Stages of Grief After the Affair
By Kajay Williams
We all face certain losses or even betrayals on a daily basis. Some of them are so small that we hardly notice them – and some of them are so huge that they have the potential to devastate a marriage. Following a bereavement or a traumatic life event, we often go through a number of stages of grief – and understanding these stages of grief can be the first step in healing.
Once you understand each stage of grief, you can better put your emotions into perspective and view them as an outsider would. This can help you to come to terms with what you are dealing with – allowing you to move on more quickly. These are the general stages of grief that most individuals will experience following the discovery of an affair.
Denial and Disbelief
Probably the first thing to cross a betrayed spouse’s mind when they find out about their partner’s affair is “How could this be happening to me? This can’t be true. I don’t believe it.” This is your mind’s way of trying to protect you against the betrayal – a “numb” feeling that will help to cushion the blow.
Denial is an emotion that 99% of betrayed spouses will feel, even if they are confronted with definitive evidence of the affair – for example, a betrayed spouse might try to explain away a receipt for expensive jewellery by telling themselves that their partner might have bought it for them as a present and not for their lover.
Anger and Revenge
Once the denial and disbelief stage passes and the betrayed spouse knows absolutely that their spouse has cheated on them, they may become angry, aggressive or even vengeful. This is entirely normal – it’s a knee-jerk “They have caused me pain so I want them to know what it feels like” reaction.
Anger is a very powerful emotion and in some cases of betrayal, the betrayed spouse may want to destroy something of value to their spouse – their car or their clothes. Others will express their anger by screaming and shouting. Understanding that this anger that you are feeling is entirely normal and that it will soon pass is paramount to moving through the stages of grief.
Bargaining and Guilt
When the betrayed spouse’s anger starts to dissipate and they start to cool down, they may experience feelings of guilt. “What could I have done to stop them from straying? What didn’t I do right? What did I do wrong? This is my fault.” Once the betrayed spouse realises that their marriage could be in real trouble, they might start to bargain with their spouse and promise them everything in the world – “I’ll be a better wife/husband, I’ll make sure that I cook for them every night, I’ll do all of their chores, I’ll be better in bed.”
This is a very common way to think, and some spouses will actually take this further and do everything for their spouse, even if their spouse is still having the affair. They might iron their spouse’s shirts before they go out on dates, or they might stay at home with the children so that their spouse can get out of the house and spend time with “other people” – and this behaviour is because they hope that their spouse will see how much they are doing for them and they will eventually reason that their spouse is the better choice, not their lover. Unfortunately, if bargaining behaviour crosses into affair-condoning, it is unlikely that the marriage will survive.
Following the bargaining stages, depression may occur – especially if it seems like the affair is threatening to destroy the marriage. The betrayed spouse may show their emotions outwardly with tears and emotional outbursts, or they may keep it all in. They might be lethargic and unable to enjoy life – they might feel like they are “going through the motions” and that they are unable to function normally.
An individual who is severely depressed may also neglect their appearance – they might fail to shower or wash their hair, or they might spend several days in the same pair of pyjamas – and they might actually avoid any situation that could potentially bring them pleasure, just in case they wind up disappointed.
Depressed individuals might also punish themselves – “This is all my fault, so I deserve to feel this way. No wonder they cheated on me.” A betrayed spouse might also punish themselves for failing to notice that their spouse was having an affair – they might have thoughts like “How could I have not noticed? I am so stupid.”
These same feelings of sadness and depression may also arise when certain dates approach, such as a wedding anniversary, birthday, Christmas or the anniversary of the date that they found out about the affair.
It may be difficult to believe, but eventually, the negative emotions swirling around will give way to something else entirely – acceptance. You might not be happy about what happened to you and you might actually think “I cannot accept that this has happened”, but what you must remember is that accepting and acknowledging that something has happened to you is completely different to condoning it.
Acceptance can feel like a lifetime away, especially if you are in the very first stage of grief, but eventually when enough time has passed, you will be able to intellectually accept that the affair happened – but you will also be able to accept it emotionally too.
Some people will move through the stages of grief fairly quickly. Others will get “stuck” in one stage of grief or a lengthy period of time, while others will move through each stage very slowly. How quickly you move through each stage of grief entirely depends on your personal circumstances, thoughts and feelings towards your spouse. If your spouse is loving, caring and considerate and is determined to make your marriage work, you will likely move through the stages of grief more quickly.
What To Do If Your Partner Is Having An Affair?
Time To Act: There is hope.
An affair may be the best thing to happen to a marriage or relationship.
Contrary to popular belief, experts say that many couples survive infidelity and are able to rebuild a stronger, better and more fulfilling marriage after the betrayal.
Whether you suspect your partner or spouse is cheating on you or whether you have just discovered your spouse’s affair or whether you are wondering if you want to save your marriage or opt for separation after an affair or whether you want to redefine the boundaries of your relationship or marriage to make sure you and your partner are on the same page, I can help you.
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