Affair Trauma Part 3: What I Learned at the Gottman Affair Trauma Seminar

trauma after an affair

By Sarah P.

This is part three and the final post of the trauma series. I wanted to start this post with song lyrics, by Amanda Palmer, wife of Neil Gaiman (Dresden Dolls), that describe the paradox of trauma. Because really, trauma is a paradox.

Biting keeps your words at bay
Tending to the sores that stay,
Happiness is just a gash away
When I open a familiar scar.

Pain goes shooting like a star
Comfort hasn’t failed to follow so far

And you might say it’s self-indulgent
You might say its self-destructive
But, you see, it’s more productive
Than if I were to be healthy.

And sappy songs about sex and cheating
Bland accounts of two lovers meeting
Make me want to give mankind a beating

And you might say it’s self-destructive

And as the skin rips off I cherish the revolting thought
That even if I quit there’s not a chance in hell I’d stop
And anyone can see the signs, mittens in the summertime
Thank you for your pity, you are too kind.

And you might say its self-inflicted
But you see that’s contradictive
Why on earth would anyone practice self-destruction?

I’ve tried bandages and sinking
I’ve tried gloves and even thinking
I’ve tried vaseline, I’ve tried everything

And no one cares if your back is bleeding
They’re concerned with their hair receding
Looking back, it was all maltreating
Every thought that occurred misleading.


Trauma contains elements that seem impossible to dwell together, but dwell they do. Sometimes pain and comfort dwell in the same space. Sometimes the pain is productive.  Sometimes happiness feels like sadness because it is unsafe. Where there is trauma, there is uncertainty. Where there is uncertainty the pain can become certain. The whole world turns upside down and there is no direction—no solid center—no guide, no reprieve, and no safe place to harbor.

Last month I attended the Gottman Affair Trauma Seminar Training. Drs. John and Julie Gottman just completed ground-breaking work on how to treat trauma and PTSD that are caused by infidelity. During the lecture, they stressed that their concepts have yet to be rigorously tested. They are at the same place we are at—they have theories, but have yet to test those theories.

Still what they said profoundly resonated with me. I think they are onto something and perhaps they will develop the next level of therapy that targets the PTSD of infidelity. One can hope.

Experiencing Life Through the Lens of Trauma

In the beginning of the seminar, John Gottman described what it is like to experience life through the lens of trauma. The following is a summary (in my words) of points he made:

When someone is experiencing PTSD, the world becomes an incredibly dangerous place – it’s dangerous to go someone as seemingly mundane as the grocery store. The person experiencing PTSD deals with intrusive thoughts, anger, shame, and guilt. As a result, a sense of detachment and hypervigilance follows. The person develops a magnified startle response, insomnia, has trouble concentrating and experiences a loss of general functioning. Because of this, they also experience worsening relationships.

As far as known research goes, 10% of women experiences PTSD. However, the Gottmans believe this is a gross underestimate since the lifetime prevalence of a woman being physically or sexually assaulted is 40%. But, these are the instances that the crime is actually reported. If you add in all of the unreported or under reported instances, one gets a number that is dramatically higher. Another issue is that people don’t report symptoms accurately (particularly true of women in military.) Self-report of PTSD is not adequate.

PTSD can be assessed physiologically. A clinician will find constant autonomic arousal. PTSD clients are always secreting adrenaline and cortisol – this leads to illness. However, after a course of effective therapy, this same person will experience lowered cortisol and adrenaline.

Who gets PTSD?

According to the Gottman’s, the following people can easily get PTSD.

  • People without critical social support (trustworthy friends they can confide in).
  • Those who experience isolation and cannot confide in anyone

On the other hand, PTSD is linked strongly to heritability.

  • There are 60 genes that account for the development of PTSD – PTSD heritability is high. (See: Falconer’s formula)
  • All mental disorders have high inheritance

People who have extreme biological vulnerability will have PTSD activated when there are environmental factors. These include people who had earlier trauma in childhood or adulthood.

People who believe it is their fault, have fear structures, and associations with trauma are also vulnerable. They carry the view that, “I cannot cope, therefore I am incompetent.” This further reinforces fear, fight or flight, panic, disgust with oneself, grief, and anger. These are all cognitive schemas and make up the lens through which the world is viewed and interpreted.

All PTSD Sufferers Are Experiencing Brain Damage 

The most surprising thing that John Gottman said was that all PTSD sufferers are experiencing brain damage. I am glad that he stressed this because it validates people who suffer from PTSD and gives their plight more weight with the general public. Too many people still believe PTSD is something that someone can just ‘get over’ if they find inner willpower. This is not true.

Brain damage caused by PTSD can be seen in amygdala. This is the first part of the brain that alerts someone to danger well before they ‘see’ the danger. This is the part of the brain that can feel the emotion of fear on a visceral level before another part of the brain can give words and understanding to an experience. People with PTSD have a hyper responsive amygdala.

In the past post, I talked about PTSD being tied to the second brain, which is the vagus nerve. PTSD causes interruption of vagus nerve – the 10th cranial nerve – which allows us to slow our heart rate if it is working properly. This is the largest nerve in the body; it goes everywhere. It can down regulate arousal, but in PTSD this nerve no longer works. By the way, when it is disrupted, exercise makes PTSD worse.  So going for a run will not help someone with PTSD down-regulate their feelings.  

PTSD sufferers also acquire fear more easily. They get sick with colds or flu more easily. They experience emotional (neurological) dysregulation.

What helps?

One thing that helps is medical treatment. Please be assured that I am not necessarily pro-medication. I am only reporting research that was reported by the Gottman’s. Helpful medications include:

  • Dual action SSRIs combined with a longer course of treatment (up to 55% of patients get relief after long course).

Psychological Treatments Include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy must be administered carefully. It cannot be just exposure to the stress- that does not work
  • EMDR – randomized clinical trial – research has shown that the eye movement is NOT necessary. EMDR is mainly behavioral.

What DID NOT work according to research:

  • Behavioral couples therapy did not work well to treat PTSD
  • Emotionally Focused Therapy does not help with PTSD at all
  • In fact, a history of childhood sexual abuse impacts EFT for the negative. *Sarah’s comment: As you know, I am a fan of Sue Johnson and EFT. I think the Gottman’s are fans of her work too. Therefore, the data about PTSD and EFT needs to be taken within context. While EFT may not help PTSD, it is extremely helpful for other couple’s issues.

On the other hand, Conjoint Therapy really helps PTSD. It was shown to have reduced PTSD for all levels of relationship satisfaction. However this form of therapy did not increase relationship satisfaction.

A Summary of Dr. Julie’s Presentation

Dr. Julie approached the topic of PTSD from the standpoint that it affects relationships globally. She noted that a person’s survival depends on internal world: emotions, values, perceptions of world—and this is in addition to the physical body.

