Post Traumatic Growth After Infidelity: The 3 Ingredients That Make It Possible

Post Traumatic Growth After Infidelity

By Sarah P.

In past blogs, I have discussed various aspects of PTSD as a result of an affair as well as trauma bonds. I have also discussed the idea that it is possible to overcome trauma. But, the one thing I have not written about in great detail is the concept of post traumatic growth after infidelity.

Our society focuses so much on PTSD, that we sometimes forget that trauma can lead to growth. Like a tree that has been severely pruned, it would seem in the short term that the tree was too diminished to resemble its former self. But, in time, the tree rebuilds itself and is stronger and more beautiful than ever.  Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is kind of like that.

But what is it?

The Post-Traumatic Growth Research Group says this about PTG:

“It (PTG) is a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term post-traumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation…

Sometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of one’s own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything.”  A fourth aspect of posttraumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general.” (1)

 

Living through trauma is by no means a welcome event. Most people would rather give up an arm than live through an emotional trauma. Trauma is soul-shattering.

Even though a traumatic event occurred outside the person and is no fault of their own, that person is still left to pick up the pieces. They are responsible for locating and picking up each piece of their shattered soul and reconfigure it with crazy-glue. Any way you look at it, it all seems so unfair.

There are a myriad of other ways to experience growth that do not involve having the proverbial rug pulled out from under your feet. But, for most of us here on this blog, we are all bound together by the common thread of trauma due to infidelity.

We are all here to support one another pick up their soul pieces and perhaps pass around the communal crazy-glue. We are a community of people that are rebuilding our ‘soul houses’ despite having them leveled by trauma.

 

Let’s take a look at two fictional couples who have experienced affair and how they might fare…

 

Malia and James

Malia could not forget the evening when her entire life came crashing down. In a rare moment, Malia’s husband James had forgotten his smartphone on the counter.

Malia couldn’t help but notice the following text appear on his screen along with a female name she did not recognize: “Hey babe…can’t believe desks, chairs, and car seats can be used in such creative ways. Counting the seconds til we’re together again.”

In an instant, Malia’s happily ever after turned into a happily never after.

When James returned to the kitchen, Malia was quietly crying and holding his phone hoping there was an explanation. Malia held up the phone and showed him the text.

James’s seethed and yelled, “How dare you spy on me!”

Malia asked through tear-filled eyes, “I thought I was enough… why?”

James grabbed the phone from Malia’s hand. Without a word, James stomped off, immediately left their home, and drove away in his car.

Pots were left simmering on the stove, but Malia no longer cared about dinner. Everything had come to a standstill in Malia’s world; life was over as far as she was concerned. Malia had experienced a tramautic event and at that moment the future seemed hopeless.

 

Will and Mary

Will and Mary met at basic training. Mary was a demure and petite blond who kept her full head of hair in a tight bun. Will was a muscular man with kind, dark eyes.  As soon as their eyes locked, it was love (or perhaps lust) at first sight.

They married only three months after meeting and their mariage was marked with fun. It turned out Mary was not as demure as she presented herself to be and she was always pulling Will along on new and exciting adventures. Will was smitten because Mary was an enigma to him and he never knew what would come next.

They climbed the military ranks together and were usually assigned to the same bases. One day, orders changed and Mary was sent to a new base three months ahead of Will. Will had become an officer and an important member of a medical team. He was required to train his replacement before he could join Mary.

Everything was wonderful when he joined Mary at their new base. Even though Mary was not wearing her wedding ring, he did not think much of it. Will was promoted to lead a new emergency medical team and dove head first into work.

One day, a member of Will’s team told him that he had been dating Will’s sister, Mary, for a couple of weeks, but that Mary had broken it off so she could date several of this man’s friends. The man told Will, “I still miss her because she was so great in bed.”

After doing some digging, Will realized that his “sister Mary” had intimate relations with thirty different men on that very large base. When Will confronted Mary with the facts, she denied it. But, then Will told her about the names of some of the men she had relations with when she and Will were apart.

Mary broke down in tears and claimed she had ‘needs,’ but that she had chosen Will to marry and wanted to work it out. She asked Will to move on and pretend like nothing had happened. Will was unable to “move on” and filed for divorce immediately.

 

A Real Couple

If these scenarios sound familiar, it is not a coincidence. Such tragedies are unfolding every night in homes across the world. Infidelity is an issue that leaves no one unharmed. Most adults have either experienced it or know someone who has experienced it.

It does not matter if the wayward spouse is a man or woman, there is a script that cheaters tend to follow. So, if these fictional stories ring of familiarity, they seem familiar because I am using these stories to illustrate a common dynamic found in marriages where infidelity has occurred.

I wanted to contrast my fictional accounts against a real account I found in the comments section on a website called Paired Life:

“My husband had a sexual affair and at the same time had an online emotional affair with a much younger woman. The sexual affair was just supposed to be friends with benefits sex but his married friend decided she wanted more. He did not want more with her. The 26 year old online affair, she’s different. He cares about her, doesn’t want to hurt her but his whole relationship with her has been a lie as well. His sexual affair started with her when his friend fell in love and her wants in their relationship changed. In order for our marriage to survive he needs to end his emotional relationship with this girl.

I wish I knew if I was making the right choice to continue to try and work this out with him. It should be an easy fix. Either he chooses life with me where I’m willing to work though and save our marriage or he isn’t. It’s very hard to walk away from someone who tells you it’s you he really loves, and wants to be with but at the same time he won’t disconnect his girlfriend cellphone to prove it. He doesn’t want to hurt her because she suffers from anxiety and depression, he worries about her. He’s not a mental health professional, he cannot help her. If anything he is making things worse, because it would be just as devastating to her, as it was to me, if she found out he’s lied to her for the last three years. My patience is coming to an end, I’m finding it easier to walk away from him and not listen to his reasons for not doing what he told me he would do, why he can’t just shut the phone down. I don’t care anymore, just shut the phone down and then we can talk about repairing our life. I’m drained and have spent far too long trying to fix something I did not break. I’ve given him a year to prove he was going to change and it’s still going on. I want to believe he’s a good person and that he truly does want our marriage to work but there have been so many lies that I’m not sure he even knows what is the truth is anymore.” (2)

 

Even though this is a powerful account, the idea that she feels like she is stuck fixing something she did not break stands out to me. This is the situation in which all betrayed spouses find themselves—they have to fix a marriage that they did not break and they have to fix those shattered pieces of their soul.

