If you're lucky, you'll never have to know what it's like to be the victim of infidelity. Still, the statistics aren't promising: About 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an affair at some point in their marriages. If you've been the victim of an affair, you know that it hits like a punch to the gut. The many emotions that follow feel like a hailstorm of pain. There are some predictable emotions, such as anger, panic, betrayal or a sense of loss. And depression has been so acute for some people that they have become suicidal.
Yet, in the array of feelings that hit so hard, there may be some emotions that you never expected to feel. When I sit with couples to discuss the aftermath of an affair, here are five emotions that take everyone by surprise:
Shame: You knew that if you ever discovered an affair, you'd be angry, but why are you feeling shame? Shame is usually prompted by a sense of humiliation because a person believes he/she has made a mistake. So if anyone should feel shame, it ought to be your partner, right? After all, your partner is the one who behaved badly. But discovering an affair causes you to evaluate yourself. People have a tendency to wind and rewind the movie reels of their lives, looking for blame; they will often feel as if they had messed up somewhere. You're not alone if you feel shame; it's natural when something this important has gone wrong.
Emptiness: Feeling sad is a natural response to losing the affections of someone you love, but emptiness is different because it's the absence of emotion. People are alarmed when they look inside and realize there's nothing there. A feeling of emptiness is actually a psychological mechanism that kicks in during any period of shock; in some ways it actually protects the mind. Given time and resolution of the trauma, it usually dissipates.
Possessiveness: You may have told yourself that if your partner ever cheated on you, you'd dump him or her in a heartbeat. Many people share that feeling. So why, when you feel that you partner has strayed, are you thinking about wanting him or her back more than ever? Separations between partners can generate an increase in attraction, and imagining you partner in someone else's arms can stir a longing to pull you close together. And there's a good reason why you feel possessive toward your spouse. He or she belongs to you — not as property, but as someone who has exclusively promised to partner with you for life.
Annoyance: There is a list of very strong emotions that a betrayed partner might have to confront, but there will also be a more pervasive sense of irritation with what your partner has done. As a spouse, you may just want to say to yourself, "really, could he/she be that stupid!" This isn't just forgetting to put a stamp on the electric bill before sending it out; it's a big lapse in judgment and behavior, and the mistake directly affects you. For good reason, you had higher expectations for your mate. Your partner's behavior affected everything going forward and you know it's just plain annoying!
Relief: Many people who discover a partner's affair had sensed that something had been wrong, but weren't able to figure it out. Some have been seeing signs of it for months. Now that it's in the open, you can finally begin to work on it. You didn't want an affair to happen, but now that it's out in the open, you and your mate can start to confront it.
All emotions are possible when you find out your partner has cheated on you. You were thinking that you were crazy — now you know you aren't. Can you do something about it? Sure! In The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, I help couples process emotional turmoil.
Here are some tips:
- Give yourself permission to feel. Don't fight the emotions that you experience, try to identify them, understand them and respect that they are normal.
- Make room in your mind for feelings. Sometimes people are so busy with day-to-day activities that they really don't have a chance to reflect on where they are emotionally. It's good from time to time to clear your head of clutter: physical exercise, prayer or meditation or a simple walk in the woods can help.
- Don't dwell. If you continue to get stuck, then something as simple as journaling or talking to a friend can help. If the negativity is unshakable, then it may be time to get professional help.
- Talk to your spouse. Yes, it's true that your mate was the cause of your emotional firestorm, but you may not be able to move forward until you can have meaningful discussions together about what you are going through. If your connection grows after the affair, you may feel comfortable speaking up. If the relationship is still tenuous though, you should not give up on having a heart-to-heart. The best way to get started is to tell your spouse that you want to talk about how you feel, but you only want him or her to listen.
Strong emotions are your mind’s way of letting you know that something outside of the ordinary is happening. You wish the event of an affair had never happened in the first place, but understanding, accepting and processing your feelings will bring you closer to healing.
More Stories On YourTango:
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- 9 Steamy Celebrity Sex Scandals Exposed
- Adultery: To Forgive Or Not To Forgive Your Spouse
- How To Have An Affair Without Getting Caught
Earlier on HuffPost:
QUESTION: Who did Kelsey Grammar have an affair with while married to Camille?
