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Surviving the Bomb: First Steps After the Affair

Finding out that your partner has been unfaithful has the potential to be one of the most devastating experiences a person can encounter in his/her life.   A common and appropriate reaction, given the circumstances, is panic.  There is generally nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions, and as a result, many couples do unintentional damage before they can seek help.  This is to be expected as no one tells you what you should do in the immediate aftermath of an affair.

The main goal is to limit the destruction in the time between finding out and getting help.  Here are some crisis control tips to follow until you can get some additional help:

Never Ending Questions:  Understandably a flood of questions come up for the non-participating partner, however many of these questions are unhelpful for healing in the future.  Once you find something out, you cannot not know it.  I repeat, once you learn something about the situation that you really don’t want to know, you will not be able to UNKNOW it.  Because the mind is usually ‘running wild’ for the non-participating partner they want (and don’t want) to know all the details.  Generally what happens is the participating partner, if feeling remorseful, wants to be completely honest, get it off his/her chest or show his/her partner that s/he is ‘coming clean’, and will volunteer any and all information the non-participating partner wants to know.  Thus, when the non-participating partner asks the myriad of questions, and the participating partner answers, you can create a recipe for disaster.  My suggestion is for the non-participating partner to acknowledge the questions he or she has, but write them down.  Often times it is a message s/he is seeking the answer to, rather than a specific “position” that will only hurt him/her in the future.  For example, if I ask the question, “did you cuddle after sex?” I am really asking, “was this sex for sex sake or did you have an emotional connection?”  Writing down questions allows you to figure out what messages and what questions are really important to you.  This information is what will help you toward healing.  Also, it will help you to distinguish what specific questions are better left unasked, and what messages you need to understand for healing as well as what questions are important to ask.  Many questions answered will not make you feel better, but understanding the message and receiving an answer to that message, will.

Don’t make long-term decisions immediately: In the whirlwind of hurt it is often a temptation to figure out what is going to happen to the relationship immediately.  When this decision is made too quickly or out of reaction, more damage can be caused.  This is important if working on the relationship is a possible option.  Most non-participating partners will say, “I don’t know if I will ever be able to trust he/she again.”  However, I have seen how trying to answer this question in the middle of the panic can lead to further, unavoidable heartbreak.  It is better to address this question once the dust has settled a little.

Don’t react, Do respond: many couples have been unraveled unnecessarily because of reactions rather than responses.  Your gut reaction can indicate to you how you are feeling, but it is wise to think about and respond the way you want to respond.  One technique to achieve this is to use timeouts for a while.  It may sound juvenile, but emotions at the time of an affair can hit you like a freight train before you even realize what happened.  In order to respond, rather than react, you need to be in a calm place and therefore some time to calm down will be beneficial.

Understand normal reactions and be patient with yourself: it is completely normal to experience a roller coaster of emotions.  This includes, anger, sadness, shock, etc.  There will be ups and downs.  There may be days where you feel like you can survive as a couple and days where you feel that it is impossible.  Unfaithfulness for both partners can take an emotional toll, do not expect to just be ‘over it’ within a couple days, weeks or even months.

Infidelity is experienced differently by everyone.  The most important thing you can do for your relationship at this time is limit the unintentional damage and seek help as soon as possible.

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