Our internal world often gives comfort, but PTSD disrupts every aspect of that internal world.

Dr. Julie said,

When someone experiences an unpredictable event that crashes through our internal scaffolding, we come crashing down off of that scaffolding. We have a change in what we believe to be true. As a result, we begin to experience symptoms of PTSD since our whole life framework comes crashing down. All of someone’s relationship world comes crashing down. The betrayal is huge since it blows up that internal world. What do you get? You get PTSD.”

Shirley Glass was the first to acknowledge that infidelity causes PTSD.  This is because humans are biologically ‘pack animals.’ It has been found that the highest functioning social group/society would contain 150 people optimal survival. We are built to need intimate connection and there is no way around this.

Childhood Abuse Lays the Groundwork for PTSD

PTSD can especially surface when there is childhood trauma and then re-traumatization as an adult.

How does this work?

If a parent causes mental abuse or even physical abuse, kids cannot allow themselves to think the parent is at fault. They cannot do that because they realize they depend on the parent for survival. So, child blames himself for parent’s behavior. This in turn gives the child a sense of control by believing they can stop the abuse.

Unfortunately, real abuse does not stop so a child feels shame, self-loathing, and fear of exposure. At the most profound level, a child believes he or she is to blame for what has happened to them.

In fact, in a study of baby rats with neglectful and/or violent mothers, the rat’s brain suppresses the fear response and instead allows for the bonding response since the mother is their caregiver. We could extrapolate this to humans and why trauma bonds are so powerful. (Sarah’s opinion)

For people who have been abused in the past, it is hard for them to get close to their partner. So, this causes them to hide in relationships. Also, the guilt, self-loathing, and shame that they experienced earlier resurfaces in adult intimate relationships. As a result, couples fight more or they avoid conflict—whatever they can do to keep the partner at bay and create distance. The formerly abused adult is trying not to be seen and not to be known. In these situations, the partner without a history of abuse needs to show extreme compassion to the abused partner since this display of compassion is very healing.

Of course, potential for trauma is greater when there is poverty and family history also influences trauma.

Sarah’s note: in many cases people with emotionally or physically abusive childhoods find themselves drawn to each other. People naturally have an affinity with what they know. On the other hand, there are people without abusive childhood environments who would like to save and believe they can save a partner. All of this is well-meaning and this type of person can be a support.

I also wanted to define abuse. Some people have had abusive childhoods but for whatever reason they may not have registered that. Abuse within families has many faces and it can take the following forms:

  • Where there is alcohol abuse. Any kind of drunkenness by a parent causes extreme dysfunction in children who witness it.
  • Any kind of substance use, including occasional marijuana use.
  • Extremely controlling and shame-based family systems.
  • Family systems where there is extreme emotional coldness and distance.
  • Families where a relative has sexually abused the children. Even if a child was not abused but their sibling was abused, this causes secondary trauma and an unhealthy family for everyone.
  • Families where there was physical abuse between a parent and the other parent or between a parent and child. It is not normal to belt children, to spank them with their pants off, to slap them, to punch them, to pinch them, to put them outside in the cold, to lock them in the closet or other room alone, or to send them to bed without dinner. Of course, this list of abusive behaviors is quite extensive so I was listing the things that some parents believe are punishments. These are not punishments and study after study has shown that these punishments do not get rid of bad behavior. They create a fear-based adult who suppresses negative behaviors. Since such behaviors are merely suppressed, they can come out under stress.
  • Families where there is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is basically defined by anything that causes a child shame, demeans them as a person, or causes them to question their reality. I could come up with hundreds of examples of this. But, common examples involve not comforting a male child when he falls down and telling him to “man up,” telling a female child she is fat, parents comparing children to someone they believe is ‘better’ in some way. Teasing is also a form of emotional abuse because it is meant to shame someone or make them feel the fool. My mom was estranged from her parents for many years. This was because they relentlessly teased her and shamed her while she was little. They did this while building up her sister and indulging her sister just to ‘get a rise’ out of my mom. My mom says that in order to be a good parent, she refused to be like her parents and instead shower me with kindness and support. Thankfully, my mom was able to effectively break the emotional abuse she had experienced as a child. She has made amends with her parents even though they are the same as ever. I have never been close to them and probably never will be.

husband won't end the affair

How General PTSD Affects Individuals Within Couples 

The PTSD partner experiences:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Anhedonia
  • Avoidance of triggering activities, places, dates, thoughts.
  • Increased use of numbing substances
  • Lack of joy – no playfulness
  • Traumatic amnesia
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of a foreshortened future
  • Disturbed concentration – hard to remember things.
  • Difficulty retaining information
  • Develops a flat affect
  • Extremely heightened senses—bothered by loud noises, bright light etc.
  • Many PTSD people might wear different masks and different moods – this is sometimes caused by substances such as alcohol or perhaps the PTSD alone or a combination of both.

After commitment, the PTSD may surface. When working with incest, the minute a person who experienced incest marries, their partner now is family. When the non-abused partner becomes ‘family,’ up comes the PTSD that has been suppressed in the abused partner. (Usually dating is fine and there is often no sign of trouble before marriage.) The PTSD partner tries to ‘hide’ and refuses to tell traumatic stories about childhood.

As a result, the Non-PTSD partner experiences:

  • Increased anxiety
  • The non-PTSD partner wants to fix PTSD partner but doesn’t even know what they are fixing. They just know something is very wrong. This backfires because incest victims feel shame and this magnifies feelings of shame when someone tries to help.
  • Non-PTSD partner feels a profound sense of loss because there is no reason they know of for the dramatic change. They might feel at fault since the PTSD partner hid their past trauma.
  • The non-partner shapes their life around their PTSD partner and often become codependent.
  • Fear by non that PTSD-P could commit suicide

PTSD Also Affects Lovemaps 

  • PTSD partner becomes cut off from own feelings
  • Refuses to share traumatic story because of profound shame and fear of being “damaged goods.”
  • PTSD partner becomes chameleon like
  • Often they want to avoid perceived anger or disapproval
  • PTSD partner remains deep in denial and pretends nothing is wrong
  • PTSD partner’s curiosity about life is often dampened 

Effects on Relationship House 

From the outside looking in, the partner who has PTSD as a result of childhood abuse appears to have borderline personality disorder and engages in splitting.

The relationship has cycles. The PTSD partner idealizes and then vilifies their partner. This can look a lot like the cycle of abuse depending on how it plays out.

Sometimes the PTSD partner fears they are going crazy and uses criticism to push their partner away.

If the childhood trauma was sexual in nature, the PTSD partner may struggle with taking in their partner’s fondness and admiration. The person will block out compliments. Touch may disappear from the relationship because the PTSD partner perceives closeness leads to bad feelings associated with sex. The PTSD partner may stop being physically affectionate and the non-partner may despair because it seems the couple’s love in gone. Unfortunately, the PTSD partner may believe their non PTSD partner is the enemy. The non partner feels sexually shut down, unloved and distanced from their PTSD partner. With sex, there will either be none or perhaps elements of sexual addiction and fetishes.

