The Potentially Long-Lasting Effects of Affair Trauma 

Effects of Affair Trauma

Approximately a month ago I was speaking to a woman (let’s call her Kate), who shared her story to me during a mentoring session.  It was a familiar story in that her husband (John) had an affair over 10 years ago with a co-worker.  His affair lasted for several months. 

Since their D-day, they had their ups and downs, of course, but for the most part her husband did all that he could do within his power to help in the recovery process – as did Kate. 

Their recovery process wasn’t’ perfect or smooth, but they did their best and they came out the other side.

In their minds, the result is a better marriage than what they had experienced pre-affair. 

So, what’s the deal?  Why, if things were so great, did she need to talk about her situation to me after all these years?

Well, a massive triggering event happened for her and she felt the need to talk it out.

Here’s the short version of what happened…

Kate and John share a Facebook account.  One evening she was thumbing through their timeline on her I-Pad.  Suddenly her heart skipped a beat and she started to break out into a cold sweat.

The cause of this?  A picture of John’s affair partner, along with a comment she made on a mutual friend’s Facebook page.  (To be clear, John and his ex-affair partner were not Facebook friends, but had several mutual friends with co-workers and the like.)

Kate’s racing heart and cold sweat were just the beginning.  What happened next can only be described as a full-on panic attack.

She said that she immediately told John what she saw on their Facebook page – and that her heart dropped, and then she excused herself to go up to bed.  John followed closely behind and climbed into bed with her.  At that point, Kate said she started to shake uncontrollably as if she was freezing cold.  She curled up into the fetal position, cried and trembled, while John held her and tried to comfort her as best that he could. After about an hour, her panic attack was over and they both drifted off to sleep.

She told me that this was the same sort of thing that happened to her the day she discovered John’s affair and on occasion after particularly emotional or detail-oriented conversations.

She thought she was well past this sort of thing.  After all it has been 10 years!

Kate’s experience goes to show you just how traumatic an affair can be and that the effects of affair trauma can potentially rear their ugly heads at any time. 

I certainly don’t mean for this short post to alarm you, discourage you, scare you or sap the hope out of your recovery and healing efforts.  But I do think it’s important to be aware that something like this can indeed happen.  Hopefully it won’t.  But one never knows.

In Kate’s case, she said the following day she was feeling much better (though a bit shaken) and was able to have a good conversation with John about her experience. 

She says that one thing that came out of this whole thing is that John has been reminded of just how traumatic his affair was to Kate – which has caused feelings of guilt and shame to come back for him.  Kate said that the guilt he feels now is profound.

She feels compelled to be empathetic and sympathetic to his feelings and is comforting him and helping him through this.  That’s a very gracious thing for her to do, as many in the same boat would dismiss those types of feelings.

 

I Wish I Would Have Known That! – 7 Crucial Things Wayward Spouses Need to Know

 

As for the trauma…

Linda wrote an email not long ago that I wanted to share:

Back in 2011, myself, therapist Jeff Murrah and Doug engaged in a discussion every week via telephone for about 6 months as part of the Affair Recovery Group.  During each telephone call, we’d talk about a particular issue concerning affair recovery. 

Each session was very helpful and informative, and I gained so much insight to the point that it helped my recovery tremendously. However, as enlightening as it was, it was equally painful at times.

After the hour-long sessions I often felt drained, upset, and at times angry.  Doug sometimes felt that by then (it had been more than a year since D-day) I should have been somewhat immune to all the discussions.  

But at times it felt like I was reliving his emotional affair as if it happened yesterday.

I found that when Doug and I talked about the emotional affair, not only did I become emotionally upset, but I also displayed physical signs of my distress.  When we discussed aspects of the affair that were particularly painful for me, I would begin shaking uncontrollably.

I came to realize though that this was part of the trauma that was induced from the affair – which was the most difficult for me to let go of.  It was like a reminder of how bad it affected me and how far I had gone to conquer it.

I remember one of our sessions was about rebuilding trust, and Jeff asked me how I felt when the trust was broken in our marriage.  I guess it was something I had thought a lot about, but never really verbally expressed before.  

To adequately convey the pain and turmoil that I felt due to the broken trust in our marriage was very difficult. It temporarily took me back to a place that I know many of you are in at the moment.

I have felt the same hurt as many of you, and know that the physical and mental pain is so severe that you wonder if you can make it through another day feeling this way.

You wonder how long it will last.  You wonder how much more you can take and if there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

When I was going through this I would wake up every day and think I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I want you to know that it will not last forever. The intensity of the pain will subside and you will begin to break free from it.