It also appears that her husband has knight-in-shining-armor syndrome (not a real diagnosis). But, he simply cannot resist rescuing younger women who are troubled. It also appears that her husband is trying to prolong the cake phase for as long as possible and he is willing to do or say anything in order to keep both women in the picture.

If this marriage were to survive, this husband would have to dump his mistress and cut all contact, but I would predict this is highly unlikely in this real-life story.

Back to James and Malia

James had ended his affair and both Malia and James wanted to repair their marriage. The problem was, Malia had already rewritten her entire marriage as a sham and she could not imagine having a solid marriage again.

Malia kept replaying over again in her mind the moment that she read those life-changing words on James’s phone.

She had not gotten a good night’s sleep in months because she experienced both her waking life and her dream life as one, long nightmare.

Malia was constantly on edge and normal background noises in her home caused her to physically startle.

Malia had stopped preparing dinner and almost always purchased take-out meals.  Anytime she entered the kitchen, it caused her to remember her own “D-Day.” As a result, she lost so much weight that friends wondered if Malia was experiencing a life-threatening illness.

Malia felt like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and scheduled an appointment with a therapist. Malia and her therapist discovered that she had developed all of the symptoms of PTSD as a result of James’s affair.

 

The Four Symptom-Types of PTSD

Even though I have written about this before, I wanted to provide a refresher.

PTSD is most often associated with war veterans or individuals who have experienced catastrophic events. While these events often cause PTSD, it has been discovered that infidelity can also cause PTSD.

As in Malia’s case, developing PTSD as a result of an affair is a very common occurrence. There are four major symptoms that point toward a potential diagnosis of PTSD:

  • Reexperiencing the traumatic event long after it has passed
  • Avoiding situations that cause an individual to recall the traumatic event
  • Changing a person’s belief systems as well as their perceptions of themselves and others
  • Experiencing continuous hyper-arousal that affects almost every aspect of an individual’s daily life

Since Malia was experiencing all of the symptoms of PTSD, she would be required to work through both trauma and infidelity at the same time. This would cause Malia to have a difficult, but not impossible road ahead of her.

Fortunately, in this case, James was remorseful for what he had done and he willing to see a marriage counselor with Malia. James wanted to recover the marriage, wanted to help Malia heal from PTSD, and he was willing to do the work required.

Back to Will and Mary

As you can imagine, Will and Mary was a lost cause. After much soul-searching, Will realized that he could have been motivated enough to do work if there was only one other man. However, the fact that Mary had so many lovers caused Will to bale and rightfully so.

A married woman who has intercourse with so many different men in such a short amount of time is an incredibly troubled woman. The fact that Mary had so many lovers pointed to the idea that Mary was profoundly broken on the inside.

Will was smart to leave because Mary showed no insight or remorse. Had Will stayed, he would have become a broken and bitter man.

Infidelity, PTSD, and the Sound Relationship House

For those familiar with Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s work, they invented the concept of the Relationship House and how to create and maintain a Sound Relationship House.

When a person has experienced infidelity and subsequent symptoms of PTSD, this situation impacts every aspect of the Sound Relationship House. In fact, such a situation would be akin to a hurricane completely leveling a couple’s metaphorical relationship house.

The Sound Relationship House is a foundational concept within Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s work. The building and the maintaining a Sound Relationship House is the key to a deeply fulfilling relationship.

There are seven key components that work together to create a Sound Relationship House:

  • The creation of love maps
  • The expression of fondness and admiration
  • The act of turning toward a partner (versus turning away)
  • The choice to keep and maintain a positive perspective
  • The ability to manage conflict well by accepting influence, dialoguing together, and practicing self-soothing
  • The ability to partner together to make life goals and dreams a reality
  • The creation of shared meaning in a relationship by identifying a deeply fulfilling legacy

All of these aspects are affected by infidelity. A couple’s Sound Relationship House must be rebuilt while they rebuild their marriage. This type of work is not for the faint of heart. However, the act of restoring a marriage and a family is worth the effort.

But, the most heartening news is that marriages can not only survive after an affair, they can also thrive. This is referred to as Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG).

 

3 Healing Ingredients for Post Traumatic Growth after Infidelity:

The key to healing from an affair and experiencing Post-Traumatic Growth is to use a method that Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed called Atone, Attune, Attach.

This method would be ideal for couples like Malia and James where both appear equally committed to repairing their marriage.

The first step, atonement, requires a wayward spouse, such as James, to show genuine remorse: Atonement. After he shows remorse, James must also be transparent about his actions during the affair.

The second step in the healing process is Attunement. Attunement is an acronym that stands for the following actions:

Attending to partner’s feelings

Turning toward a partner

Tolerating both good and bad feelings

Understanding a partner’s perception

Non-defensive listening

Empathizing

These actions may not come naturally to everyone, so a couple must be very intentional in their efforts to adopt these behaviors. It will be especially important for a wayward spouse like James to engage in attunement. When wayward spouses actively display these behaviors and do so for an extended period of time, a betrayed spouse like Malia will trust and forgive more quickly.

The third step in healing — Attach– shows a couple how to rebuild their connection with one another. It should come as no surprise that many betrayed spouses have a very difficult time becoming vulnerable enough to rebuild genuine sexual intimacy. However, reestablishing physical intimacy is key. Thus, the main goal of the attachment phase is to rekindle a profound sexual connection.