Turning Towards 

PTSD based in childhood also affects a person’s ability to turn towards their partner. The goal of turning towards is to build connection. The PTSD partner will turn away or turn against the other partner and his/her requests. If trauma was sexual (overtly or covertly) the PTSD partner may see anything erotic as threatening. During sexual relations, the PTSD partner may just ‘endure it’ the same way they did the abuse. Alternatively, the PTSD partner may prefer impersonal pornographic sex.

The PTSD partner often experiences emotional numbing and this blocks awareness of needs. The person suffering from PTSD does not want to have needs. They feel they do not deserve anything. They do not want the closeness that receiving brings to them. If the non-partner tries to be affectionate, the PTSD partner has a heightened startle response. Because of this, the non-partner will likely stop making gestures of affection. 

Conflict Management

When in conflict, extremes will occur in both directions. Sometimes the PTSD partner will be over-controlling. This is because trauma is unpredictable and life feels uncontrollable. Alternatively, the PTSD partner may become overly compliant.

Often, the PTSD partner will use blame and criticism against the non-partner. They experience terrible shame and guilt and yet cannot see their contribution to the dysfunction. About this, Dr. Julie said, “If they do, they fall down through this crevasse and arrive at (metaphorical) molten lava. As a result, they get burned badly. It is the shame and guilt they hold internally which burns them.”

The PTSD partner may also express complaints as edicts or demands. Physiological flooding emerges when a PTSD partner is being questioned. This can cause anger or running away. The flooding or stonewalling they engage in profoundly affects conflict management.

The PTSD partner often does not have a gauge for normalcy. They can let important things seem non-important. That is, date nights, picking up kids, or other things are trivial as compared to the PTSD they experience. The non-partner often finds the  PTSD partner cannot find or help with good solutions.

Is there an upside to all of this?

Yes, it comes in the form of post-traumatic growth. After person with PTSD has told their story and faced guilt and shame, they are able to grow. The person with PTSD can later address their purpose in life. They can assimilate the trauma in a way that no longer affects them so thoroughly.

Why So Stupid?

Before I go on to talk about PTSD and affairs, I wanted to tell a brief story about something that happened at my husband’s work. In fact, there should be something equivalent of the Darwin Award for the stupid things people do to destroy their marriages. I have noticed that there are a lot of allegedly smart people who risk everything just to have an affair. In daily life, these people appear to be rational, controlled and stable people. And then…Doh! They do something so stupid that they not only lose their families, they also lose their very livelihood and income.

I will refer to the person in this story as Simple Simon. Simple Simon is a medical doctor administrator in a large hospital. All of his superiors saw how passionate Simple Simon was about work and he was metaphorically tapped on the shoulder to possibly be the next VP. That is, if Simple Simon could keep on the straight and narrow. After my husband came home, he said Simple Simon, who is also licensed as a pediatrician, was fired and escorted out by security guards.

What for you say?

Yes, it involves another woman—perhaps there have been many other women too.

Simple Simon had been arrested and plead guilty to illegally soliciting the company of women who happened to be involved in the oldest profession in the world. All this while his poor wife had just given birth to their 7th child and was drowning in diapers.

Can you imagine what life will be like for his wife? Each time her child has a birthday; she will be reminded of what her husband did.

Needless to say, the hospital that employed Simple Simon cut ties with him immediately and there has also been talk of revoking his medical license. Additionally, there is also the issue of potential jail time in our state. Indeed, Simple Simon wanted to taste the “pie man’s ware” and get a taste he will.

As I sit here shaking my head, I cannot simply wrap my head around why someone who had everything going for him would be so incredibly stupid. The only conclusion I can reach is that Robin Williams was right: God gave men two brains but forgot about the design flaw that allows a man to use only one brain at a time.

Now, I say that in jest because the mean girls who cheat on their husbands can be just as bad as any other cheater. Cheaters are incredibly selfish and often do and say the stupidest things regardless of gender.

For example, there is the on-going saga of Nina the nurse and Steve the (almost) surgeon. If you recall, Nina abandoned her husband and three young children to break up Steve’s marriage. Steve willingly came along for the ride. Nina has no shame and recounts her tale in front of all of her co-workers and even in front of patients. Nina just does not care.

Steve and Nina are almost married and Nina has announced she is quitting (more on that later) and refuses to work. Steve’s children still hate him for what he did, but Nina has convinced him to give up on his kids. Why? Because she tells him they are selfish and spoiled because they allegedly want Steve to be miserable by not understanding Steve’s happiness and right to happiness with Nina. And Stupid Steve believes that. Yep, Steve is getting what he deserves. Fortunately, she will not be around much longer to infect her workplace with her contribution to the cheater’s disease.

I will say it again—this is what today’s healthcare professionals are doing when they are supposed to be working. I find something profoundly wrong with this picture. After all, who wants their doctor texting naked pictures of himself while a patient is experiencing a life-threatening emergency? I highly doubt that the doctor’s mind will be on his work in these cases; that puts everyone’s life on the line.

It was necessary to give a background of PTSD and childhood since many people who endured traumatic childhoods get married and have children of their own. Unresolved trauma affects every aspect of their marriage. It also creates an environment where an adult with PTSD is more easily traumatized by events than those individuals without past trauma.

A person who has unresolved PTSD from childhood is most likely going to be traumatized when their partner has an affair. It is important to note that unless someone has therapy to recover from PTSD developed because of childhood, they will carry its affects with them throughout life. It is not possible to suppress trauma by telling oneself it was not ‘so bad’ or that ‘trauma is in the past.’ This is a form of denial and denial never works. Trauma unresolved will always find a voice and it will emerge in ways that often seem unconnected.

On the other hand, people who did not experience childhood trauma can also become extremely traumatized by an affair. Some will develop PTSD and others will not. Since there are 60 genes that control mental health, this can partially be accounted for by the idea that some are genetically programmed to be more resilient than others.

This fact of life does not make a person better than another or worse than another. When it comes to mental health, there can be no good and no bad. There is only individual experience and each person has his or her challenges to deal with in life.

The Hurt of Affairs

Today, I ran into a local psychiatrist who has been practicing for many years. We were talking about summer travel plans and I told him about my recent trip to San Francisco to finish Gottman Level 3 training. We got on the topic of affair trauma and how to treat it. He asked a very interesting and possibly rhetorical question. He quizzically asked, “Why do you suppose infidelity bothers women so much?” Then he went on to say, “I don’t want to sound sexist, but I think there is a gender split here. It seems that men struggle with monogamy a lot more than women do. I see it in my male patients; it’s always a struggle for them. Why wouldn’t it be possible just to say to a woman ‘I love you and want to stay with you, but I also would like to enjoy the company of other women?’ Why do you suppose that is so hard for women to understand?”

