This is a great article that can really help anyone who is struggling through the healing process, whether you just found out about an affair or have been working through your own affair recovery for months or even years.
The 7 Stages of Grief after an Affair
“Every Step of the journey is the journey.”
Though every story is slightly different there is a script we all seem to follow, experiences we all share at various points in recovery. I thought it would be helpful to those who are new to this to get an idea of what to expect in the healing process.
Above all else know that healing will take considerable time. Be patient, be kind to yourself; it’s a process. But keep in mind always that wherever you are is exactly where you should be.
One of the first things I did after the news broke was to look up the 7 Stages of Grief (Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance.) I knew I was going to experience all of them, only I didn’t realize they repeat, overlap, gang up. Again, be kind to yourself.
Shock or The Honeymoon Phase:
If you’re reading this then you won’t need to be told about the shock and pain that will engulf you when infidelity is revealed. With me it was all consuming. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or concentrate. The only thing that mattered was finding my way free from the abyss into which I was pushed.
I thought getting her back would do the trick. I tried romance, sex, long discussions, crying, pleading; I was “there” for her yet allowed her her space. It seemed to work so long as there was movement. She was responsive, answered all the questions, gave me tons of physical attention, but we were both in survival mode.
She wasn’t being fully honest with me, or fully invested in our relationship. And in the quiet moments fear and anger took over; the pain returned as full as ever. Estimated time period: the 30 days post DDay.
Denial or The Honeymoon is Definitely Over:
She soon began to withdraw. I still held out hope for us. Our foundation was strong enough. I thought that we could weather this storm. I forgave her. I took a philosophical approach, a pragmatic outlook. This was a blip in our marriage, nothing more. She says she loves me and not him. What more proof do I need?
But the more I suppressed my anger, hurt, and disappointment, the greater those feelings became. There are three things that can’t be hidden, the sun, the moon, and the truth. As much as I hated the thought I simply had to allow the pain and anger to exist and run its course.
It took a while to learn, but I found it was ok to do that, to be angry, to feel pain. I had a right. I had been deeply wounded and it had to heal in its own time. Estimated time period: 30 to 90 days post DDay.
Bargaining or How To Be The Perfect Spouse:
If I were better, stronger, smarter, taller, more handsome, successful, ambitious, if I had met her “needs,” then she would never have sought out another man. In hindsight this is utter, total Bullshit! Since when is anybody responsible for the happiness of another person? If we make someone happy then great, but it should never be a responsibility.
Alas, hindsight is such a gift.I tried to be more like him, or more of what I thought she was looking for, what she needed. I did exactly the opposite of what I should have done which is take pride in myself.
If I were to show her anything it should have been what she was attracted to in the first place. But again, it’s a process. Estimated time period: 1 year after DDay or one minute if you take my advice (for me it lasted about the entire third month post DDay.)
Guilt or How is this My Fault Again?
Part and parcel with Bargaining I took on the burden of her guilt as a way of being there for her, of being a perfect mate. I convinced myself that this affair had to be my fault because somehow I didn’t do enough. She didn’t blame me outright, as some betrayers do, but she let it be known that she was unhappy, that she had been unhappy for a while (she forgot to add, as all betrayers do, that the unhappiness was with herself.)
Luckily, my self-esteem was intact enough to realize this didn’t make any sense. Estimated time period: As with Bargaining this period lasted about the entire third month for me, but I would guess it could last 1 to 2 months or longer if one isn’t aware.
Anger or Now It’s My Turn:
Five months post DDay (and one month post Last Contact) my step-father passed away. He lived in another state so in going off to console my mom, my wife and I were granted a respite from the fear, anger, blame, needling innuendos, and the constant questions and marathon talks that followed.
My wife wanted to remain married. Her goal was and has been from DDay to have a loving, emotionally connected and fulfilling marriage with me. But she lacked the tools to take those steps fully and my ego would not allow me to release the anger enough to even attempt to trust her.
Five months post DDay and the wounds were still fresh, still tender to the touch. By this time I was convinced divorce was the only option, that she still harbored feelings for him (despite her telling me endlessly that this wasn’t the case,) that if it weren’t for our kids I would be long gone without a word.
This was the most destructive phase, but also the most cathartic. There are some wise folks out there who believe that the wounds we earn in life are what mold our character. They mature us in ways we never could have matured otherwise. But wounds this deep can only be gotten in battle. And I battled hard.
The good is that I regained my confidence. I put my foot down, stating that if she wanted to pine over her man then she should do it on her own time in her own space. This was no longer my problem.
