NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions About Your Spouse's Infidelity

In my prior article, I began a discussion about common reactions to infidelity experienced by each person in the relationship--the person who was injured by the infidelity as well as the person who was unfaithful (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Infidelity: Common Reactions of Both Partners).

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions About Your Spouse's Infidelity

In this article, I'm focusing on coping with intrusive thoughts and emotions that often come up for the injured partner.

Discovering Your Partner's Infidelity is Traumatic
Discovering that a partner cheated is a traumatic experience for the injured partner as well as for the relationship.  It can also be traumatic for the person who cheated in terms of shame, guilt, self doubt and coming to terms with the consequences of his or her behavior.

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful is one of the biggest challenges you will face in your life because you placed your trust in your spouse only to discover this betrayal and violation.

Whether you decide to end your relationship or you try to salvage it, there are often recurring intrusive thoughts and emotions that can be powerful and overwhelming (see my article: Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship?).

Finding ways to cope with these intrusive thoughts and emotions is important in terms of surviving the discovery of infidelity.

Experiencing Flooding and Intrusive Thoughts After Discovering the Infidelity
Finding out that your spouse has been unfaithful is shocking.  It can feel like your whole world suddenly stopped.

Your relationship can feel "unreal" because you assumed that your spouse was faithful and then discovered that s/he wasn't.  You can also feel that you don't really know the person that you're in a relationship with (see my article: Betrayal: Coping With the Feeling That You Don't Really Know Your Spouse).

In many ways, it can feel like the ground below your feet has given way and you're in a free fall (see my article: Coping With Infidelity).

A common reaction to coping with infidelity is feeling flooded with overwhelming thoughts and emotions.  This sense of flooding can come on suddenly without warning and can occur often, especially during the initial stage of your coping with the infidelity.

Flooding includes intrusive thoughts and emotions about the infidelity.  Even if you don't want to think about it, these thoughts come unbidden and seem to take over.

Fear and anxiety can escalate to the point where you feel panicky.

Examples of Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions
  • Wanting a very detailed account from your spouse of what happened sexually between the other person and your spouse (when, where, how, what, with whom).  Having graphic details often fuels more flooding, so you will need to be self protective about what and how much you need to know.
  • Imagining your partner having sex with the "other woman" or "other man" and feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling inadequate or unattractive
  • Feeling confused about why your spouse cheated on you
  • Raging against your spouse for violating your trust and creating problems in your relationship
  • Experiencing profound sadness, grief, loss, and crying
  • Re-experiencing childhood trauma related to betrayal, mistrust, physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect (i.e., current trauma can trigger earlier trauma)
And so on.

Experiencing Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions Related to Your Spouse's Infidelity is Normal
Although you might feel like your thoughts and emotions are out of control, it's normal and common for the injured partner to have intrusive thoughts and emotions.

Even though it can be very difficult, it's important for you to allow yourself to the time and space to experience your feelings, although you don't want to spend all of your time immersed in these experiences.

In other words, rather than avoiding or stuffing your feelings, you need to allow yourself to feel the sadness, grief, anger and frustration that will inevitably come up after you have discovered your spouse's infidelity.

No one wants to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings, but the more you try to suppress your experiences, the more they will come up again and again--even stronger than before.

You're also more likely to "act out" based on suppressed thoughts and emotions if you don't allow yourself to experience them.  So, for instance, rather than experiencing them, you might act on them by contacting the "other woman" or "other man" or "taking revenge" against your spouse by going out and having an affair yourself.  These actions will only serve to make matters much worse, and you'll end up feeling badly about yourself.

Even though you might feel like you're having these intrusive thoughts and emotions all the time, there are usually periods when these experiences peak and then, eventually, subside over time.

Having coping strategies can help you to experience these thoughts and emotions and release them as they come up.

Coping Strategy: Keeping a Journal
  • Writing in a journal is one way to let go of intrusive thoughts and emotions.
  • Writing when you feel flooded is a release.  Rather than go over and over these thoughts and emotions in your mind and heart, you can externalize these experiences in writing as a way to temporarily release them.
  • Allowing yourself the privacy and time to release your thoughts and emotions in writing can feel freeing.
  • Knowing that this is a process, you won't expect that you'll only do this once and you'll permanently feel better.  Instead, you're looking for temporary relief until these experiences eventually subside (everyone is different in terms of how long these experiences last).
Coping Strategy: Using Your Emotional Support System
  • Sharing your experiences with a trusted friend or family member can be freeing if it's the right person.  If your spouse is the person that you usually rely on for emotional support, you might be ambivalent, at best, about sharing your thoughts and feelings with him or her right after you discover the affair. 
  • Sharing your experiences with your spouse eventually is important, especially if you want to salvage your relationship.  It's part of the healing process for both of you.  It's important for you to be able to express how you feel and it's important for your spouse to hear about the pain that s/he caused you so that you can both heal over time.
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member can prevent you from making destructive mistakes--like taking revenge and "acting out" by cheating.  As previously mentioned, that would only make matters worse.
  • Choosing someone who can be emotionally attuned to you, not judgmental and not invested in giving you advice about staying or leaving the relationship is important.  This person just needs to listen and provide emotional support in ways that would be helpful to you.
Coping Strategy: Getting Help in Therapy
  • Attending psychotherapy with a psychotherapist who has professional experience with infidelity is often helpful.  
  • Getting help with how to process your thoughts and feelings is important.  A psychotherapist who has experiencing helping injured partners can assist you to process your experiences so that you can eventually make decisions about your life as an individual and your life with your spouse.
  • Overcoming the self doubts, doubts about your spouse and the future of relationship, fear, rage, sadness, and frustration are essential parts of healing from infidelity.
  • Putting the shattered pieces of your life back together so that you can heal over time is another essential part of therapy for injured spouses.
About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and EFT couple therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many spouses individually and together as a couple to deal with the aftermath of infidelity.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.