Now, I would like to say up front that he was being extremely polite and guarded when he was asking this question. He really wanted to understand the difference between men and women on this point and why women feel the way they do about infidelity. He also recognized that not all men cheat and there are women who certainly cheat.

I was not able to answer his question because even I do not know the answer. Still, I took a shot at answering his question. I believe that disgust over infidelity cannot be written off as jealousy alone. It may seem at first glance that people are jealous, but believing it is because of jealousy is too simplistic. Sure, jealousy and a whole lot of other emotions are involved when someone is betrayed. But, I believe that it all comes down to safety.

If a man is cheating, his wife cannot feel physically or emotionally safe. Biologically speaking, many women need husbands to be able to protect the family from all kinds of external threats. These threats could come in hundreds of forms, but some common ones include potential break-ins, financial storms, and even actual physical storms.

If a man is cheating, it is likely he will not physically be there if someone tries to break and enter the house. But, it goes deeper than that. When a husband cheats, he brings the enemy into the house even if the other woman does not set a physical foot in the house. He brings in the enemy and this enemy has the potential to take a husband’s care away from his family. If she succeeds, she can take away a wife’s house, a wife’s means of financial support, and even steal away the very life that the wife knew prior to the affair.

The other woman is a million times worse than the common thief. All women would be willing to trade their precious jewels if it meant keeping their family together. But the other woman does not want diamonds, she wants the wife’s very life.

The other woman is a thief who steals everything: a husband, trust, safety, and finances. The other woman is a destroyer who comes in and ruins every aspect of a wife’s life.

While a husband may believe the other woman simply wants ‘no strings attached’ sex. The wife knows this is untrue. This is what the other woman tells a husband to trap him in her web. The wife knows that the other woman wants the wife’s life and she will stop at nothing to meet her goal. The other woman cares nothing for the wife or the children, even though she might pretend to be interested in them when speaking to the poached husband.

The other woman’s behavior is an act, it is fraud, it is thievery, it is destruction.  The wife knows and feels helpless and powerless as she watches her husband reject everything in her and in the family they have built together.

The wife feels as if she is at the mercy of her executioner and she is just waiting for the chair to be kicked out from under her feet. The husband is blind to all of this. He doesn’t understand that he has put his wife and family at the mercy of an executioner who would like nothing more than to ensure a husband is complicit in the emotional and financial execution of his family.

The other woman is not just there for sex. She is there for keeps and will stop at nothing to meet her goal. Nothing is below her; it is only a means to an end in her grand scheme.

Wives intuitively know this; they can feel it in their stomachs and in their bones. Their very safety is at risk and the person who was supposed to protect them is now complicit in their destruction.

Quite often, a wife’s entire life is destroyed, even if she keeps on living in her physical body. But, other times, the goal of the other woman is to have the wife dead so that she can slide into the role without assets being cut in half. One example that comes to mind is Michele Marie McNeill and her husband Martin McNeill.

Michele McNeill and Martin McNeill

 

This tremendously beautiful and wonderful mother of eight had her life brutally ended by her husband. The other woman, who was even referred to as a sociopath by her own family, was complicit in the scheme. Together they made sure Michele McNeill was dead and then they committed fraud by stealing one of the younger daughter’s social security numbers and sending her on a one-way plane to Russia.

His eldest daughters fought to have him prosecuted for years. Happily, he was successfully prosecuted and died in jail earlier this year. Still, there has been no justice done in this case since a mother was taken from her children. Her daughters will never be able to see their own children call Michele “grammy.” They will never be able to see their mom Michele proudly beam and dote on her grandchildren.

Unfortunately, like most sociopaths, the other woman was a master manipulator and able to avoid jail time. She still lives freely and is walking around on the streets. The other woman wanted the wife’s very life and she stopped at nothing to make sure Michele was murdered at her husband’s own hands. Even though I have never met the family, whenever Michele and her family come to mind, I take time to pray for them. It is the least I can do to help this family whose lives were so changed.

There are more like her; think of Nina the Nurse. My husband told me that Nina the nurse had her last day at work yesterday. She was resigning because someone in management let her know that she should go – or be fired.

Just like Nina’s view of infidelity, which was a relationship on her terms, she treated her place of employment the same way. She came in late and left early, called in ‘sick’ when she wanted to spend the day at the nail salon, and had a bad attitude towards patients who were “wasting her time.” Management found it out and she was asked to leave, so she did.

Yet, Steve the (almost) surgeon is still under her control. He is taking out a second mortgage to pay for an enormous wedding. He told coworkers, “well, poor Nina didn’t get the wedding she felt she deserved with her first husband. So, I told her she could have as fancy a wedding as she wanted. She deserves something nice for herself.”

Little does Steve the (almost) surgeon realize what the second mortgage will mean for his future. There will be more money demands where that came from. Plus, where will his kids fare in all of this? College tuition? No. Paying for their wedding one day? No. Leaving an inheritance for his children and grandchildren? No.

There will come a day when Steve the imposter surgeon will wake up from the affair fog. When that day comes, he will want to do things for his children. But, when that day comes, Nina will already have control over the bank account. Nina will ensure that his biological children do not see a penny. If leaving a financial legacy for his children was ever important, Steve will be unable to do it. Plus, by that time, Nina the narcissist will have probably cleaned out every ounce of savings because she will be too busy living up to her reputation as a gold-digger. Nina the nurse has been the executioner of Steve’s family.

In the end, this is why I believe infidelity is so painful for women. Every wife knows somewhere in her heart that the other woman would happily be her executioner, whether emotionally, physically, or both. The other woman is playing for keeps and will often stop at nothing to take what is not hers.

For every person out there who has been betrayed, I would recommend having your wayward spouse read about the ugly reality that occurs when a wayward spouse leaves for good.

 

Getting Over the Trauma After an Affair

How does anyone get over the trauma of infidelity?

The answer is just as complex as the trauma itself. As we know, getting over PTSD of any kind is a process. It takes time and the time it will take is as individual as the person himself or herself.

Most recently, the Gottmans have developed their own treatment. It combines the most effective work of others and it is framed within the context of Gottman-style relationship views and techniques.

The therapy the Gottman’s have developed has three phases: Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment.

Atonement

This is the first step to repairing a post-infidelity relationship. Several things must happen during this phase:

  • The wayward spouse must express sincere remorse.
  • During this phase, the wayward spouse must answer the betrayed spouse’s questions, no matter how uncomfortable.
  • The wayward spouse must be honest in their answers and be transparent. They also must refuse to withhold information since this is a form of lying.
  • Each partner must agree to and uphold the principle that there will be no more secrets and that promises will be kept. During this phase, secretive behaviors that allowed the affair to continue must be stopped. This may involve deleting secret email accounts and offering passwords to email and social media. The betrayed spouse must be able to continually validate and verify that there has been a change.