<strong>a) Kathleen Robertson b) Kayte Walsh c) Kate Major d) Ramona Singer</strong>
ANSWER: Kayte Walsh
Kelsey Grammar and Kayte Walsh began dating <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2083272/Kelsey-Grammer-confesses-6-month-affair-Kayte-Walsh-leaving-wife-Camille.html?ito=feeds-newsxml" target="_hplink">six months</a> prior to his divorce from Camille. He and Kayte were married at the Plaza Hotel in February 2011.
QUESTION: Which married actor was sued for allegedly transmitting the Herpes Simplex Virus to a cocktail waitress?
<strong>a) Chevy Chase b) Eddie Murphy c) David Spade d) Robin Williams</strong>
ANSWER: Robin Williams
In 1986, Robin Williams <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/09/style/the-sexes-pillow-talk.html" target="_hplink">was sued by</a> Michelle Tish Carter for reportedly giving her Herpes during a sexual encounter two years earlier. At the time, Williams was married to Valerie Velardi.
QUESTION: Which co-star did Jennifer Lopez reportedly have an affair with while married to Chris Judd?
<strong>a) Ben Affleck b) Ice Cube c) Michael Vartan d) Richard Gere</strong>
ANSWER: Ben Affleck
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,628191,00.html" target="_hplink">met on the set</a> of their 2003 film, "Gigli." She <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,628191,00.html" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> began introducing Affleck as her boyfriend three days prior to filing for divorce from Judd.
QUESTION: Who stuck with her basketball star husband when he was accused of rape?
<strong>a) Shaunie O'Neil b) Vanessa Bryant c) Juanita Jordan d) Khloe Kardashian</strong>
ANSWER: Vanessa Bryant
In 2003, Kobe Bryant had sexual relations with a Colorado hotel front-desk employee while married to Vanessa. The woman <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/02/national/02kobe.html" target="_hplink">accused Bryant of rape</a> but the charges were later dropped.
QUESTION: Which late-night host allegedly had an affair with a former assistant?
<strong>a) Jimmy Kimmel b) Conan O'Brien c) Jay Leno d) David Letterman</strong>
ANSWER: David Letterman
David Letterman and his assistant Stephanie Birkitt were <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/03/entertainment/et-letterman3" target="_hplink">reportedly lovers</a> during their time together at CBS. Letterman was married to Regina Lasko at the time. Birkitt's diary was at the heart of an extortion scandal in which former <em>48 Hours</em> producer Joe Halderman attempted to get $2 million from the late-night host.
QUESTION: Who did Ali MacGraw leave Robert Evans for?
<strong>a) Ryan O'Neal b) Robert Culp c) Paul Newman d) Steve McQueen</strong>
ANSWER: Steve McQueen
Robert Evans and Ali MacGraw were one of Hollywood's most famed couples; he was the head of Paramount Studios in the 1960s and 1970s and she was the star of the blockbuster film "Love Story". She left Evans after she fell in love with her co-star, Steve McQueen. <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/03/ali-macgraw-201003" target="_hplink">MacGraw married McQueen in 1973.</a>
QUESTION: Who did LeAnn Rimes cheat on Dean Sheremet with?
<strong>a) Dave Annable b) Bryan Greenberg c) Rob Lowe d) Eddie Cibrian </strong>
ANSWER: Eddie Cibrian
LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/InTheSpotlight/leann-rimes-affair-actor-eddie-cibrian/story?id=12032482#.TweSzGPLxNY" target="_hplink">began an extramarital affair</a> on the set of their Lifetime movie, "Northern Lights." After divorcing both their respective spouses, the pair married in a private ceremony in April 2011.
QUESTION: Who was Tori Spelling married to while having an extramarital affair with Dean McDermott?
<strong>a) Todd Meister b) Charlie Shanian c) David Katzenberg d) Brandon Jenner</strong>
ANSWER: Charlie Shanian
Tori Spelling and Charlie Shanian married in 2003. <a href="http://http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,1117511,00.html" target="_hplink">They called it quits</a> 16 months later, after revelations of her affair with Dean McDermott surfaced. One month after their divorce was finalized, Spelling and McDermott married in a private ceremony.