I began to look after myself and my interests. I started yoga, meditation, exercising, going out to meet new people, make new friends, and I delved into reading and found strength in renewal and the wisdom of those who had survived all sorts of traumas. I looked deep within myself and sought the truth. For the most part I liked what I saw.
The bad is that this was a struggle. I did things I’m not entirely proud of including confronting the OM and having my own revenge affair (which doesn’t work if one’s hearts not in it.) But I am glad for the insight at least my affair gave me, the self-loathing, the dopamine high, the fallacy that we are responsible for another’s happiness.
Despite what we believe our betraying spouses felt during their affair, it couldn’t possibly have been all sunshine and roses. Affairs are built on lies and secrecy. The constant guilt and torment must be unbearable. The childishness must be humiliating in the light of day. I can’t imagine anyone in an affair feeling good about themselves and I can see how far one would go to cast that awful feeling onto anyone else.
Anger has been the longest phase of recovery for me because I fought it every step of the way and because it needed to exist until I learned that I could deal with it while sitting still, by merely letting it be without marrying action to it.
The hardest lesson I have learned from this whole experience, and the greatest lesson, is that often times we don’t need to do anything; just let life be. It has made all the difference. Estimated time period: From DDay until one is ready to let it go, for me about 18 months – it could have been a lot shorter.
Depression or … just … God, does this suck:
There are varying degrees of depression. The major depression for me started in the third month post DDay (or March 2010). The realities of the affair hit my wife hard and she turned away completely. I have never felt so alone in my life, so worthless, so helpless. I started seeing a therapist; I took anti-depressants for the first time ever. Nothing seemed to make the pain go away but time. This lasted a month (I don’t have statistics but I’d wager the third month post DDay has got to be the worst of the recovery time).
Beyond that third month depression has stayed around for a good year and a half at varying levels. My revenge affair didn’t help as I experienced firsthand the withdrawal we have all heard so much about.
It’s real and is borne of guilt and shame, and the only thing to make it go away is another dose of drama, texting, meeting, ego-boosting, and what-have-you. I’m convinced it’s a hard-wired mental drug meant to promote the continuation of our species. Knowing that, it might give some of you a bit more patience with your addicted, dumb-for-the-moment spouse.
I also realized, curiously, that I had developed a habit of my depression over time. Like Pavlov’s dog I found when I was alone I would conjure up familiar anger and pain just because I was used to it. And when I would search for justifications as to why I felt this way I found it and earned my melancholy.
Depression begets depression. I had to break the habit and couldn’t rely on my spouse to help me through it. I had to break it. Today it has dissipated, but it’s not entirely gone. It’s a process. Estimated time period: DDay until whenever, right? The worst of it though is during the earlier months.
Acceptance or the Never-Ending Story:
Acceptance is a weighty word since it implies surrender, but it’s nothing like surrender. We will never accept our spouse’s infidelity. We will only accept that it happened. There’s a major difference in that.
We grow wiser, our wounds heal, but the scar reminds us to be wary, to rely on ourselves first and foremost, and that at the end of the day we were never immune from such betrayal in the first place just as we never will be moving forward.
The only thing anyone can count on is that change will occur, which is a good thing because without change there is only death. The estimated time period for this phase is the rest of our lives because hopefully we’ve learned something here that will help us weather any and all future storms.
I was at a school concert the other night and in the row in front of me was a woman busily texting on her IPhone. The bright light was blinding me so I leaned forward to ask her to put it away. But in leaning forward I realized I could read her conversation.
The woman was there with her two teenage sons sitting between her and her husband. I wanted to say something to this woman about her “conversation.” But what would she say back to me? “How dare you. We’re just friends. This is none of your business.” She would be right, of course.
Every situation is unique. Still, I wanted to warn her about the process. I am strong enough now that the triggers don’t hit me anymore (yes, they do go away), and I wanted to warn this woman.
Two years out from my wife’s affair and there are more and more moments where I look at it and think it’s just not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Even if our relationship doesn’t survive, at least I know I will.
I like my hard won independence. I like feeling that I have more control over the quality of my life, my happiness, my life’s goals. I’ve definitely lost something, but that’s part of growing up. I’ve learned to accept that. It’s all part of the process. And it gets easier. It gets better.
Once again, thanks so much to Duane for sharing his perspectives on the stages of grief after an affair based on his own experiences.
We’ve put together a program to help you learn about the five stages of the grief after an affair – and how to effectively deal with each step in the process. You can learn more about it here.