“The first step is to help couples have an atonement conversation about the affair. The betrayed partner may have a lot of questions that need to be answered. They need the whole, sordid story. The betrayer’s task is to be open and honest, and answer the betrayed partner’s questions in a truthful, forthright manner. It is very important the details of the affair not be glossed over or minimized, otherwise this fragile relationship will suffer another blow when more details surface at a later date. The betrayer also has the obligation to express remorse and take responsibility for what happened. Any attempts to blame the affair on the “problems in the relationship” will be heard as making excuses for their behavior, or even worse, heard as blaming their partner. That will certainly sabotage the conversation.” (1)

One important thing to note is that healing cannot occur unless a wayward spouse is completely transparent about everything, especially the affair. Withholding details about the affair ensures that the wayward spouse is not trustworthy. While there are still lies in the form of withholding, trust can never happen.

Another essential thing that must happen is for the wayward spouse to sever all relationships connected with the affair. If there were friends who enabled the adultery, ties with such friends need to be severed.

Attunement

In this context, the word attune is an acronym. It stands for:

Attend to partner’s feelings

Turn toward’s partner’s bids for connection

Tolerate partner’s negative and positive feelings

Understand partner’s point of view

Non-defensively listen

Empathize with partner’s feelings

The second phase of affair recovery asks a lot from a wayward spouse, but rightly so. A wayward spouse must delve deep into his or her emotional wells and find empathy, attention, and tolerance within themselves. They also must practice the art of active listening and accept a partner’s bids for connection.

 “The second phase, attunement, is only possible when a couple moves ahead with forgiveness and is ready to rebuild their relationship without blaming the victim of infidelity. During this phase, the couple must make a commitment to learning how to handle conflict so that it doesn’t overwhelm them. Further, a critical aspect of Phase 2 is that the former cheater must now decide to make their relationship a priority. As part of this new commitment to cherish each other, the couple goes public with the state of their relationship and alerts the people closest to them (such as children and in-laws) that they are recommitted and are working toward rebuilding trust. This helps establish this new relationship as “real” and garners support.” (2)

I also believe that if a wayward spouse trashed the betrayed spouse to family and friends, he or she must tell the truth to his or her friends. Even if the wayward spouse does not tell his or her friends about the affair, he needs to correct the things that he said to others about his betrayed spouse and let them know that his venting was not a reflection of reality. If he did real damage, he or she must work on helping rebuild a wayward spouse’s reputation with family and within the community. This process is not optional.

Attachment

What is attachment? Attachment refers to our bond with others (or lack of bond) and how it affects us.

But, the Gottman’s use this term contextually and it refers to the rebuilding of a couple’s sexual relationship. However, there is more to it than just the act itself. This phase is also about continually deepening trust, demonstrating constant investment in the rebuilding of the relationship, and recreating shared meaning. I understand that post-affair sexuality is a contentious topic for many people and once again I am reporting the winning formula per the Gottman’s research.

“Simply put, the final phase of this model is about being willing to reconnect with your partner by risking physical intimacy. If a couple is determined to stay together, the ability to attune must reach the bedroom as well. Dr. Gottman explains that, “Without the presence of sexual intimacy that is pleasurable to both, the relationship can’t begin again.” Sexual intimacy is founded on emotional connection, which serves as a barrier against future distractions. The key to maintaining a pleasurable and meaningful sex life is intimate conversation.”(2)

But first, one of the most important things for a couple to do is to create a shared meaning in life. Creating shared meaning involves developing goals that both partners feel equally meaningful, such as raising successful children, paying off a house early, or perhaps having the funds to pay fully for a child’s college education.

In the wake of an affair, the betrayed partner no longer knows what the wayward spouse does or does not value. Because of the affair, it becomes more than obvious to the betrayed spouse that the wayward spouse no longer valued monogamy or the other spouse’s feelings. The foundation for their marriage was obliterated. Nothing can be assumed any longer. Couples need to write down the things that they value most post-affair and find areas of value that meet. The couple must rebuild shared meaning and their shared values all over again.

Another important element in this phase is the ability for the couple to create new rituals for connection. This can include anything from how you deal with family illness to what you do on Sunday mornings. A couple must find news ways of doing things that are specific to their couplehood.  For example, a good friend and her fiancé had developed a Sunday morning ritual specific to them. This ritual included coffee in the kitchen together while both of them prepared homemade blueberry scones. These scones were always eaten out on the covered deck so that they could snuggle in blankets and look at the garden while enjoying their favorite treat.

The next step in this phase is building rituals around how to reduce stress in conversations. For example, a couple could decide to have a stress-reducing conversation each night after dinner. During these conversations each partner takes on the role of listener and speaker and they take turns. The first part of the conversation has to do with positive topics or showing gratitude for something in life. The last part of the conversation will contain more stressful topics and partners will learn how to work through these topics productively.

This is not a time to talk about the affair or about family. These conversations should be able external stressors such as work stressors where partners can lend support to each other. This is not a time to air grievances to a partner, to discuss triggers, or to discuss family matters. The goal of these conversations is to create a united front so that it is no longer “me against the world” but instead “we against the world together.” Even if you do not agree with your partner, it is essential to be an ally.

The next step is to create intimate trust and to rebuild sexuality. During this stage, most betrayed partners will experience triggers. It is up to the wayward spouse to soothe the betrayed spouse when triggers emerge. For example, if a betrayed partner starts withdrawing when the clothes come off, the wayward partner would do well to reiterate the betrayed partner’s beauty and sexual attractiveness while sincerely reassuring the betrayed partner that the other person is long gone. A wayward partner cannot force a betrayed partner to move quickly or too soon if the betrayed partner is not ready. The wayward partner must be understanding and patient since the wayward partner caused the injury.

Another step is to set up “a high cost for subsequent betrayals.” This could include drawing up a post-nuptial agreement where the betrayed spouse will be entitled to the lion’s share of the assets if the wayward spouse slips. This is not a punishment; it is a warning and one the betrayed spouse will follow through on should there be another transgression. The wayward spouse can never feel so safe that he or she could slip up again. This also causes the wayward spouse to commit 100% to recovery.

The final goal is to create a “sacred one-hour state of the union meeting.” During this meeting, each partner will talk about what has gone right during the week. Next, each partner will compliment the other partner’s strengths and show appreciation. Then, each partner will discuss any regrettable incidents that occurred during the week and process it. Finally, each partner will ask the other what he or she can do better in order to make the other partner loved.

