Labor Day weekend always reminds me of going back-to-school, and learning new things. In the words of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, "We learn from failure, not our success." Many of my clients have relayed to me that one of the reasons they are getting divorced is because of their spouse's infidelity. Their hurt and devastation is very understandable. Yet, I often see clients so fixated on this hurt and anger that they are unable to move forward in both their business and personal lives. I therefore, reached out to divorce coach, Karen McMahon, owner of Journey Beyond Divorce, to ask her if she can help our readers learn how to cope, heal, and move forward to a more productive and emotionally healthier life.
The hurt and devastation that comes with sexual infidelity can be crushing. The initial realization is like being punched in the gut. An immediate lack of trust and intense feeling of betrayal follows. Then the slow realization that this is real and the unending questions and scenarios that play non-stop in your head...reeling you deeper into upset, disbelief and confusion.
It makes sense that it would be hard to imagine healing from such pain. In the beginning, it is excruciating. While time is a great healer and perhaps the most potent, it moves slowly and recovery can be a painfully slow process. It involves all the steps of grieving and requires patience, self-love and compassion for yourself and your situation.
Betrayal coupled with divorce makes the situation all the more distressing, and if you are in this situation, my hope is that you find a path to healing. However you might be choosing to resist healing; to stay in your hurt and pain, anger and resentment; and to live in that place for months, years, or forever. This article is about encouraging you to consider the consequences of choosing to be bitter instead of better and to assist you in finding your way to acceptance and a better future.
In your hurt and devastation, it is understandable that you might try to use the divorce process as a weapon to get even; that you would expect your cheating spouse to be judged and punished for their infidelity. The reality is that divorce court is not about good or bad, right or wrong. The process of divorce is simply about money and custody. You don't get more money or more custody because he or she has acted immorally and hurt you.
If you have children, not only don't you want to use them as a pawn in a custody game of revenge, but you want to be a strong and healthy parent requiring you to heal your heart; to let go of your anger and resentment so that is does not become a bitter root that lives on to poison your relationships. So how do you move forward after the betrayal of infidelity?
Coping with Infidelity and Divorce
To cope with infidelity, first acknowledge that this is a huge shock and give yourself both time and compassion to heal after divorce. Focusing on your needs instead of their betrayal is empowering. The more you focus on them, the more pain and anger you feel.
Conversely, the greater the focus on yourself, your needs and desires, the more likely you are to heal and move forward. Another crucial step is to be brutally honest with yourself. Did their betrayal destroy the marriage? Many clients initially state that everything was fine until he or she cheated. However, once they begin to be more honest about the state of their marriage, they reveal the severe cracks in the foundation of the marriage that existed before the infidelity.
Taking an honest look at your part in the broken marriage helps you to move from feeling like a victim to being an active participant in a broken relationship. Acknowledging your part in your troubled relationship empowers you to focus on the one thing you do have control over --yourself. Perhaps you avoided problems with your spouse by overworking or totally focusing on the kids' needs or did something else to escape the reality of your marital problems. Acknowledging and addressing your part enables you to move forward and opens the possibility for companionship that looks and feels different, better, and healthier.
You will move on and probably get involved with another partner. Make the pain of this experience the catalyst to work on your shortcomings. By realizing your part --whether that be the inability to set boundaries or the need to control, the fear of rocking the boat, or the tendency to shut down and avoid conflict – learning to handle relationship challenges differently will set you up for healthier relationships in the future.
7 Helpful Steps to Move Past the Pain of Infidelity:
1. Journal. It is great to write emails or letters to the person who hurt you and then NOT send them. (Better to write it in a journal then accidentally send it.) It gives you a chance to say what you feel without engaging or expecting them to help you feel better (they won't).
2. Focus on yourself. The more time you attend to your emotional, physical and spiritual needs, the better you will feel. Focusing on him or her will undoubtedly send you into a dark place.
3. Witness where your thoughts go and when you find yourself obsessing of "how could s/he" or "what is wrong with me" or "how could I not have known," shift gears. Do something to get your mind off of them. The more you work on this, the easier it gets.
4.Call a friend, but don't rant about your anger. Instead, ask how they are doing and what they are up to. You don't want to alienate friends by continuing to focus on your anger, and you don't want to make your anger your mantra. Instead, by asking how they are doing, you are taking the focus off of yourself and being a good friend to another.
- Watch a movie
- Read a book
- Take up a hobby or learn something new. When you focus on learning, you take the focus off of you and your anger and put your energy into a new task
- Exercise or participate in active sports or meditation/yoga.
5. Take an honest look at your marital issues. Before the cheating, how healthy was it on a scale of 1 - 10? Did you put in all the effort? Was there equality in the relationship? Openness? Good communication? List the issues and how you handled them and see where you might work on changing your attitudes and behaviors that played a role in the problems.
6. Build a support network of friends, both new and old, that can help you though this time.
7. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
8. Reach out to a coach and get support and guidance to move you to a better place.
Karen McMahon is an IPEC and ICF certified relationship and divorce coach with over 15 years of experience. After witnessing firsthand how limited and ineffectual traditional divorce support was during her own divorce in 2006, she founded Journey Beyond Divorce in 2010. For nearly a decade she and her team of certified divorce coaches have provided men & women curated, holistic guidance through every phase of the divorce process. JBD currently offers separation, divorce, and relationship coaching services in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, as well as remote locations across the U.S.