The previous post introduced the stages of grief someone might go through after discovering a spouse’s cheating. Here is more information on those stages.
1. Shock and Denial
When a partner first learns that a spouse is cheating, many thoughts and feelings run through their mind and body. This massive influx of thoughts and feelings initially creates confusion and an emotional disconnect from the true feelings. The result is an initial response of shock and numbness. This was the way Jackie responded to the cell phone statement that revealed Martin’s infidelity.
2. Hurt and Betrayal
When the shock and denial of the cheating wears off, the pain from the betrayal and loss of trust sets in. Realizing that the bond of trust in the relationship no longer exists results in strong feelings of sadness and, typically, many tears.
Jackie initially could not move or respond when Martin admitted that he was having an affair with Sarah. As she took in the truth and could no longer deny that Martin was cheating on her, the pain became so intense she could not hold back her tears.
3. Anger and Blaming Others
After the feelings of hurt and betrayal have an opportunity to subside, anger becomes apparent. The feelings of betrayal, abandonment, hurt, sadness, and anxiety fuel the anger. The betrayed spouse feels a growing need to blame both the cheating spouse and the person he or she cheated with. Blaming others initially helps serve as a distraction from the pain, abandonment, guilt, and shame.
After Jackie was able to release enough of her tears, she started to feel anger and resentment about the betrayal. The blaming seemed to justify and fuel her anger toward Martin. As long as Jackie could blame Martin or Sarah, she was able to keep a distance from her own underlying feelings that needed to be explored and released.
4. Bargaining, Guilt, and Shame
At some point our thoughts start to be invaded by a number of messages that trigger our own guilt and shame and lead us to question whether we should have done something different. Some of these messages include:
- It’s my fault.
- I don’t deserve him/her.
- I’m not good enough.
- It was the alcohol.
- If I only would have paid more attention.
- If I only would have listened more.
- If I only would have tried harder.
- I need to demonstrate more love in our relationship.
- If I do not hold back on sex, we can make it through this affair.
- He/she doesn’t love me anymore because I am not loveable.
Bargaining with oneself and one’s partner is common. This helps focus attention on actions that might help move the relationship forward, and this shift in focus helps the feelings of guilt and shame to hide.
Jackie thought she was not good enough for Martin and decided she needed to do more in the relationship to keep him interested in her and make him discontinue his affair with Sarah. Jackie decided that she would have meals ready when Martin got home and be more willing to be sexual with him so he would redirect his attention to her and their relationship.
5. Loneliness and Abandonment
While bargaining helps a person focus on working toward improving the relationship, it does not help someone honor themselves. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment set in when we are unable to fully connect with and embrace our true feelings. When we connect with our true feelings, neither we nor anyone else is hurt or treated with disrespect and nothing of importance is broken or destroyed. The denial of these true feelings creates the loneliness that many people attempt to hide by remaining in a relationship.
Jackie worked hard to satisfy Martin in an attempt to save the relationship. At the same time, she felt lonely. She was uncomfortable with the idea of talking about the affair with most of her friends because of the negative comments she expected to hear. She was also dealing with feelings of abandonment from Martin’s affair and didn’t know whether that empty feeling could be repaired in this relationship.
6. Depression and Blaming Oneself
One definition of depression is “anger turned within.” Because anger is typically a secondary feeling, another definition of depression is “all feelings turned within.” When we don’t deal with our feelings in a straight healthy fashion, the feelings get stored as energy in the body and create the heaviness of depression. As more of these feelings are stored in the body, it creates emotional heaviness that contributes to a downward spiral of self-blame.
While Jackie was working hard to please Martin, she continued blaming herself for not being an adequate partner for him and not having seen the affair before it started. This negative self-talk and her denial of her true feelings had her feeling overwhelmed and depressed.
7. Processing Feelings to Acceptance
Many feelings are stirred and triggered when a spouse is caught cheating. These need to be honored, felt, and validated to be released so true acceptance can occur. If this process is circumvented, the initial feelings associated with the infidelity get stuffed inside, and they continue to haunt the relationship. Feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, guilt, and shame come out sideways in destructive ways.
When the feelings associated with the infidelity are honored, felt, validated, and released, then true objectivity can occur. This objectivity can help us to determine whether the relationship can work and grow through the infidelity or whether the partner is too emotionally connected with the other person to allow this relationship to heal and grow.
Once she gained some objectivity, Jackie was able to see that what she was doing in dealing with her grief about Martin’s affair was not working.