What you can and can’t do to speed it up – and what are the signs that it is nearly over…
From the minute you find out that you have been betrayed by your partner – whether you find out by accident or your partner tells you – you are on a journey with the goal to move from broken to whole. No one gets through the revelation of infidelity unscathed. But where you go from there is entirely up to you.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it. While you did not ask for this to happen to you and it has shattered your whole world – you have to find that 90% to recover.
So what sort of journey is it? Essentially it is a journey of coming to terms with loss and the grief associated with that.
The journey will take as long as it takes. Everyone’s journey is different and their meaning of the loss in their life will differ. The literature talks about 2 years on average – remember averages can have huge outliers but to be honest I have seen a lot longer but not a lot shorter – for me personally I would say around 2 ½ years. I think we can only process a certain amount at a time and I know that rushing it leaves important areas unattended to that you just have to come back to sometime.
In looking back over the process I went through and observing the people I now work with, I think that Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s model for the stages of working through grief makes a lot of sense. What follows is my description of that model as I think it relates to affair recovery. Forewarned is forearmed…but remember – this is not a linear journey. The boundaries between the stages are moveable and you may go around a couple of times before coming out the other end.
DENIAL – a perfectly natural defence mechanism when your world comes crashing down – believing that it hasn’t really happened. Refusing to accept the facts. Common signs in affair recovery:
- Ignoring the role your partner played and putting it all on the other person.
- Not wanting to talk about it.
Couples can get stuck permanently here if they choose to sweep it under the carpet rather than deal with the emotional fall out.
ANGER - this can take a number of forms – one at a time or all together:
- Anger at self – I should have known; if only I had done something different; how could I be so stupid - self hate/low self esteem/shattered sense of self
- Partner – how dare s/he; hate; revulsion; feelings of revenge
- other person – feelings of revenge, jealousy and hate
BARGAINING – seeking to negotiate a compromise with the issue. It is a kind of to and fro struggle as you move from out of control emotions to an understanding that it has really happened. Common signs in affair recovery:
- wishing for amnesia – if I don’t remember it, it will all be better/go away.
- If I stop talking about it, it will all be better;
DEPRESSION - It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. Emotions are intense at this stage and need to be nurtured to move towards recovery. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that you have at least begun to accept the reality.
ACCEPTANCE - Is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. You can think about what happened with gradually less pain until eventually it just becomes part of your past – your own very special history. You will know you are healed when you can tell your story and not experience the intense pain and emotion.
Things that help you move through the journey:
- Patience – don’t rush it – it will be what it will be and take as long as it takes.
- Learning how to ride the waves of feelings – accepting and acknowledging your feelings and emotions and constructively dealing with them.
- Stay true to your core values or you will create more pain – ie don’t have a revenge affair or trash the other person’s car or home if you would not usually think that was OK.
- Really looking after yourself – you need to take time for you. Put your life back together on every level. Give yourself permission to be a little bit selfish. Take good care of your body, mind and spirit.
- See it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Turn yourself into a closer version of your own ideal self. You’re worth the investment.
Things that won’t help:
- Blocking with alcohol; work; eating; shopping; substance use or other distractions including staying so busy that you don’t have time to think;
- Beating yourself up for not having healed yet – comparing yourself to others…
- Lack of safety – if you have decided you want to heal the relationship you will not be able to move through the stages until the first moves towards safety have been made – the affair is over and there is no more contact with the other person. This does not mean you need to feel totally safe – this will not happen until later in the recovery process.