In my situation, I began to focus on things other than the emotional affair.  I learned to trust myself again and make decisions that would be beneficial for my own well-being. 

Take care of yourself first and foremost, and know that you can overcome this.

 

PTSD and Infidelity Information Guide

Finally, I wanted to make sure you read the wonderful 3-article series that Joyce Smith MA, MFT put together for us a few years ago on affair trauma.  If you haven’t read them, you should do so when you get a chance.

Not too long ago we combined the articles into one report and included an hour-long interview with Joyce where we address a bunch of different recovery and healing issues.

You can get both (along with a transcript of the interview) by going to this page:  https://www.emotionalaffair.org/ptsd-information-guide/

In the meantime, please feel free to share your experiences with affair trauma and how you managed to cope – in the comment section below. 

 

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Regaining Control:
Dealing With Obsessive Thoughts, Triggers and Memories of the Affair

Arm yourself with a variety of techniques, practical strategies and  knowledge to help you to manage those intrusive thoughts, triggers and memories of your partner’s affair.

 

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15 Responses to The Potentially Long-Lasting Effects of Affair Trauma 

  1. Hopeful September 25, 2018 at 1:05 pm #

    This hits so close to home. I continue to suffer what I believe to be PTSD from the affairs. I know intellectually everything is good between us. However when things occur or are said beyond either of our control I have physical reactions just like this example in the post. I have so many stories. I tell myself everything I know to be true however the feelings and physical reaction are so strong.

    Just the other wee I had a Facebook incident too. I have my own account. My husband does not have an account. That was one of the stipulations of staying together. No social media and if there needed to be any for any reason I was to be told and given access. But the other week I was looking at my feed and one of the ow was suggested that I friend her. We have always had one mutual friend on Facebook from dday. That person though is not active on Facebook and has thousands of friends. I struggled with that at first but over time I gained comfort. I do not communicate or share much with that person. However upon looking one of my very close acquaintance now works with this ow and is now Facebook friends and that is how she was suggested to me. This friend of mine is very active on Facebook and has very few friends. I think she has under 200 friends. I had the exact same reaction as Kate above. I was alone though. It has caused me to have elevated anxiety and my panic attacks have increased exponentially. We have been so busy and next to no time without kids around. The first chance I had I talked with my husband but that took about 10 days. We talked and he of course feels bad but also shared how he has had similar reactions worried about running into her somewhere. We talked through it and he suggested coming up with a plan. My concern is most of all my friend showing up with the ow places where we both go together. He suggested we create a plan so I feel more secure. It is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand I agree a plan is good, it provides a level of confidence. On the other hand I am angry all over again. This woman did enough harm and damage in my life and now I have to worry about her infiltrating my inner circle or places I feel safe and go.

    I could go on and on about other stories. I hate going out and being around friends. I think every time cheating, betrayal, lying spouses come up. The good thing is we are aligned in our thinking. However it just crushes me more and hits home more what I have been through. In the end I just want to be alone or move away. I know moving away would not solve it though since these topics come up no matter who you are around. It just feels like they come up constantly. The only good news is my husband is supportive and I feel he gets it and feels the same as I do.

    We have come so far but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the burden and realization that this will never go away. This will always be part of our story. I know this would be true even if we separated or divorced there is no easy way out from this betrayal.

    • Rose September 26, 2018 at 12:53 am #

      Hopeful, I feel ya. Triggers are horrendous. Could be a good, nice, sunny day, no cares in the world…and then BAM. Just a suggestion: I’ve had (way too much) experience with FB. When H and I were FB “friends,” I blocked many people for him, including his cousin (3rd OW), a former high school girlfriend who was in the picture way too long, etc. He doesn’t know how this works and never knew I did it. He still has his own account and I check it if I need to. I have blocked many people in my own account, just those I didn’t want popping up as “suggestions” or others I didn’t want to know about or see. It won’t wipe all the triggers but it will prevent you from having to see that.

  2. Sarah P. September 26, 2018 at 12:02 am #

    Dear Hopeful,

    Your pain is palpable and the anxiety is real. However, there are some things you can do as a couple to ensure your anxiety does not go through the roof. Your husband is right… you need a plan. The good thing is, if you brainstorm a plan together that brings your closer together.

    Here are some things that could help bring you closer…

    1) Identify ALL of the situations in which you could find yourself where you and the OW cross paths OR your H and the OW cross paths OR you cross paths as a couple.

    2) Next, decide as a couple the best way to put on a ‘united front’ during the situation. This could include leaving a restaurant or a public area. If others are around, you will need a valid reason to leave, so that your business is kept private. It will need to seem natural.

