Surviving Infidelity

Man looking out at a lake wondering how to get over a divorce and an affair.

No matter how bad things seem now, you can get through this.

The divorce devastated you. The affair that caused it all but destroyed you. Knowing how to get over a divorce and an affair seems all but impossible.

It’s a sobering reality that we just take for granted the “around 50%” divorce rate in the US. Even worse when you consider the higher rates for subsequent marriages, or the percentage of divorces prompted by infidelity.

But those are just statistics -- pragmatic pie charts of connubial destiny in America. They tell you nothing about the feelings, histories and struggles of the people who make up the numbers. And they show you nothing about how to get over a divorce and an affair.

The list of collateral damage from divorce will come as no surprise. There is the plummet into sadness, anger, confusion and all the stages of grief. There are the financial ramifications and the short- and long-term trauma to children.

Add to an already painful experience the rip-your-heart-out scourge of infidelity, and those consequences become amplified and even more complex.

When an infidelity leads to divorce, both the betrayed and the betrayer are left with heavy consequences. How to get ovre a divorce and an affair will look similar for them in some ways and vastly different in others.

If the betraying spouse has left the marriage for the affair partner, the betrayed spouse may have a much more difficult and lengthy journey recovering. (Click here to read Ruth Ritchie’s account of what that journey was like for her.)

Going through a divorce after an affair can cause you to lose your whole sense of self -- your home, friends, identity as a spouse, security and future. And you will have to overcome several major issues in order to move on and have a chance at a happy, connected life.

Some of those issues are:

  • Mistrust.

    Who can blame you for believing you will never trust love again? Infidelity naturally causes doubt in your own reality, your own judgment, other people and yourself.
  • Triggers.

    Divorce doesn’t remedy the problem of emotional flooding. If you don’t actively address and process your experience and emotions, you may be vulnerable to triggers for years to come. Simple things like a future partner or spouse coming home late from work can trigger a massive flood of memories and their connected feelings.
  • Hypervigilance.

    It only makes sense that you would have trouble trusting again. The danger is that your mistrust could lead you to fear the faithlessness of future partners and not give them the space to be themselves.
  • Risk aversion.

    In order to avoid the risk of future pain, you may stop short of true intimacy in future relationships.
  • Negative viewpoint.

    You may end up feeling bitterness toward and mistrust of the opposite sex.

Here are some guidelines for how to get over a divorce and an affair.

  • Accept that your marriage is over.

    You don’t have to reach the final-stage-of-grief level of acceptance to stop fighting for what’s not going to be part of your future.

    Letting go isn’t easy -- it will likely feel unnatural, even impossible. But if you can accept what is and stop investing in the past, you may find doors opening to even greater opportunities for love.
  • Remember that you didn’t cause the affair.

    Of all the inevitable feelings that you will have -- shame, embarrassment, confusion, loneliness, anger, fear -- guilt doesn’t need to be one of them.

    We all have choices as to how we communicate and behave in relationships. The responsibility for the affair belongs to the ones who chose it.
  • Consider your own role in the marriage.

    Assuming blame for the affair isn’t your responsibility. Doing so will only add to the weight of your confusion and pain.

    But courageously examining your own role in your marriage will actually be liberating. It will allow you to learn and grow, making your divorce a gifting experience that can lead you into a more mature, lasting love.

    It’s also the first step to forgiveness -- for your ex and for yourself.
  • Expect to grieve.

    Grief is inevitable. Embrace it as a reality of evolution. It’s a tunnel through the mountain of loss. And if you are willing to turn on your headlights and head into it, you will spare yourself the futile effort of climbing the mountain.
  • Fake a smile if you have to.

    This isn’t about denying your feelings. It’s about tricking your brain into lifting your mood and lowering your stress. Sometimes learning how to get over a divorce and an affair is made easier when you’re smiling. Try it!
  • Be grateful for every little thing.

    When you are drowning in the memories of all you have lost, finding reasons to feel grateful can seem ludicrous. But healing doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes just getting through the night comes down to whatever little things you can do to love yourself into tomorrow.

    Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Through thick and thin, it beats for you. Fluff your pillow and lay your head down. Think of that simple comfort. Eat your dinner with mindfulness and contemplate how God, the Universe, your Highest Self is sustaining you in the present...and will sustain you in the future.
  • Don’t drown in legalities.

    If you live in a “no fault” state, no amount of wishing for recourse is going to make your ex pay for having an affair. It’s important that you have wise representation and a fair divorce agreement. But letting go of ongoing court battles will give you a head start on healing.
  • Get tested.

    Yes, it’s insulting that you have to walk into your doctor’s office and ask for an STD test. But if your ex was having sex with you while also having sex with someone else, you need to protect yourself. Ask any future partner(s) to do the same, and be transparent with the results. This is about your health and safety.
  • Build your village.

    As old friends drift away (some will, and some will stick by you like Velcro), fill those open spots with new, supportive friends.

    Find a therapist, coach, support group, and/or online support system. Welcome into your life others who have been where you are and can assure you of the light at the end of the tunnel. They can help show you how to get over a divorce and an affair.

    Just don’t isolate yourself, no matter how alone your experience makes you feel.
  • Set long-term goals.

    You will know that you are at least on the road to healing when you start envisioning your life down the road.

    Short-term goals may be steeped in survival. But long-term goals require a vision of thriving. Go ahead and write them down. Dream a bit. You are always allowed to change your goals as your heart heals and your mind opens to new possibilities.
  • Forgive.

    You will never forget. But you can release the ball and chain of relentless anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is never about a disregard or diminishment of harm done. It’s about choosing to walk out of bondage into the light of hope. Remember to forgive yourself, as well.

  • Take good care of yourself.

    No matter what...Just. Be. Kind. To. You.

The key to getting over a divorce and an affair is strategically buried in the process of developing a positive, forward-moving mindset. But in the context of the wind being kicked out of your life, that positivity may sound dismissive.

Know that every little step you take -- first for mere survival, then for a little more -- is a courageous step into that mindset. Hanging on takes energy...and an inner voice that says you are worth the effort.

And you are most definitely worth it.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people learn how to get over a divorce and an affair. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more information about how to get over a getting over your divorce due to infidelity? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

 

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