If you have just found out your spouse has had an affair, it will feel like the bottom is dropping out of your world right now.
You can't sleep... you feel sick... and you want to get your old life back.
Everything is overwhelming and you have no idea how you’re supposed to react.
But you need good advice and you need to be thinking at your best as soon as possible. The following 5 tips are designed to help you get through this initial stage after the affair.
Although no two experiences are the same, this 5-step guide will be a great help in getting you through this extremely challenging time – with the best interests of yourself and your family at heart.
1. Look after yourself
Finding out your spouse is having an affair is a major shock to the system, no matter how much you may have suspected it.
Physically, mentally and emotionally – you are going to be experiencing some serious turmoil. This is natural.
But right now, it is so important to be putting yourself and your health first. Letting your health go is only going to make it harder for you to cope through this time - your body can’t heal when it is under stress.
This means not demanding too much of yourself right now.
As hard as it is under the circumstances, just focus on keeping up the basics to give your body what it needs: eating adequate and nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Try your best to keep up any activities which will allow your mind some temporary relief from dealing with what has happened.
You are likely to be dealing with a whirlwind of emotions, including grief, loss, anger and disbelief. One minute you may be sobbing in an intense cloak of sadness, the next you may be flying off the handle with rage. You may even have moments when you laugh and feel somewhat happy. This is all okay.
Everything you are feeling is normal – be kind to yourself.
2. Hold off on making any big decisions
After experiencing the shock of discovering your spouse’s affair, your body is likely to go into full self-protection mode.
Being in this mode causes your fight or flight system to activate, which may make you feel as if you need to act now. Immediately filing for divorce, confronting your spouse’s lover, leaving town, engaging in risky behaviour, self-harming – these are all examples of extreme actions which could have very serious consequences.
However, as much as you may feel the urge to do any of these things, I urge you to stop. To stop and breathe.
You are in shock and do not have the capacity to think rationally right now. Rather than making any rash decisions, give yourself time to come to terms with what has happened. Believe me - you don’t want to end up with regrets that will make this situation even harder.
Although you may feel like you never want to see your spouse again, let alone be with them, now is not the time to make any major decisions in your relationship. However, know that you will have a say in what happens next.
This affair does not necessarily mean the end of your marriage.
As impossible as it may feel, having time completely apart from your spouse right now is the best option - perhaps for one to two weeks. This will give you both time to recollect and re-gather your feelings. During this time, you may find it very beneficial to write down any questions you wish to ask your spouse, record how you are feeling, and write any thoughts or ideas you have about your marriage and where you want it to go from here.
This means that when you do feel ready to meet with your spouse, you will have had the time to clear your head, gather your strength and think about exactly what you want from your spouse and what you would like to say to them.
3. Seek help and support
An affair is not something you can struggle with alone – you are not superhuman. This is a time to really lean on the support of family and friends, and seek help when you need it. Accepting help does not make you a weak person.
It is important to let your close friends and family members know about your spouse’s affair. This is not about getting back at your spouse, it is about making those close to you understand what you are going through so they can help.
Keeping it inside because you want to protect your spouse or because you feel ashamed is only hurting yourself.
Because although it might not feel like it, life goes on after the affair. Your fridge still needs to be restocked, your children still need to get to school, your house still needs cleaning, your bills still need to be paid. And if you try to do all this while inside you everything is falling apart, soon enough that flimsy exterior is going to crack.
So give others the chance to help. If you don’t feel like cooking, let your friends bring meals over. If you are really struggling to maintain composure in front of your children right now, accept your parent’s offer to have the kids at their house for a week.
Everyone will understand and want to do what they can to support you.
During the time after the affair, you may also wish to seek professional help – this is okay too. Many people seek help from a counsellor or psychologist at times in their lives when they are going through a major life transition or traumatic event.
You do not have to go through this alone.
4. Show self-respect
When the person you love is unfaithful to you, especially if you are taken by this unawares, your first reaction may be to try and win back their love at all costs. But begging for your spouse to come back to you will only convey to them these messages:
That your spouse can treat you however they like.
That you are prepared to be with your spouse at any cost.
That you do not respect yourself.
If you are a doormat, your spouse will not be able to respect you.
No matter how much you may wish to still be with your spouse, they need to realise that what they have done is not acceptable and has serious consequences – they have a long road ahead to earning back your trust and respect. Do not let them get away with their affair scot-free. You deserve better than being treated this way.
There are ways that you and your spouse can start to rebuild your relationship if this is what you want to do. You can see this next week in Part 2: How to begin the reconnection process after an affair. But begging for their love after they have been unfaithful is not going to help you to do this.
5. Accept that this is not your fault
No matter how tough things may have been in your marriage, know that your spouse’s affair is not your fault. Your spouse made the choice to be unfaithful. You are not responsible for their actions.
You both may have had a part to play in any marital problems you were experiencing. I’m sure you will know yourself what these are, and may feel responsible for any ways in which you contributed to these problems. However, experiencing difficulties in your marital relationship does not give reason to be unfaithful. You did not cause your spouse to have an affair.
Stay in touch for Part Two: How to begin the reconnection process after an affair.