Sometimes couples will have a sexual connection due to hysterical bonding, but the attachment step is less about hysterical bonding and more about creating a profound connection.

Prior to affairs, many couples fall into patterns where they have disconnected sex. They know what the other needs to get ready—they go through the motions—and there is nothing new or inspiring.

This last step works best if couples build a sexual connection based on true vulnerability, unconditional acceptance of the body of the betrayed spouse, and the wayward spouse taking the lead in creating an environment of emotional safety.

What About Forgiveness?

In the most extreme cases of transgression, forgiving someone for their actions may seem impossible. Still, forgiveness is too important to ignore because of its’ role in Post-Traumatic Growth.

A study by Heintzelman et al. found that the act of forgiveness is a significant predictor of Post-Traumatic Growth. (3)  While forgiveness sets the bitter-hearted free, it also works to support the primary vital tools of healing: Atone, Attune, Attach.

Happily Ever After (Again)

With the help of a therapist or marriage mentor and the process of Atone, Attune, Attach, recovering one’s marriage is probable. However it requires that both people be very intentional about rebuilding a Sound Relationship House and co-creating a marriage that is more fulfilling than the marriage they had before.

It is possible to take the proverbial lemons that life hands you and make lemonade. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Most of all, the trauma that is so utterly destructive to a marriage can be transformed into a powerful tool for Post-traumatic Growth.

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Sources

Post Traumatic Research Group. What is PTG? From https://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/

CheatLieRepeat. Ten Personality Traits of a Cheater. From https://pairedlife.com/problems/So-whats-the-deal-with-Cheaters

Heintzelman, A., Murdock, N. L., Krycak, R. C., & Seay, L. (2014). Recovery from infidelity: Differentiation of self, trauma, forgiveness, and posttraumatic growth among couples in continuing relationships. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3(1), 13-29.

 

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47 Responses to Post Traumatic Growth After Infidelity: The 3 Ingredients That Make It Possible

  1. Shifting Impressions October 31, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

    Lots of good info in this post, Sarah. I can honestly say I am experiencing change or growth in all four of the areas mentioned.

    But saying that….I believe if I would have read this in the early days after d-day I would never have believed it could be possible. I did not experience full out and out PSTD but I was traumatized and in shock for many many months.

    Funny I was just looking at a tree out of my front window, that is in desparate need of pruning and thinking just that before I read this post. My thought is that after pruning it takes time for the regrowth. I am close to four years since d-day and feel it is still an on going process.

    I just recently watched the movie “Maudie” about the artist Maude Lewis. Very profound, how such creativity came out of such heart ache. It resonated with me as I have found catharsis in my creativity as well.

    So yes, post traumatic growth is real……but the price is awfully high.

  2. Shifting Impressions October 31, 2017 at 9:52 pm #

    Another, thought…..
    If a couple can wade through the “Shit Storm” that infidelity brings and make it through to the other side….maybe their relationship was stronger than they thought.

    • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 12:37 am #

      Hello Shifting,

      Thanks for your comments. Totally agree about wading through the shit storm. If a couple can do that and make it through to the other side, the relationship was definitely stronger than they thought.

      I try to stay away from Bible stories, but I cannot help but think about the house built on the sand versus the house built on the rock. Since there is no guide to relationships and since everyone brings to a relationship their own good qualities and bad, marriage can kind of be like the house built on the sand. And then something like an affair comes along and obliterates the house. But, if both people look around, notice how building on the sand did not work, and decide to rebuild on a rock-solid foundation, they have a marriage that can stand when other storms come.

      I believe many people have marriages built on the sand only most will never know until something huge hits.

      Either way, couples have two basic choices: go through a divorce or find some way to stay together. Staying together can be the option that leads to post-traumatic growth if people can survive the pruning process and allow themselves to grow in new ways. Not saying it’s easy- just saying it is possible.

      • Shifting Impressions November 2, 2017 at 2:02 am #

        Sarah
        I think I see it a little differently than that. I believe if our marriage had been built on the sand we would never have been able to make it through the last few years. It was all the history and the years of building a strong foundation that gave us the wherewithal to weed through this.

        When my husband had his EA it’s like he fell off the rock that is our marriage and into the sand of an affair. Sure there were some cracks and weaknesses but there had been many more good years than bad.

        • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

          Hello Shifting,

          Yes, you do have a better way of seeing and explaining it. It sounds like you two were creating a strong foundation (whether it was intentional or not) but he fell off the rock.

  3. Hopeful November 1, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Great article. I have felt since the beginning that the Gottman’s work is so powerful. My husband was the first one to tell me about them. I found all of their books and work so insightful. I think for my husband even though he is in the field he finds so much quality in their work since they base so much on very solid research. And I like how they have easy to understand action items. They really are amazing. I do feel like I have suffered from PTSD related to the betrayal. When I read about it I very much fall in line with so many aspects of PTSD.

    I do agree with you though about the growth. I think that has been the most powerful aspect of this entire thing. I remember in the days following dday feeling so hopeless and just not understanding. I remember my husband saying that this does not have to be the end for me. And also if I want to try that it does not have to be the end for us. I honestly hated him and thought he was crazy. Of course he has seen this happen both ways his entire career. But for me I just was shocked honestly. It took a lot of work and many phases but I can see now where we are stronger individually and together now. We both hate that it took what it did to get to this point. I am thankful and have told him that I am so happy he did not just leave me and never tell me. That would have been the worse thing. I always say slap me with the truth instead of kissing me with a lie. He thought for a while leaving me with a generic explanation would be better since he did not know if he could change or be the husband I deserve. But he gave it his all and overall has been honest and put in a lot of work. Nothing is perfect and this will always be part of our story. The good thing is yes we have done this together and we are both proud of what we have made it through and do feel stronger individually and as a marriage/relationship. Lots of work left to do still…

    • Shifting Impressions November 1, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

      Hopeful
      I couldn’t agree with you more….I would rather have the pain of the truth than the pain of a lie.

    • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 12:43 am #

      Hello Hopeful,
      I am pretty sure that your husband is forever grateful that you chose to work it out. Even though he thinks it might have been okay to let you go, I can tell he would have fallen apart. It is such an interesting paradox that he is a therapist and yet he needs you as his solid foundation. I can intuitively tell that this is the case with him. Like many of the unfaithful spouses here, they are the weak ones and the betrayed spouses the strong ones.

      The Gottman’s work is great because it is research baed and easy to understand– totally agree. There are a lot of theories out there, but it saves a lot of heartache to know what has actually worked and what has not. I really appreciate their work because of that. They are amazing. Being able to see them in person and shake John Gottman’s hand was an amazing experience. But, Julie Gottman is equally amazing if not more. Julie Gottman is so wise and approachable at the same time– she is one in a million for sure!!

      • Hopeful November 2, 2017 at 1:37 pm #

        I agree with all you say. It is such an odd situation. It is hard for me to understand at times. I never thought of myself as the strong one but now more than ever I see that. I can see why my husband was drawn to me partially since I was independent so it did not conflict with his selfish personality. I never needed much from him. I can see how I was taught to be content and self reliant. It is just so interesting.

        And you are so fortunate to have met both of the Gottmans. Their words and work is so powerful. What a great body of work they have created!

        • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

          Hi Hopeful,

          You and I are so similar. I was also very independent before marriage. How did your independence manifest?

          • Hopeful November 2, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

            I credit my parents and how I was raised and their philosophies. They believe in strong work ethics, not depending on anyone else and doing your best. And in the end if you do all of that with integrity you have given your all. I am also an only child so I do think that plays into it. I was never a whimsicle creative person so very much make a list and get things done. Very dependable and a true friend.

            • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

              Hi Hopeful,

              We are both only children. 🙂

              I was also raised to work hard, be self-reliant, and never compromise my integrity. On the other hand, I was and am a super-creative type. And my parents actually encouraged it, but I knew it could never be a job. I needed a practical job and I never regret that decision. So many creative types struggle financially and that just isn’t for me.

              • Hopeful November 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

                Now it all makes sense!! Ha ha! Well I should say I was creative and then I think as you say reality set in and I too was not the type to float around struggling.

                • Sarah P. November 3, 2017 at 6:01 pm #

                  So very similar! My creative pursuits are my hobbies and they bring me joy, but there is no way to make an income and I am ok with that.

  4. Nearly Normal November 2, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    So what’s with jumping at normal household sounds? Why is that a symptom of PTSD? Is that part of hyper-vigillance?

    Just curious

    • Sarah P. November 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

      Hi Nearly Normal,

      When people have been through a severe trauma and developed PTSD, their nervous system is constantly releasing cortisol. This cortisol causes people to be hyper-vigilant whether they want to be or not. It creates a situation where they will startle at normal sounds such as loudly closing doors.

      Whereas people without PTSD will startle if they hear a sound that induces fear (such as the sound of a gun) someone with PTSD startles at everyday (loud or unexpected) sounds that most people would hardly notice. Their body is in a situation where it is expecting to be constantly attacked and so their mind is on hyper-alert, waiting for an attack. People with PTSD will startle at things that people without PTSD may not even notice.

      • Nearly Normal November 3, 2017 at 1:22 pm #

        THat makes sense, Sarah.

        Thanks

  5. TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    Hi NN- for me it’s any kind of noise. Pre DDay I had the television in constantly. It was background noise. Since DDay I can’t tolerate it. Particularly the news. Ugh it’s so grim. Too much stimulation. Now I just play music or nothing. I like the quiet. Sounds of nature. Even the lawn mowers disturb me. I’m very overwhelmed when I’m around too many people talking to me which is very difficult for me since I work in our business. I’m constantly barraged with people asking questions or telling me something. I’m constantly making decisions. This is true for my h as well. Problem is he loves the television and when he’s home it’s one. It’s a cat and mouse game if him turning it in and me turning it off.

    When not at work I avoid all interpersonal interaction. I avoid people in public. I’m kind with service people and say thank you politely but that is it. I feel safer staying to myself. Loud noises and fireworks destroy me. But more so interactions with people. I know it seems strange since I interact with all of you here but it’s different. I feel safer here. Not so much in person

    PTSD is real but I like the idea of turning it into growth. I’ve seen lots of personal growth in myself and I like the new stronger me.

    Living is growth and changing by life’s circumstances. Both the good and the bad. You can become bitter or better. I choose better.

    • Nearly Normal November 3, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

      I’m more of a closing cupboards kind of guy. Or doors. Or pans being put away. Stuff like that.

    • Hopeful November 3, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

      I also liked background noise pre dday. But now I like nothing. Even lawn mower sounds cause me anxiety or overwhelm me. I prefer silence now. What is interesting is before dday I would startle easily. And major startle response. I wonder if it was from years of me feeling like I was always on edge and being gaslighted. I am still startled by noises but in a different way. I feel it in my core. What I struggle with even more are memories, people saying certain things, the way someone might act. Also i am so sensitive to how someone treats someone else. Again it is a physical reaction. And I recoil.

    • Shifting Impressions November 3, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

      Trying Hard and NN
      It’s all so interesting how each of us has been affected. Before d-day, I loved the quiet and loved having the house to myself. After d-day I the first thing I do in the morning is turn the music on.

      Almost four years later I almost always have music in the background. At first it was hard to be alone for long periods at a time as I would spiral down emotionally. That is much better now.

      TH-I’m so sorry that this has affected how your interactions to people. As time goes on, has that improved, somewhat??

      • TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

        Hi SI–No actually it’s gotten worse. I really limit myself to exposure to others. I know I’m like this so I am very aware. I can be friendly and nice to people for a short period of time and I have to gear myself up to say go to the grocery store. If I’m in the aisles and I see someone I know I will go the other direction just so I don’t have to talk to them. But as far as the service people I am very very kind to them because I know it’s going to be for just a couple minutes. We belong to a golf club and I’ve known people there for years. I cannot bear going. Too much social interactions and questions about me and family and whatever. The next day I am a mess wondering if I let on to anyone that things are less than perfect or gave a wrong impression or said something wrong and it goes on and on. I will parse conversations all day from the night before. It’s really sometimes gotten obsessive. So I avoid those types of places. If I see someone in a restaurant I know I will wave but never approach for a conversation. LOL I’m a mess but I’m actually happier than when I was much more extroverted and interacted socially a lot more than now.

        I’ve avoided renewing friendships or even seeking out new friendships. I like my alone and quiet time. I loathe girls nites out!! I would rather take a stick in the eye than go out with a bunch of women!!! I thought I would miss friendships but I don’t. I like doing things with my husband or by myself. But I have to say I really prefer being by myself. I’m relieved when he goes to play golf and I have at least 4 hours for just me.

        The worst thing is I am the first person people see when they walk into our office!!! So I think part is that I have to put on such a friendly face and act that once away from the office I just don’t want to put the act on anymore.

        Some people are more comfortable with solitude and I think I have turned into one of those. LOL probably someday when I’m a widow or whatever I could very well be the old crazy cat lady living by herself 🙂

  6. TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Oh yeah, tonight we are having a company party where family, wives, kids, parents etc. are invited. I’m dying right now just thinking about it!!! Say a prayer for me for tonight and in all likelihood I will sneak out early when no one is looking 🙂

  7. Carol November 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

    Your comment about not wanting to interact with people hit the nail on the head for me. We have several groups of friends- and since D Day (7 years ago- the first one, anyway)- we have cancelled parties, trips, etc so many times they’re all wondering about us. I just don’t have the energy for small talk and frivolity anymore. Although we made it to a better marriage, both of us have changed. Can anyone share how they deal with this? Do we just force smiles and endure time with friends, or move away, or tell them what’s been going on?Trauma like this makes one totally reprioritize their life- we both just want to concentrate on our marriage, our family, and our passions (his- music, mine- writing). But how to reduce “party time” friends without hard feelings?

    • Sarah P. November 3, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

      Hi Carol,

      Wanted to chime in here. I am seeing a common thread here about social interactions. And I think this is the root of it:

      After infidelity, most people have been changed so profoundly that an extroverted social face becomes absolutely exhausting.

      Add to that the idea that there will always be a small part of us that wonders (in the deep, dark corners of our minds) if we did something to cause infidelity. That can lead to thoughts of wondering what is wrong with us.

      Then, that can cause worrying about saying and doing the wrong thing in general. So, when we are out and about, we analyze everything we say and do and wonder if perhaps they might be secretly judging us or just saying, “what’s up with her?” or “What’s up with him?”

      Then there is the idea that — like you said — trauma makes people reprioritize life.

      As women, we have largely been taught to be outwardly focused: to please other people, to hang on their every word, to make them feel comfortable, to accept all those party and lunch invitations, to “go out with the girls” and to have all kinds of hobbies that take us outside the house.

      But, after an affair hit, we have to become inwardly focused and do our inner work.

      After we recover from that, we often see the whole “social game” as one, big farce. We have been through something much deeper and we know no know how to (or even want) to make small talk. We don’t want to get involved in petty gossip games that can happen wherever groups of people gather.

      Most of all, we do NOT want to be the subject of their petty gossip.

      Now onto your question– how to reduce party time with friends without creating hard feelings.

      This is where you have to decide if your feelings and your time is more important than creating hard feelings in others. I think that we all must prioritize ourselves and our families first. I have always thought that way though. And I know that in my little town people wonder why I am not more social since I get a lot of invites etc to different things. The way I handle it is I let people know I have two small children and a husband who works almost every day. I will set aside coffee in person for friends I care about, but it is always one-on-one. I have to be okay with falling out of grace with some people.

      We cannot please everyone all the time. But most try and it is exhausting. So, there is a point where we realize we cannot please everyone all the time and be okay with it.

      Having said all that, here is a script from the Huffington Post on how to say “no” nicely:

      1. Open with gratitude.

      You can’t go wrong with gratitude and appreciation. Ever.

      “Deep thanks for writing.”
      “I’m touched by your note.”
      “I always love hearing from you — thank you for swinging back into my world.”

      2. Acknowledge their courage.

      It takes balls (or ovaries, depending on your perspective) to ask for something you desperately need (or even just kinda-sorta want.) Reflect back that you get it.

      “I can see how much this project means to you, and I’m touched by your determination and drive.”

      “Asking for something you want (and need) can be tough. I’m moved by your clear, honest request.”

      “I know what it takes to reach out and ask for support. I love your initiative-seizing chutzpah!”

      3. Tell them “no.”

      This point is non-negotiable. Be clear. Avoid wibbly-wobbly words like “maybe” and “someday” and “if only.”

      “My answer is no.”
      “This feels like a no.”
      “I love you, but no.”
      “That’s not a commitment I can make. I’ve got to say no.”
      “You are a spectacular human being. Which makes it (really) hard to say no. But… no.”

      4. Tell them why.

      There are circumstances in which explaining why you’re saying no is cruel, or even unethical. But most of the time, it can help put their mind at ease. It’s the humane thing to do.

      “My calendar is pleasantly full — and I’m striving to keep it from getting (un)pleasantly full. Thank you for understanding.”
      “I’ve made a strong commitment to take care of my health this year. Which means saying ‘no’ more than I’d like — but as much as I need.”
      “I’ve got several time- and energy-intensive projects on the horizon. I’m clearing the deck to make sure I can hit my deadlines. Without resorting to drugs. Or Doritos.”
      “I’m trying an experiment in radical un-busy-ness. It involves saying ‘no’ a lot more than usual, to clear space for big and magnificent yeses. (Want to do it with me?)”