Summary

It is obvious that real recovery from affair trauma is going to be a long process. But, this fact should not cause either partner to withdraw from trying. This process can be carried out on the couple’s own timeline. Most of all, the affair recovery process should not cause negativity in either partner.

It will get better and couples can work together to ensure it will get better. Putting in the time and effort is worth it since the alterative, not recovering, is a bleak prospect. Take one moment and one day at a time. Do not worry about what will happen next week, how long it will take, or how it will turn out. Do not tell yourself demotivating stories about the recovery process either. The point is to get past negativity and to grow as individuals and as a couple. If the recovery process is done sincerely by both partners, people will find that they have become more emotionally intimate than they ever thought possible. The emotional intimacy that is built will create positive feelings in each partner and those feelings will be built upon each day.

Finally, I would like to invite readers to schedule one-on-one phone sessions with me as individuals or as a couple. Sometimes all a couple needs is a guide who has the metaphorical map and compass. Even though the journey often takes time, it is well worth it.

How about you—what are you struggling with this week? Have any of you used any of the techniques the Gottman’s recommend? How does their advice resonate with you?

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SOURCES

Ask Gottman Q&A. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/askgottman-affairs-answers/

Gaspard, Terry. Learning to Love Again After an Affair. From https://www.gottman.com/blog/learning-to-love-again-after-an-affair/

 

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30 Responses to Affair Trauma Part 3: What I Learned at the Gottman Affair Trauma Seminar

  1. TryingHard July 4, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Sarah–oh boy do I have a lot to say and tell you. But I have to get to my computer. Can’t do it on my tablet.

    One thing I will say is your article answered a very important question for me. I now have my answer to the elusive WHY.

    It’s only taken me 6 years but your article and its information was the final puzzle piece.

    I’ll catch up with you in an email. I have lots to say and you are welcome to share it with this blog afterwards.

    Great information. Thank you

    • Sarah P. July 7, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

      Hi Tryinghard,

      Yes, please do catch up with me via the email. I would be happy to hear from you and I am extremely curious to know about the final puzzle piece. The seminar was great. Hope to hear from you soon. 🙂

      Sarah

  2. Hopefull July 5, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

    The section regarding Dr. Julie Gottman and her thoughts really hit home. That is pretty much how I felt/feel. I had never thought of PTSD but I think many of the symptoms match how I feel. Is it possible to just exhibit a couple of those traits? Are there any that are a must? Can it be anything else if not full blown PTSD?

    Also I have a question about recovery. Atonement was totally botched by my husband. And I am struggling with that now. But it seems to be another one of those things in the past I cannot control. I feel exactly as this says the initial betrayals were bad enough but then not being totally honest I would say caused greater trauma than the initial injury. My husband has agreed and acknowledged he did not handle this well at all but I am left with one more thing that was out of my control. So I either hold on to it or just move on. I feel like this is a big stumbling block for me.

    As far as Attunement goes my husband gets an a+ in this. He is a master at this. I wonder if he has read this list. I mean he fulfills all of those and has from an early time. Probably the hardest one was not being defensive. He has that down well now.

    And Attachment we have parts of this down perfectly and other not so good. I honestly thing what has kept us together and moving forward is we have such similar life goals and desires. Even at his worst we had so many common goals. Neither of us have strayed from that. The rest is all a mixed bag and changes. I am honestly tired and sometimes I just do not feel like we have energy to have all of these conversations much less time. It is harder in the summer with the kids around more. To me this phase seems the most overwhelming. There are so many components to it.

    Thank you for sharing this information with us. I have found this series to be helpful. I really found this post to be the most beneficial. I find the Gottman’s work and perspective top notch. I like how they are so relatable, get to the heart of the matter and also give effective solutions. Thank you

    • Shifting Impressions July 5, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

      Hopeful
      I know what you mean about being tired and not wanting to face another conversation. Especially because it would be me initiating the conversation.

      I think I had some fairly similar feelings regarding Atonement. We are just not finished and yet unless I address it….it simply will not be addressed.

      • Hopefull July 5, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

        Exactly. I understand anything in life but especially something like this does not go in perfect order. I understand it is messy. And we are all human, but when I read this and how important the atonement piece is I can see why I am hung up on it even now. But like I said I cannot go back and fix that now. So do I let it go or hold onto it. Ugh. And honestly I love the idea of these conversations and the focus on different areas of our lives but I feel like that would be a full time job. And don’t get me wrong it is not that I do not want to put in the work. I want to bring up these stages and the areas we ware lacking.

        I would like to know what their solution or suggestion is for atonement not following what they suggest. Again this was not in our control either. Then I feel like I need to break out the attachment phase into multiple areas. It really is a lot there and has me overwhelmed how to tackle it besides the shared life goals. At least we have that down. Yeah!

    • Sarah P. July 7, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

      Hi Hopeful,

      It sounds like you have PTSD, but I would talk that over with your therapist. You guys can go through the DSM-V criteria together since your therapist knows all of the ins and outs of the affair. But at first glance? It seems like you have PTSD– probably a mild form. When I say mild, I am not trying to downplay it. From what I can tell your basic day to day functioning has not been obliterated. With severe PTSD this day to day functioning is impossible. But, mild, severe, or in-between, PTSD as a result of an affair or anything else is very serious and it requires some kind of treatment to finally get some peace.

      You have been so very understanding of your husband and he has not done so well even prior to the affair. I am referring to the idea that he made the family seem they were in last place for a while. He no longer does that.

      But, within the context of everything, you have been incredibly understanding and mature throughout the recovery process.

      Perhaps with summer vacation your emotional resources are being taxed more than usual. And i think that goes for all parents to some extent– schedules change, there is less time to decompress, and then watch out if the kiddos like to bicker. (Mine love to bicker constantly and there are days I am at my wits end!)

      It’s probably best to revisit with your therapist how to cope with your husband’s past non-disclosure (lying). It’s going to be really hard to trust him because of that. And trust MUST be earned in this case. And this is all up to him. I think it is fair to talk about it with him and figure out what he could do to continue to rebuild trust. Personally, I would not be okay with him doing all guy’s vacations or overnight visits with just the guys.

      Whatever he did in the past that left room for an affair (drinking and guy’s trips) probably needs to go. You cannot rebuild trust if the door could be wide open to another transgression. So that is something your husband will have to think about.

  3. TryingHard July 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm #

    Hopeful– Yeah let me know how THAT conversation goes. So after all this time and the affair was many years ago what you’re going to suggest “atone you bastard”. NO.

    Don’t you think atonement is something he should be intrinsically motivated to do? And atonement is also pretty subjective. How do you force someone or even suggest someone atone. And atonement is different for different people. i.e. my husband thinks atonement is buying me nice bags!! Ok I’ll admit I didn’t hate that but really that is NOT my idea of atonement. So if I were to bring up or suggest he hadn’t atoned enough he would say ‘well what about those four designer bags I bought you”.