    3) Make a list of rules about what you and your husband are allowed to share about your personal life with people you know. In fact, it might be a good idea for you and especially your husband NOT to speak about your marriage or personal life as a couple at all. The thing that would be of concern is the OW intentionally attempting to “mine data” about your life or get the scoop. There are areas that should NOT be spoken about. Find these areas first.

    4) Next, develop a list of what you can share about your personal life with friends and acquaintances. Always positive and always short.

    Example: How is your marriage?
    Answer: Better than ever, so grateful that our family is so connected. How have things been for you…?

    OR

    Example: How is your H’s career going and how’s life?
    Answer: Couldn’t be better; and we are so happy that our family is so close. How’s your week going…?

    5) Be proactive about watching her Facebook account and see if the OW is befriending anyone or everyone you know. Not sure what OW is like.. is she aggressive?

    6) If she is aggressive, then you need to talk to your H about how he will handle any phone calls, emails, or ‘messages’ sent through friends to ‘test the waters.’

    7) Ask your H to not spend as much time with those friends who introduced the OW. They are troublemakers.

    Infidelity is everywhere. We live in what appears to be a ‘conservative area’ on the surface. Lots of religious congregations on every corner and many stay-at-home moms who are PTA warriors. That is the surface. One of my friends said there was a swinger’s group in one of the subdivisions and the lady who organizes the swinger’s club is in the PTA and on the school board. At the swinger parties she makes sure the ‘key bowl’ gets sorted correctly. No joke. On the surface the town looks like a wholesome place, under the surface everyone is sleeping around.

    The other day my son and I were driving down a country road. A woman stopped in the middle of it. As I started to drive by she honked and waved her hands. I backed up and asked if everything was okay.

    A 20-something with a facial piercings yelled, “I am almost out of time…I have been trying to find (insert address) and a guy named (insert name). Do you know where it is? Can you take me there?

    I said, “No, I honestly don’t know where that address is. But, if you go straight, the road continues and the house number is in that direction. I think you are on the right road, so just go straight.”

    She yelled, “But I don’t know where it is…can you take me there?”

    I said, “I have never been there, all I know is this is the right road and if you go straight you will probably find the house number. So just go straight.”

    Then a car came up behind me and honked because we were blocking the road. The lady flipped off the car. I told her just to go straight and keep going straight and drove off.

    I told her we needed to go and to just go STRAIGHT. Instead she followed me for a while and finally turned around. My oldest said one word: TINDER. It sure seemed that way. There is no escaping infidelity.

    But, you are right– wherever you go and whatever outcome– what happened will always be part of the story. If you get divorced, it becomes part of the story of life. If you stay, it is part of the story of marriage.

    Even if it is part of the story, there are ways to ensure it doesn’t become the focal point of the story. There are ways to reframe the story, without changing facts. Realistically, this may not come before you get treatment for trauma, but it can happen nonetheless. Many people don’t survive infidelity or become a united front afterwards. You and your husband have overcome a lot together and it sounds like he has learned a lot too. I am just sorry his learning had to occur in such a devastating way.

    Finally, forgot to clarify something about the book The Myth of Sanity. I do not believe the book is about your husband. But, I think just about every betrayed spouse should read it because it is all about dissociation. The title is misleading– the book does not imply everyone is crazy, but the title kind of implies that. The book is about how dissociation works and how it relates to the holes in memory. It’s not about a cheater, so no one will get triggered reading it, but it’s a deep dive into how dissociation works and how it looks and plays out in real life. I believe this book is important because wayward spouses have to use elements of dissociation in order to compartmentalize their affair. It’s an extremely interesting book and is basically a long case study. It was a page turner for me and couldn’t put it down. It’s a LOT more interesting than it sounds.

    There is no easy way out from betrayal and you are not alone. I am here for you just as I am sure everyone else is.

    Most of all, do everything you can to maintain control by thinking of what could go wrong and have a plan. People called my grandpa negative because his mantra was: Hope for the best, but always prepare for the very worst. He was always proactive about the different scenarios that could happen in life and he always prepared. He had a great life and never went without anything, not even during the great depression. He was completely self-made as well. Preparing will help with anxiety.

    Sarah

    • Hopeful September 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm #

      Sarah, Thank you for the clarification about the book. I really do not take things personally like that. I see it more as information and new knowledge. I love suggestions like that. I have learned a lot along this journey that is for sure. I agree with you completely about the dissociation on some level and compartmentalizing. I think that helps him to be successful in his field. It is hard doing it all day every day for years and years. I think he has some elements of this though personally. The fact he could leave our house and detach/dissociate from us as if he was not married or a father for so many years. I know it is what he had to do in order to do what he wanted. Otherwise he would have felt horrible. He knew what was right and wrong. There is something in him that allowed this. And for much longer than a one night stand or a mistake. This is who he was. I can see hints of it in many aspects of his life. Not to this extreme or detriment but it is underlying. Initially the focus was on the cheating but once we moved past that I also emphasized how he lived his entire life was an issue. Just because you are not cheating, flirting, etc. does not mean I want to be married to you.