      5. Close with generosity.

      Offer an alternative form of support (one that doesn’t trigger resentment, for you). Point them to unexpected resources. Send a blessing, or a piece of helpful advice.

      “If you’re open to having me support you in a different way, I’d be more than willing to… “
      “I think you’ll really enjoy this free round-up of resources… “
      “These folks might be able to help you, sooner (and better) than me… “
      “I’m rooting for you, and I’m sending love. Keep me posted on your ongoing success.”
      And that’s it. No sweat.

      https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alexandra-franzen/how-to-say-no_b_3132921.html

      *******************

      Do I use that script? No. I am a lot more straightforward than that. I just level with people about my own health issues and my family because it is the truth. So, that script is more for people who don’t want to provide personal details.

      Anyhow, that was my long-winded response on all this stuff. After all, the holidays are coming up and there are going to be a lot of parties to dodge.

      • TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 6:16 pm #

        I always always thank fir the invite before declining. I work full time and I’m old so that’s an excuse too. I’m freaking tired!!

        But I like that “I’m practicing radical unbusyness”.

        Sarah you are right on describing me and my current mood. I just can’t want to participate. I KNOW I’ve been the source of petty gossip and speculation and judgement.

        • Sarah P. November 3, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

          Hi Tryinghard,

          I have noticed that most social gatherings devolve into petty gossip parties in one way or another. I don’t have time or mental energy for such things. I don’t want to be in a big group of people hearing someone recount so-and-so’s misfortunate when so-and-so is not there. It’s always easy to tell when people have been gossiping about you. Their smiles are a little more forced etc.

          In my last job, I was working with another woman, the same age, and she sat in the cube next to mine. I thought we had become friends. We shared our parenting stories and a lot of personal stuff. I ended up getting pregnant with my second at the time. I had a very serious health crisis when I was around 4 months pregnant. The doctor was sure my child had Down’s based on the ultrasound and I got this call while at work and started crying in my cube. I had to take time off work to get amniocentesis at a hospital 2 hours away and I had to wait about 2 weeks to get on their schedule. I was so shocked, scared, confused, and sad that I asked for a leave of absence and it was approved.
          She called to see how I was doing and told me that what I told her would be in confidence. So, I told her what had happened and it was not a pleasant story. She said all the right things and I believed she would keep things in confidence.

          When I came back, I rounded the corner to see her and the receptionist whispering and looking toward my cube. Their faces were both bright red when they saw me and they pretended like everything was normal. I overheard them saying something about me having a mental breakdown (which was not true).

          Then, later she came to see how I was doing and of course I realized she was just looking for more gossip so that she and the receptionist could use my life as their daily soap opera. I had counted this lady as a friend but I guess while I was gone, she became friends with the receptionist and they had nothing better to do than talk about my life.

          It really, really, really hurt. And it was not the first time that had occurred with a so-called friend. To me, a friend does not use their friend’s life as gossip. But, so many people don’t adhere to that.

          As for my son– fortunately, my son did not have down’s syndrome, but it did not matter. If he had, I had already decided at the time I was going to keep him, even though my in-laws felt differently. This is the son who is on the autism spectrum. He is a such a gift to me because of the way he looks at the world. I tell him everyday that I must have done something really good because God rewarded me with allowing me to be his mommy. And I truly feel that way. His perspective is so refreshing and his heart is so pure. He doesn’t know how to manipulate and when he sees others being mean he doesn’t understand why. He is so kind to everyone he meets and so generous. True, these are not typical symptoms of autism– his difficulties are in other areas and I don’t dwell on those except for ensuring he gets the help he needs and protecting him from people who might hurt his feelings. Before I became a mom, I had no opinion about autism because I had not seen it. But, now that I am a mom and have a son who is (unfortunately) back on the spectrum and back-sliding by the day, I see it as a gift. I feel like autism is a gift because many people with this diagnosis think differently than the rest of us. And because of this, they can probably solve problems that many of us cannot solve because they look at things so differently. They can be a real asset to society and their assets can be brought forward with the right support. My son is the coolest little kid I have ever met and I adore him.

          • Carol November 4, 2017 at 8:08 am #

            Awesome post- thanks so much!! And it all rings so true- for me, and probably for most of us! Thanks so much for sharing:-)

  8. TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    Oh Carol I hear you!!! LOL yes I say no to all invites. I have my bag of reasons. Mainly we will have our grandchildren that night, sorrrrry 🙂

    I would LOVE to move away. Seriously I fantasize about getting and apartment in Chicago about 4 hours north of where I live. We live in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else and everyone KNOWS us. It’s awful. Fat fish in a small pond!!!

    I can only imagine the freedom of being in a large city where NO ONE knows me. Where I can come and go without being seen. Christ I hear all the time “I saw you the other day driving and I waved but you didn’t wave back. What’s wrong??” WTF I don’t see people when I’m walking let alone driving and I couldn’t care less if you saw me.

    Anyway I don’t care what they think why I don’t socialize. My h used to love going out in big groups and socializing with everyone but even he loves being with just me now. We laugh a lot about it how we’ve turned into such introverts socially. He gets his social fix playing golf with men so that’s good for him. Every once in a while I will agree to go out with others but it requires lots of wine and he is NEVER far from me.

    I say just say NO and let the chips fall where the may with the invites. Oooo you are braver than me. There would have to be a court order for me to take a vacation with other people 🙁 Gives me the yips just thinking of it.

    • Nearly Normal November 3, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

      Vacation with others – yes, that is so hard, even with family. I need my alone time, and group vacations make that go away fast.

      BTW, I so appreciate everyone here. Just the conversation, remote as it is, is helpful to me. Last night my family and I watched TV and there were three consecutive references to infidelity. I can take it some, but three is too much.

      Thanks for being there, um, I mean here.

