Surviving Infidelity

Sad man sitting on a bench struggling with ideas of how to overcome marital infidelity.

You can move forward from the betrayal if you start with these 7 steps.

Who knew that one day you’d be searching for help on how to overcome marital infidelity? It’s not an experience anyone really expects will happen to them. After all, when we marry, we all believe that we’re different, that something as painful and heinous as betrayal on this level would never ever happen to us.

Yet, here you are, wondering if you can survive the horrendous pain of your spouse’s affair. And what does surviving even mean? Do you want to stay married? Do you want to leave? How can you even begin to think clearly enough to know what you want?

When it comes to knowing how to overcome marital infidelity and move on with your life, the truth is that you need to take things slowly – at least at first. Discovering your spouse has been unfaithful is traumatic. It shakes not only the foundations of your marriage and family, it shakes the foundation of your reality.

You begin to question what is real. And wonder if s/he ever loved you. Because you assume that the only way s/he could have betrayed you would be if s/he didn’t.

The reasons behind a person’s cheating are rarely simple. They’re usually quite complicated. And it’s the complicated nature of marital infidelity that can make knowing how to get over it and move on so challenging.

However, the best place to start healing from your spouse’s choice is by focusing on you. This doesn’t mean that you stop being a parent or that you ignore your other responsibilities. It means that instead of trying to figure out what your future holds right now, you focus on taking care of yourself.

It’s only when you’ve worked through some of the trauma that you’ll be able to make bigger decisions about your marriage.

To help you begin down the path of healing, here are 7 items for you to consider adding to your how-to-overcome-marital-infidelity to-do list:

  1. Accept the facts

    Denial is a normal reaction to learning something that you wish wasn’t true. It’s a protective mechanism to help you only deal with so much at any one time. However, it’s not useful in the long term. Denial can actually prevent you from moving on with your life if you don’t move through it.

    So, no matter how much you wish it hadn’t happened. Your spouse cheated and you found out. When you can accept these facts, you will begin releasing yourself from the trauma.

  2. Reclaim your power – no more victimhood

    It’s incredibly easy to believe that everything that’s happening is your spouse’s fault. And their choice to cheat is definitely 100% their fault.

    However, when you remain a victim of their behavior and choices, you are powerless to change your life. And you’ll remain in the pain you’re feeling right now until your spouse – somehow – makes things right.

    As hard as it might be, you need to find a way to believe that you are strong enough to heal and move on with your life – with or without your spouse. When you do, you’ll know that you are no longer a victim.

  3. Allow yourself to feel & constructively express your emotions

    Without a doubt, dealing with betrayal is traumatic. With the swirl of emotions, it’s normal to at first wonder if you can get over it. Then, it’s normal to begin wondering how to overcome marital infidelity with the hope that you’ll eventually be able to move on with your life.

    The range of emotions you’re likely to experience can include everything from rage to despair. It can be helpful to recognize that part of what you’re going through is a grief process. And grief, just like all emotions, needs to be worked through and expressed constructively.

    When you allow yourself to experience and work through your emotions, you’ll find that they eventually dissipate. If you choose instead to bottle up your feelings, then chances are you’ll find that the pent up emotions will come bubbling (if not exploding) out at unexpected and potentially inappropriate times. They’ll also keep you tightly tied to your spouse’s betrayal.

  4. Forgive

    Yeah, this is a tough one for most people. That’s because most confuse forgiveness with condoning bad behavior.

    In this case, forgiveness is about refusing to let your spouse’s behavior, his/her affair partner’s behavior or even your behavior keep you a prisoner of the marital infidelity. Forgiveness allows you to move on with your life. It allows you to take the necessary lessons and use them to create a new and better life for yourself – with or without your spouse.

    The other thing you need to know about forgiveness is that it can’t be forced. You’ll know when you’re ready to forgive all those involved and experience the freedom that comes with it.

  5. Nurture yourself

    Sometimes it’s really hard to take care of yourself when you’re feeling so hurt. Yet, you need to. You need to for yourself, for everyone else who depends upon you, and for everyone else who loves you.

    So make sleep, eating well and exercise a priority. When you have these three working for you, it makes everything so much easier – including knowing how to overcome marital infidelity.

    You may also want to pamper yourself with things like listening to your favorite music, getting a massage, taking a walk outside, or anything else that just makes you feel good about being you.

    Trying to numb the pain of the betrayal with drugs or alcohol is definitely a bad idea. However, a little over-the-counter painkiller may be OK. Dr. Helen Fisher suggests that taking an Advil or an aspirin might be helpful in caring for yourself because it affects the pain centers in the brain that are impacted by loss.

  6. Accept appropriate responsibility

    Taking responsibility does NOT mean that it’s your fault your spouse cheated. Instead, it means that you choose to learn and grow from the experience.

    Most marital infidelity happens for one of four reasons: unmet emotional needs, sexual dissatisfaction, lack of communication, or psychological issues.

    When you take appropriate responsibility, you’re able to look at the root cause(s) of your spouse’s betrayal and know the part you played in the dynamic. Then, you can choose how you’d like to learn and grow based on this knowledge.

  7. Set a vision/intention for what moving on with your life means

    Once you’ve put in the effort to begin your personal healing journey, you’ll start to have the capacity to think about what moving forward means to you.

    Do you want to work to heal your marriage? Many couples do this successfully after infidelity.

    Do you want to work to create a new life for yourself as a single person? Many people do this successfully after infidelity too.

    The key is that after you take the time to process some of your betrayal trauma you’ll be better able to make big decisions like what does moving on with your life after being betrayed mean for you.

When you discover your spouse’s betrayal it can seem counterintuitive to focus on caring for yourself. You might believe that you need to make a decision about the future of your marriage first.

Yet, learning of such egregious behavior from the one person you trusted to never behave like this is traumatic. And the only way to begin moving forward is to first deal with your trauma so you can more easily have the clear-headed capacity to decide what’s best for you.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I work with individuals struggling with how to overcome marital infidelity. 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 overcome marital infidelity? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Surviving Infidelity.

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