your partner has been having an affair. You’ve been hit by a ton of bricks engulfed by a tsunami of emotions ranging from anger, resentment, wanting to seek revenge to sadness, despair and helplessness. One of the first questions that may arise is “Should I stay or should I go?” While the answer is there and is different for everyone, you may not have an immediate answer or you unequivocally have the answer and are already in the height of your action plan. Whether you do not know the answer or are in overdrive planning every detail of your action plan, let me suggest hitting the pause button and consider these steps.
1. Do not make any immediate decisions regarding your marriage. You are experiencing one of life’s most devastating and traumatic events which flood you with emotional intensity overriding judgment and reasoning. Acting now may entail regrets later. Remember your relationship with your spouse and family has developed over time. Your marriage and children are one of your biggest life’s investments which warrant time to determine this important decision and its lifelong impact.
2. Experience your feelings and sit with your values. Experience your feelings as they arise. Take note of how your upbringing, values, or religious beliefs may play a role in figuring out what to do. Grab a journal and write it all out.
3. Talk with those you trust. You will want to obtain support from others. Select a few people you truly trust. Telling everyone can be very damaging by creating more confusion and chaos. Not to mention, if you and your spouse decide to stay together, some family and friends may not be able to recover and re-integrate into your family.
4. Begin a self-care program. Taking care of yourself is vital to your well-being during this time. Tune into the basics, such as a getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and exercising. You may want to shift your focus by picking up a hobby or enrolling in a fun class.
5. Remain committed to other areas of your life. Continue to be present by focusing on your children, going to work, and taking care of your household.
6. Confront your spouse. Find the appropriate time and environment to ask your spouse general questions about the affair. Do not engage in ‘pain shopping’ by demanding nitty-gritty details that will only be more traumatic.
7. Become educated. Read some books about infidelity and begin to understand the various contributing factors that can lead to infidelity.
8. Get counseling and therapy. Meet with an individual therapist for guidance and support during this time especially given the risk of depression and anxiety. Seeking couples therapy will be important if the goals are to explore and understand the contributing factors to the infidelity; to repair, heal, and rebuild the marriage; or to transition to separation and divorce.
9. Consult with a lawyer. You may want to obtain general information about your rights and the legal process.
10. Do we tell our children? Infidelity does affect children. There is no hard and fast answer to this question. It depends on various factors, some include the type of infidelity, whether children know or are at risk of discovering, age of children, and whether parents remain together or divorce. A therapist can guide parents as to what to and what not to share based on these factors.
Experiencing unfaithfulness in marriage is one of the most crushing experiences a person can go through. Engaging in these steps will help you get through the pain in the best way possible with integrity. They can also help you gain greater insight and awareness into your marriage and determine the answer and the best course of action for you and your family.