  9. TryingHard November 3, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    NN–You too. I’m so happy to see men commenting here.

    What’s been so comforting is knowing that I’m not alone, someone else is feeling the same and I’m not crazy. Well the jury is still out on crazy 🙂

  10. TheFirstWife November 3, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

    My social life has not been impacted. I don’t care who knows. I don’t care what people think.

    I go out and have fun – with or without him.

    I joined a new club (women only). We have lots of fun. Don’t know IF they know but I just don’t care if they do. Many in the group are divorced and had abusive or alcoholic husbands. I don’t think less of them. One woman admitted her XH was gay (took him years to admit). I respect her for withstanding such pain and heartache.

    Life is too short and I just don’t care about others opinions sometimes.

    He cheated. Not me. I have no shame or remorse. He should.

  11. Shifting Impressions November 3, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

    For me, some of the most important people in my life know what happened (our adult children, some of my very close friends and my sister) Everyone of those people has increased my faith in humanity and have been there for me. Not only that, they have been non judgemental. We have actually become closer and those relationships have become more authentic. They are more open about their own lives as well

    And perhaps, I have become less judgemental myself and maybe somewhat more compassionate. I feel like my personal borders in some strange way have expanded somewhat.

    Big social events are not a favorite of mine either but then they never were. But I do have a close group of women friends that are gold.

    But coming here….absolutely meets a special need. Sarah, Trying Hard, Hopeful and TFW you women are gold. I have so appreciated your support and insight. NN I am so glad some of you men are coming here more often as well…..your point of view is so valuable. And yes in the those dark alone times…..coming here makes one feel not quite so alone.

    Carol….I agree with you as well. The trauma of infidelity changes us. Maybe it can lead to more authentic relationships. It requires one to be somewhat vulnerable but so worth it, in my experience.

    • Sarah P. November 3, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

      Hello Shifting,

      We have a very special community here, don’t we. I don’t know of any other website like this out there and it’s why I was drawn here as a reader long ago. I am happy to see that more men are speaking up via the comments too. Being betrayed is the thread that binds people together to a great degree. It is such a very personal topic and not one that can be spoken about safely within most contexts. I want everyone here to feel safe to express what they are going through and feel that this is a real support group, even if it happens to be online. (Actually, it is a real support group DESPITE being online and we have been able to create the same feel and safety of one.) Thank goodness for that!! This is one of the many reasons why I don’t set up an office in my community and limit myself to those who find me and have insurance. That sets up too many barriers to truly helping people, so in this way, having the internet as a tool for healing is perfect. There are real, honest-to-God people behind this website and also reading and commenting on this website. Right now I am sitting on my couch with my little laptop tray and my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has his head laying on my knee while I work. But, the best part is, anyone anywhere in the world can find this blog at any time, night or day, and get the relief they need. I sure as heck needed to read a blog like this when I was paralyzed with fear and grief due to the break-up. But such a blog did not exist. Or if it did, I sure as heck could not find it. I do not want anyone to ever have to go through infidelity alone and that thought keeps me going each day.

      • Shifting Impressions November 4, 2017 at 12:44 am #

        I agree Sarah
        No one should have to go through this alone. And yes, finding relief day or night at anytime is crucial. I did go for some individual counseling and it was helpful and validating but it wasn’t the life line that this site has been for me.

        There is so much secrecy surrounding infidelity that it does make it very difficult to find the support one needs.

        You are doing a very good thing here, Sarah…….you are making a huge difference.

    • Nearly Normal November 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks for that, SI

  12. TheFirstWife November 4, 2017 at 12:45 am #

    Thank you SI. Nice to hear. I feel the same way about this group.

    Just wish we met under different circumstances.

    • Shifting Impressions November 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

      TFW
      Isn’t that the truth!!!

  13. Fragments of Hope November 6, 2017 at 6:20 am #

    My husband had an emotional affair in 2013. He let me know in Jan 2014 just so he could decide whether to move on as he believed our marriage was no good. When it all came out he spent some time in the affair fog and did some horrible things while he was ‘deciding’ (eg: spending one long evening with her while I held fort with the kids). Despite a no contact agreement and some counselling for him (four sessions only) In September 2014 I discovered that she had ‘pinged’ him on Viber and he went back chatting with her ‘as friends’ and telling her about our marriage. He hid all this from me until I found out from the OW. He lied to my face when I asked him if it was true. After this he committed to working things out with me. I was in a vulnerable position after his second deception. I told him clearly what I needed (keep in contact during day, on nights out, no one to one female friendships, support during triggers.) He argued about some but eventually did contact me. He was very poor and defensive during triggers and sometimes turned it against me. About a year ago I found evidence of extensive paid porn use in 2004/2005. I had known at the time but thought he had stopped (the police did a dawn raid but did not find child sites). This year I discovered he was looking at porn again even though we’d agreed he wouldn’t. He did not tell me about it. A couple of weeks ago I discovered a female friendship from THIS YEAR that had crossed the line and got too intense. This led to him finally agreeing to laying out all the things he had hidden.I saw this document yesterday. I have now seen the extent (coffees and lunches even though he knew she was interested in him) of his actions, actions that I had pleaded with him not to do post affair. The sting is that this woman is on an acting course that I had encouraged him to take even though it was traumatic for me to have him out so much. There has also been a second woman he had coffee with and ‘fancied’. He also admittted that in 2013 he got close to an ex girlfriend (someone I know) and they kissed. I had wanted to create a safe space for him to tell the truth but I’m afraid that I am so hurt right now i did not react well. He was already sleeping on the couch but at this point I know there is something in him that compells him to have his ego stroked by these women DESPITE knowing how it would affect me, how much my mental health has suffered, despite his assurances and so called commitment to not doing anything to hurt me. I asked him this year to please tell me if there was anything he hadn’t said before. He lied directly to my face not mentioning the ex girlfriend kiss. He has been transparent now but it is like my suffering was nothing to him (and yes it has made me stronger in many ways but also held me back). We have four children and I don’t want a split home but I also don’t want to suffer any more and waste anymore of my precious life. At this point I really don’t know if he has the ability to change (he will go to counselling he says) but so much damage has been done it would take ages to repair, even if it is possible and I don’t want to waste anymore time when I could be betrayed again in the future. It’s been far too damaging.