      I am glad to hear all of your suggestions. We have done all of that and discussed it all. My husband deals with this at work and people of course having to live next to or work with someone who was the ow etc. He has been such a strong supporter of focusing on reality and having a plan. He claims she would not be aggressive. In the 3 1/2 years she has only contacted him once. We decided together for him to reply something to the effect of “please do not contact me again”. Then he blocked her number. And nothing since. There was a legitimate reason she reached out to him. I do not think it was in any way to be with him. But you never know. He thinks she does not know who I am and would be ashamed. We have no idea of course. So yes I have a plan and explanation if she were to show up. And the end I need to not worry about what ifs and just focus on reality and be prepared. Luckily I feel my husband’s support and he is concerned for the after affects on me.

      And yes to everything you say about society. It is just not a life I was ever exposed to. I am not sure if with technology it seems worse or are we more aware? Thank you!

  3. Puzzled September 27, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    I don’t think a person can suffer through an affair and not come out of it a changed person. We, as the BS, can’t help but “feel” different. Our emotions have been through hell and back so it’s easy to realize that we adapted, adjusted and morphed ourselves into something different. And to be triggered is a natural response that hopefully goes away. I know that I still get triggered by things but it’s a rarity (thank goodness).

    I know that I have changed and it’s a difficult thing to accept. I was always pretty upbeat, happy-go-lucky, patient, sympathetic, understanding and, most of all, trusting. One night a few weeks ago my oldest daughter called about a problem she had at the school where she teaches (she’s a first year teacher). A girl back-talked her and dropped some curse words so there was a confrontation. After hanging up, my wife & I discussed things and she asked why I was a little tough with our daughter.

    I simply answered “because I’m different and it all started after what you did”. I told her that I had a hard time being sympathetic and understanding because I just want to tell people to “suck it up” and “be tougher” so that they handle it strongly. I then told her that I’d changed in other ways too. I told her that it’s tougher for me to just “let go” and laugh/goof around like I always had. And I told her that I don’t trust people and I’m pretty much skeptical of anything people tell me. I told her that it sucks and that I’d like to go back to how I was but, unfortunately, I can’t figure out how.

    I know this bothers her because I had always been “the life of the party” type that could find the best in any situation. I had always been able to interact with everyone but now I’m a little more reserved and would rather stick to my “circle” of a couple close friends. Maybe someday I will trust again and feel “free” like I used to. But I think the hard thing for me is that I know the life that I had, the marriage and wife that I believed in, well, it’s gone. I know that we can build something from the ashes of her betrayal but some days the pain still bubbles up and the memories of how she acted & treated me jump into my mind. I’m not sure she will ever understand how much she hurt me. No matter how I describe it to her, it could never reach the level of betrayal and sadness that I felt.

    • Hopeful September 27, 2018 at 11:53 am #

      Puzzled, So well said and I feel the same way. I am just different. The way I see and feel about everything. And it cannot be undone. I try to focus on the positives and what is in front of me. I also gave my all and devoted everything to being a good person, wife, parent, friend, daughter etc. And it is hard to comprehend what was done by the person I was supposed to trust the most. It has made me guarded. It is very hard for my husband since the after effects are that I do not enjoy being around others. I am distant and struggle to have fun. I don’t have it in me and also I am worn down from this entire recovery. I cannot put myself out there to anyone. My husband shows a great amount of empathy and even guilt since this was 100% his doing. But all we can do is move forward. I try to do that as much as possible. I feel fortunate that we have created a great relationship and he is changed in so many ways. But in the end beyond the regret of having the affairs and hurting me it is very hard on him seeing me not have friends.

    • Shifting Impressions September 27, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

      Puzzled
      I totally agree with you……I am forever changed. It’s been almost five years since d-day and I am still somewhat guarded in my marriage. I wish it wasn’t so…but it is what it is. When you are betrayed by the person you are closest to in the whole world you can’t help but be changed. For the longest time I no longer felt married.

      The triggers still happen but the effect on me is slowly decreasing.

      Hopeful and Puzzled I am so sorry it has effected your relationships with other people in a negative way as well….that must be so difficult.

