Updated: Jul 23, 2021
An affair has been exposed.
Sexual addiction has been discovered.
The unfaithful spouse was caught. The unfaithful spouse confessed. Either way, the betrayed spouse is blindsided; left to pick up the pieces of the life he/she once knew and build something new from the ashes.
Everything he/she once knew and believed with every fiber of his/her being is in question. Common questions are How could you do this to me? To us? To our kids? How could God let this happen? How could I have been so stupid? What am I going to do now?
The quest for details begins. He/she must know everything. The underlying thought is that somehow knowing all the details will suddenly make it make sense and alleviate the crushing weight he/she cannot get out from under.
Unfaithful spouse, tread carefully through this minefield. Any attempt to withhold information in an effort to spare your spouse pain will be received as defending the affair partner. It will also provide fodder for the imagination of your spouse, who undoubtedly will imagine things at least as painful as the truth. Thus, when questioned, speak the truth without salacious details.
PTSD symptoms, as defined by the DMS-5, are common in the betrayed spouse. See my previous post Infidelity and PTSD I for a full list of symptoms. The current post addresses faithful spouses experiencing:
· Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s)
· Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s)
· Problems with concentration
· Sleep disturbance
Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s),
Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s)
The above responses may be associated with what he/she imagined happened as well as the factual information he/she has. Thus, lying to “protect” him/her does not reduce the pain. Be honest. Be thoughtful. Put the well-being of your spouse above your own.
Anything the reminds the faithful spouse of the betrayal is a trauma trigger. He/she is hypervigilant, meaning always on guard against deception and betrayal. Transparency and communication overkill are necessary. For example, if the unfaithful spouse is going to swing by the grocery store on the way home – tell your husband/wife. If the line at the store is long and you’ll be one minute late – tell your husband/wife. Make yourself available and a willing participant in accountability.
Problems with concentration
These PTSD symptoms are linked to the intense amount of stress experienced by both spouses. An extra measure of grace should be extended to the faithful spouse because he/she is not only experiencing his/her own stress and trauma, but he/she is also hypersensitive to the stress-induced changes in his/her spouse.
The journey to healing and recovery from infidelity is not for the faint of heart. However, as mentioned in my post It Didn’t Mean Anything!, marriages can and do survive infidelity. In fact, when couples put in the work for authentic healing and reconnection, they report being happier and more fulfilled in their marriages than before the infidelity. Contact me for help on your journey to authentic healing and reconnection.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association Publishing.