  14. TheFirstWife November 6, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    Fragments. I am so sorry for you.

    It appears you are holding out hope for him but yet he still continues down the same path.

    I know you are aware these are his choices and that you have nothing to do with his choices but yet they continue to impact you.

    The larger question is that his behavior has been going on for more than 10 years. Porn use in 2004/5. EAs and more going back years.

    It doesn’t matter what he says. He may really WANT to stop but doesn’t. The reason doesn’t matter. He is unable to be the spouse that is committed and monogamous and faithful.

    You can either live with it or move on. You can learn to accept him for what he is and keep the family under one roof OR get a D.

    Sadly these appear your only options.

    And given his past I think he will continue to promise you the world and deliver nothing. I’m so sorry for you. You deserve better.

    Your family deserves better.

    I hope you find an answer b/c living like this is not good for anyone – especially you.

    And he should be the one to tell your family WHY you are divorcing. If it comes to that.

    I hope you have a plan in place.

    • Fragments of Hope November 7, 2017 at 12:18 am #

      Thanks so much The First Wife for taking the time to reply. I went out this evening to have a discussion re practicalities of him being on the couch, me needing at least 3 months of in house/psychological separation, counselling etc. I’m also looking for a job as I’ve been a stay at home mum and aspiring novelist for the past 17 years. When we were talking we came to the topic of him kissing his ex girlfriend. I knew her and when they broke up, my h and I went out together. Now she has infiltrated our marriage along with everyone else. I had allowed the friendship years ago when I was naive and thought they could just stay friends. In speaking last night, my h put the focus on the loss of their normal friendship rather than what it meant to me. I had a complete meltdown. Luckily we were out of the house as I want to make sure the kids don’t have to hear us. As you said, I have given him every chance and maybe he’s just not capable. Thanks for saying it like it is. It is the sad truth and I will deal with it in the best way for me to get my sanity and life back.

      • TheFirstWife November 7, 2017 at 4:43 am #

        Fragments

        I hate to be negative but just wanted to point out the obvious.

        My therapist would always say that everyone needs to figure out what the M is and if it works for them.

        And if it’s not working then you need to either change the dynamic OR accept what it is.

        My therapist said you can stay married to a liar and cheater BUT if that is your choice and the CS is not going to change – then you need to either accept that situation and change your expectations or get a divorce.

        So I think that is your situation to a T. Sadly. Because I would hate to see you continue on this roller coaster ride. And suffer the devastation over and over again.

        I wish you all the best here.

  15. Hopeful November 6, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    Sarah,

    Thank you for all you shared. I agree about autism and just like anything none of us really understand until we learn first hand.

    I too struggled socially. I just do not feel the interest or desire. I think part of it stems from feeling let down by the person that I trusted the most. I also know how my closest friends feel and it is similar to my personality. We all have high moral standards. When topics related to mairrage or infidelity come up it is not in a gossip way but more how they see it. I honestly feel fake and false since I struggle still to accept what my husband did. I can see the positives that came from all of this. I want to be positive but find it hard to be happy and find joy. I want to isolate since then I feel more control since I can only control me. Going out of town with other couples or even dinner provokes anixiity since I know topics will come up and make me feel negetive. Even my husband’s friends will bring up someone who has cheated and what a dirt bag they are etc. I hate it and I know he feels even worse. My husband says his number one goal is for me to be happy again but I feel as if his affairs stole that from me. I feel like the carefree optimistic was I lived was taken due to his actions. I keep trying to put a poItive spin on things but it is so hard. I too wish I could move away even though no one knows about what he did. Just too many negative memories. He treasures it all and focuses on the memories with our kids which is good but to me it is intertwined with deception and negative thoughts.

    • TheFirstWife November 6, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

      Hopeful. You can choose. Choose to move past the A.

      Choose to live a happy authentic life.

      Choose to live well as a form of revenge against the A.

      Or allow it to cause you to hide your whole life.

      I am 4 1/2 years from DDAY1 and almost 4 years from DDAY2. Same OW.

      I decided after 14 months of his crap it was all about me making myself happy. So I did a few things different and liked it. Lucky me. It works. New. Kind and activities and all that good stuff. I entertain and socialize and lay on a chair and read a good book.

      Some of our friends know he cheated. That’s HIS problem not mine. My friends all wanted to smack him for what he did.

      And I refused to roll over and allow the OW to affect my life one more second. She was hoping I would throw him out and he would go running to her. Well I did throw him out but he refused to leave and never went running to her lol.

      The best revenge is to live well. Hold your head up and be better than the cheaters and liars.

      And if I died tomorrow I would die happy. Because I chose me over the A. And my happiness over it all.

      • Shifting Impressions November 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

        TFW
        I like the way you think….I couldn’t agree more!!!

  16. Lily Thompson November 13, 2017 at 5:00 am #

    A very well researched article. As you rightly said, PTSD is not only for war veterans or abuse victims. Heartbreak could result in PTSD too. However, we cannot jump to conclusions that Will was “smart” to leave Mary, since she showed no signs of remorse. Infidelity is a complex issue, there are plenty of reasons why a partner would not show signs of remorse. One must also look into those reasons, and try to work through those. There is never a single formula for marriages to work.

    • TheFirstWife November 13, 2017 at 9:10 am #

      Lily. I think you posted some valid points.
      I suffered PTSD for years after DDay2.

      But I had to face the reality that I never had a guarantee that my marriage was forever. I just assumed it was.

      Having changed simevth Ng’s about me o no longer have PTSD and I am happy and we reconciled.

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