      I feel I have grown in compassion and understanding over the past five years. I was absolutely astounded by the support I received from a few close friends and my adult children. I feel like my other relationships are stronger than before….or perhaps I just recognize the value of the people in my life more than I did prior to the EA.

      The sorrow I experienced over the first three years after d-day were overwhelming. But the fact that we are still together and moving forward (albeit very slowly) makes me think that perhaps we are stronger than I thought.

      I think there is strength in our vulnerability…..it can actually draw people to us.

  4. Changed Forever September 27, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

    I feel all your pain to the core
    it has been 2.5 years since my wife had her fun. I used to walk out of my home every morning calm and relaxed now I will always look over my shoulder. The past 8 months have been better there was a time when it was really rough. We live in a small area and I pick and choose who to hang out with and who may possibly be there decides if I go or not. This bothers her but its a deal breaker and she broke it and she knows it. Many positives have come from this she is much nicer than ever before, ? Why not before though ?
    I had her visit a therapist for a year and I believe if not for him it would be over. I do love her but never will be the same. That is my struggle that I live with, my kids are great and 100% of my energy is for them.
    Just wish how I knew how she feels about her affair ? like a 100 page story and maybe I could understand. Until then take care everyone the sun does come up and set

  5. Shifting Impressions September 28, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    Changed Forever
    Even if they gave us a 100 page story would we ever really understand how they could make such hurtful choices? I have waited so long to understand….but the understanding never seems to come.

    But you are right…life does go on.

    • Hopeful October 1, 2018 at 12:48 am #

      As my husband says there really is no good explanation to do what he did to the person he loved the most and did not want to leave. He said he had to tell himself whatever he needed to in order to make it through the days, weeks and years. He knew it was wrong too but again he justified it in his head. In the end I think it was self preservation for himself but the irony is he betrayed himself first and foremost. I feel like I am an innocent by-standard. He has to live with those actions every day. Of course it affects me but in the end I did nothing wrong except being trusting of the person who took vows with me. I was not naive and would challenge him and push to work on our marriage. He is responsible for it. I feel like there will never be any good reason or justification for what he did. As you say life goes on and we have to work to focus on the present. I really try to take a step back and assess how things are and the words and choices my husband is using. I am much more assertive. It is not easy for me but I am working through that. It helps a lot for me to feel better and my husband is very receptive.

  6. Living hell September 28, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

    Thanks for the book recommendation which I have ordered and look forward to reading – I have long suspected my spouse dissociates to the extent that he almost believes himself when he tells me he has never cheated (when he has always cheated and is currently having at least one affair as well as seeing prostitutes). I live with triggers/evidence of cheating and lies and betrayal every day but fear what he would do if I left him and what effect it would have on our child if he had joint custody. It’s hard to feel happy or have hope in a situation where I constantly on guard and trying to limit him bringing people into my bed when I am not home. Hell on earth…

    • Hopeful October 1, 2018 at 12:42 am #

      Living Hell, have you seen a therapist, if not that would be a great support for you and help guide you through options. Also it would be helpful to meet with an attorney to understand your rights in this situation. For me many times learning more, creating a plan and understanding my options can be helpful. It does not mean you have to do anything but to learn about what you can do. And by going to therapy it can be so supportive.

    • Shifting Impressions October 1, 2018 at 4:42 pm #

      Living Hell
      Hopeful has given you some great advice. Also, you say you “fear” what your husband would do should you leave him. Are you in fear for your safety? If so, getting help is even more important.

      Also if your husband is seeing prostitues he is literally putting your life at risk. You owe it to yourself and to your child to to get help.

      You deserve much more out of life….please take care of you and your child.

  7. Rose September 30, 2018 at 10:21 pm #

    LH…do you have a way out? Sounds like a horrendous situation.

  8. E October 23, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

    Hi LH,

    My heart goes out to you. Fear is a great enemy and I fight it daily in many ways as well. The fact that he is cheating and is in denial and is seeing prostitutes makes it just heartbreaking. I hope that you find the strength that you need to make a stand where you need to and if leaving is the choice then make the choice for yourself. If staying is what you want then you need help to gain strength to make it because I see the fear as nothing more then self harm and you and your children deserve happiness because the point of life is being happy and the situation is doesn’t seem happy. Seeing a therapist was the best choice I made for myself and it has created a journey to my own happiness with or without my H.

    Denying what he is doing is only more evidence of his own pain and self destruction. You can’t save him, you can’t help him and make him see that what he is doing is wrong. We wish we could all do that and if they are stuck sometimes it takes a wake up call from your family not being there to want to be a better person and mostly a better father.

    Big hugs, Lots of support here.

    Big hugs. I support you no matter your choices.

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