You’ve just discovered your partner’s infidelity or sexual addiction and life as you knew it — or thought you knew it — is gone. You wonder if you ever really knew the person. You wonder if you’ll ever trust her again. You wonder why he cheated and what his acting-out partner (or partners, online or offline) has that you don’t. (Hint: no strings).
Although these are understandable questions, obsessing over them will do you absolutely no good. You could spend years trying to answer all the “whys” and still never really know why he did what he did. You will also re-traumatize yourself imagining all the details, again, and again, and again. Below are six things you should know that will allow you to heal.
1. You didn’t make him or her cheat or become an addict.
Partners often blame themselves for their significant other’s compulsive behavior. They wonder if they’re sexy enough, good-looking enough, or fun enough. But the addict isn’t after sex as much as he is after a high and a release from psychological pain. His addiction is his own making, not yours. And if your partner has cheated, but isn’t actually a sex addict, he’s still responsible for his choices.
2. You’re not crazy, you’re traumatized.
Betrayal trauma can make partners do things that seem “crazy.” Are you: obsessing over your significant other’s whereabouts? Compulsively snooping through pockets, wallets, computers, and cell phones? Perseverating over explicit details of affairs? Unable to control your anger? Constantly waiting to discover another infidelity? If so, you’re not “crazy,” you’re hypervigilant. After trauma, people scan their environment to make sure they’re safe. This is a normal response, but you need support from a mental health professional so you can manage your betrayal trauma and emotional reactivity.
3. You can’t control your partner’s behavior.
There’s nothing you, or any therapist, psychic, exorcist, or shaman can do to control your partner’s sexual choices. However, there’s a lot you can do to control your own behavior. This crisis presents an opportunity to figure out the role you play in an intimacy-disordered relationship. Did you feel drawn to someone you thought you could “fix?” Did you put up with bad behavior to avoid conflict or because you believed you didn’t deserve better? Do you have a pattern of chasing after people who aren’t available — perhaps because you yourself are unavailable? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” stop focusing on your partner and start defining your own values and boundaries.
4. You don’t need to leave right away, or ever.
Your partner’s sexual behavior doesn’t mean you should leave this instant. You don’t want to look back and wonder if the relationship could has been saved. Take a year to work on the relationship but most important, yourself. Besides attending couples therapy, you should get your own therapy, join a partner’s support group, and focus on aspects of your life outside of your relationship. If you have codependency issues, deal with those. If, after a year, you have not resolved your problems with your partner and you feel that staying would compromise your integrity, then you can leave knowing you’ve tried your best.
5. Your friends don’t have the answers.
Contrary to what your friends and family may be telling you, you do not have to leave, at least not right away. If you take a year to work on your relationship, it could be better than ever. Yes, really. Your loved ones are giving you advice because they are rightly outraged for you, afraid for you, or are projecting their own situations onto you. Whatever they say, know this: you will be the one living out the consequences of leaving — which may include dismantling a family and shared assets — not them. The only person you should listen to is yourself. If you feel you need more time to make yourself stronger, it’s perfectly okay to stay where you are.
6. You’re still sexy.
Your partner’s sexual behavior is not a reflection of your desirability, lovemaking skills, or worth as a human being. Remember: his or her addiction is not about you; it’s about their dysfunctional efforts to regulate their moods and psychological pain. Going out and having a revenge affair may re-affirm your sexiness temporarily, but it will not erase trauma or shore up your tattered self-esteem. Only you can do that.
This crisis in your relationship may require that you spend a lot of time in a therapist’s office and a 12-step group’s church basement. But try not to let infidelity and codependence recovery define you. Practice self-care. Hang out with friends and do something other than talk about your relationship. Focus on your job, your interests, your children (if you have them), and the abundance you want to manifest. There is more to life than surviving infidelity — really.
(Photo by Jimmy Bay via unsplash)