    And that’s just an example because we all know “things” don’t make up for anything. What about sorries? What about kind acts? Are there ever enough kind acts or sorries?

    I think atonement is ongoing and daily but honestly it has to be up to them. I think one would look pretty silly bringing it up and demanding or even suggesting it.

  4. Shifting Impressions July 5, 2017 at 5:18 pm #

    Hopeful and Trying
    Now I absolutely need to have a conversation with him…..I almost feel a dare coming on Lol!!!

    I see the Atonement as quite a long process….and I don’t believe I would actually use the word Atonement with him. But yes, I think we can go back. In our case I believe there is true remorse…it took a fair bit of time for that to happen. Probably because it took a long time for him to understand what he did to me and how it effected me. I still have questions that need answering and seeing him slowly become more willing to answer openly and honestly means we are moving closer to Atonement.

    It could blow up in my face….but I know it needs to be done.

    I know, they would just rather give us things….so much easier…right. And no we can’t demand but if there are still loose ends I think I need to try.

  5. TryingHard July 5, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    SI–Go for it!! I dare you 🙂

  6. Hopeful July 5, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    We have talked about it and he owns up to not handling it the way he should have. Again not perfect but not lying and hiding things still. I guess I am bringing it up since as part of their process it is a big aspect so I am curious more than anything how they suggest handling what I would call a botched atonement. To me it is just adding things to the list of what we must let go and remain in the past.

    • Shifting Impressions July 6, 2017 at 12:01 am #

      Hopeful
      I imagine most atonements are somewhat botched. Isn’t it normal for an Atonement to be a messy and painful process?

      • Hopefull July 6, 2017 at 9:35 am #

        Yes I do think it is normal and very typical. I would imagine it is the rare occasion that it is done close to 100% transparent. I was hoping the Gottmans addressed this at the training since it is a large part of their process. I have read a lot about it in many of their books so more curious than anything. I am intrigued since I feel like it is a sticking point to moving to a greater amount of trust with my husband. And again I get why it was botched and why he was not transparent but the after effects are what is stalling me.

  7. TheFirstWife July 6, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    Hopeful. My H completely screwed up the months after DDay2 with continued lying and not being 100% honest. He was trying his best to make amends but his thought process was flawed.

    He thought the full truth was so awful he would be better off lying about some things. As in I was led to believe she started the A when it was ALL him chasing her. Two months after DDay2 is when I was devastated all over again b/c of him.

    In any event what I resent most is that he never ever once tried to make amends on his own. Or be completely forthcoming on his own. But he allowed and still allows me to bring up an issue and play detective to get the answer regarding a detail around the A.

    He is trying every day to make amends. But doesn’t really understand what to do or how to do it. He looks to me for the answers. Which I will no longer give him.

    So I have had to just walk away from any expectations of getting 100% of what I want.

    I have said it until I am blue in the face but if he is going to be a coward then he will be a coward. If I bring up an issue he will NEVER raise it again – buries his head in the sand – until I raise it again.

    So I have moved on. What I have received is the most he can give and I have to accept it and move on.

    But honestly it is not hard to figure out how to make amends after an A.

    But if you are a coward then you certainly are not able to do so many of the things required b/c that would mean you have to figure it out and act in your own.

    I cannot spend the rest of my life waiting for something I didn’t get. He did the best he could and has made changes over the years. I just have to accept he is no longer get that guy who cheated and lied.

    I wish I had better advice. But I focus on who is he now. He is not the same person and is truly remorseful and understands the damage that he caused. But he changed.

    So while there was no perfect apology and he did continue to undermine us for a period of time because of his flawed thought process – he made the necessary changes. He is transparent and open and accountable and all that.

    We have reconciled but I will admit it is not easy. I don’t do “forget” very easy and I always begged him not to cheat b/c of my inability to “let things go” sometimes. But why would he listen to me – he now had to learn the hard way.

    • Hopeful July 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

      I hear you and try to focus on the present. I feel like for us my husband did know better and he knew the additional damage he would cause. I know my husband lied on dday since he was not sure what he wanted since he was not planning on telling me that day. He wanted to basically do damage control for my benefit. However I think he was also protecting himself even if he did not do that on purpose. He did not want to admit to anything. And I know he saw the affairs as the big violation but not remembering the fake fb and the fake email accounts is just more ways he was deceiving himself. And even dumb things like he said he did not know how to delete these accounts so he never did. However he figured out how to create them just fine all by himself. I would think someone that did what he did would want to delete these things. For me to stumble upon all of these IM’s from 4-5 years ago was odd to me. I get it he was in a fog even though the affairs were over but he was living this selfish life. My catch with him is he knew better about all of this. All along he has told me how to handle betrayal. This is not new to him and he gives people advice every day for these things. I get it he obviously cannot handle his own life as he does his patients and is an expert at compartmentalizing his life.

      I know I need to get over this. I had an easier time early on. I really was okay with it and felt like it is the past and if he wants to do it he can create all new fb and email accounts I will never find if he does it at the office. Or there is no shortage of women in person or online if that is what he wants. I think I am going to read over this again and see what parts I want to utilize and see if that helps me.

      • blueskyabove July 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

        Hopeful,

        I understand your desire to get beyond this time in your life and move on with your spouse, but have you considered the fact that it is impossible to focus on the present while you are reading and writing about the past on an almost daily basis?

        You say you know you need to get over this. What do you think is stopping you? Marianne Williamson says, “We are not held back by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not extending in the present. ” This was something I personally had to acknowledge. It isn’t meant to be a criticism of you or anyone else.

        You say you had an easier time early on. What caused that to change? And, why can’t it change again? There’s a big difference between just giving up and choosing to start over. There’s a big difference between saying you’re a loving, compassionate human being and actively expressing those parts of you. Again, this was something I had to acknowledge within myself.

        We can’t experience love and compassion until we express love and compassion. We can imagine these things, we can think and talk about these things, we can hold any of them as ideas conceptually, but until we ‘express’ them, we cannot experience them. AND we will never have an opportunity to ‘experience’ these things unless Life provides us an opportunity.

        I believe I may have posted the following comment before on this site, but I obviously believe it bears repeating.

        “We live in a dyadic world. Everything in our universe is represented by its equal and opposites. Depression and apathy are the result of being at the effect of negativity without acknowledging there is also positive. This is why we feel hopeless. It is also why actively looking for something positive has such a profound affect on our recovery. Resisting the positive means you are denying that you have the capacity for love, goodness, mercy and forgiveness. It is a denial of who you really are. It’s another form of self-punishment. This is why forgiveness is really for you and not the other person. It is the very nature of the universe.”

        • Sarah P. July 8, 2017 at 2:00 am #

          Hi BlueSkyAbove,

          There is something you say here that I agree with and that is the idea of giving compassion to help experience compassion. It is one way to experience compassion, but it is also possible to experience compassion by receiving it from another first.

          I am going to have to respectfully disagree with the rest. When someone is genuinely stuck due to PTSD they cannot move forward unless they get treatment.

          Depression and apathy are not merely about negativity without acknowledging the positive. Also if someone resists the positive, it does not correlate with the idea of that person denying love, goodness, mercy and forgiveness. And it’s not a denial of who someone is either. These are nice philosophic and perhaps esoteric thoughts that sound good at first glance, but they don’t have a lot to do with affair recovery when PTSD is involved.

          Depression is a very real disease. Many doctors acknowledge that it is just as real and as harmful as something such as cancer. While cancer kills the body, depression kills the mind. Also, untreated depression has a good chance of killing someone through either stress on the body (such as heart problems) or through that person taking the way out by their own hands. Clinical depression cannot be healed by being positive or through positive thinking. It cannot be healed through self-help books either since it is more than a chronic bad mood. Now, I do not mean to make light of cancer either– they just happen to be two deadly diseases if chronic and if left untreated.

          Finally, going over the past means someone is stuck there to an extent that they cannot get free. The past very rightfully informs our present and future. For example, let’s say in the past someone was bit by the same family dog every Monday at 5pm. Each day, they are going to be wondering what kind of relationship they want to have to that family dog because they are really wondering if they are going to get bit when Monday rolls around again. Sure, the family dog may have gotten training not to bite, but it still bites sporadically and the person who has been bit is wondering if they can ever trust the dog’s behavior again. They are stuck in this areas of uncertainty because there is no solid answer. No one can guarantee they will not get bit again. This is a simplistic example, but it has to do with being the recipient of behavior that deeply hurt and changed someone’s view of their safety and whether or not a relationship will be safe now or in the future. There is no guarantee and there also is no closure. And most people will feel uncentered under these conditions. There will be a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

          Anyhow, if I misinterpreted what you meant, my apologies. My point is that these topics are infinitely complex and the solutions that are required to heal from affair trauma are not simple. They are multi-faceted and require so much work. That is just my two cents on the situation.

          • blueskyabove July 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

            Sarah P.

            No apology is necessary.

            I don’t totally disagree with your statement regarding depression and treatment. I just don’t believe it’s the only way. I don’t believe it is necessary to attach a label to someone in order for them to heal. I would go so far as to suggest it adds to the duration necessary for healing. However, considering your profession, I can totally understand how you might believe otherwise.

            I, on the other hand, very much agree with Dr. Dyer in that I am a soul with a body rather than a body with a soul. IMO, this effects how I view the circumstances of my life. Speaking of Wayne Dyer, he was a stunning example of someone who not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. He knew personally what it was like to be a betrayed spouse and yet his message didn’t change…I dare say it only got stronger.

            “There is no guarantee and there also is no closure. And most people will feel uncentered under these conditions. There will be a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

            I agree that “most” people will feel this way…until they don’t. Until they realize they have choices. Until they recognize that life is constantly changing and which way it changes depends upon them and their thoughts about it. Most people are not even aware of this internal power that they possess. I’d like to see that change.

            The past might “inform” the present and future, but my point is it doesn’t have to “be” the present and future. The brain takes in data through the senses. It then interprets this data according to its previous data on the subject. It tells you what it perceives, not what really is. It’s up to the individual to decide who they are in relation to the perceived information.

            As far as the family dog is concerned, IMO it is precisely because the human carries an energy of past fear that the dog bites them. Dogs do not have a human brain. They don’t say to themselves, “Here comes so-and-so. If it’s Monday and 5pm then I must bite them.” Dogs react to the energy being projected. To a dog, fear represents instability, negativity, and weakness and his response will be fight, flight, or avoidance. It is up to the human to control what happens or doesn’t happen. It’s your thought about something that rules how you experience it. It’s your words that dictate how long the situation/circumstance continues. It’s your actions surrounding it that create your long-term reality. Don’t blame the dog.

            Years ago, while I was silently in the midst of dealing with the trauma of my husband’s first affair, I was at a restaurant with some fellow workers when suddenly a little girl of about two came up behind me and hit me on the arm. She was a total stranger to me, and we all were surprised. I now know she was responding to my angry, hurt energy…energy that I am positive no one else at the table was even aware of…as I had gone to great lengths to keep my situation a secret. But, she knew. She had read my energy and she didn’t like it.

            • Sarah P. July 9, 2017 at 12:04 am #

              Hi BlueSkyAbove,

              We actually have a lot of common ground here. I too am an enormous fan of Dr. Wayne Dyer. When it comes to how I practice my own healing, I tend toward books like Your Erroneous Zones, The Power of Intention, The Four Agreements, and many other spiritually-based self-help books. Love, love Louise Hay. Personally, I also perceive myself as an eternal soul who temporarily exists in a human body and I spend several times a day devoted to spiritual (not dogma based) prayer.

              But, then I started studying psychology and gained an entirely new way of thinking about things. In my own personal journey, it is always a balance between spending time learning spiritual truths and find psychology truths that come together to create powerful healing.

              I write mainly secularly-based and research-based pieces since these are areas that are agreed upon as valid by a large number of people and have been shown to help. This is the approach I choose to take because some are on a different spiritual journey and others have found that spirituality (or religiosity) does not resonate with them. Of course, spirituality and religiosity are not the same thing.

              On a personal level, I believe that our mental state or the energy we send out can affect how we show up in the world and this can cause others to be drawn to or repelled by us. Many times, it is not even that someone’s way of showing up is wrong, it just does not resonate with others– kind of like oil and water not being able to mix.

              Everyone has a choice in how they show up in the world except for when true clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, or PTSD is present. These conditions seem to overcome the person and completely dim their light and their happiness.

              Before I learned about trauma, depression, bi-polar and ADHD and their affect on the brain, I was more of the mindset that we could control this through thinking. Knowing what I know now, I would say overcoming clinically diagnosed conditions such as these cannot be tackled by choosing to be in a certain emotional space or not. There is no self-help book alone that can help someone recover from trauma. This type of recovery requires different psychological interventions and perhaps even medical ones. This is what I learned.

              The brain learns from repetition and it is kind of like a vinyl LP. Proverbial grooves can be ‘carved’ into it when someone experiences trauma. Physiological changes can be seen in the brain from trauma and from depression and other diseases. People must change those proverbial grooves in order to be able to stop being stuck. Change comes through treatment.

              Again, this is all symbolic– there are no actual grooves carved in the brain.

              So in the end, this is one of the reason I believe people who experience infidelity stay stuck. There is a physiological reason, not just a psychological one.

              One last note about Dr. Wayne Dyer– while he may have been the recipient of his wife’s affair, he was also a proponent of open marriages. HIs wives knew that if he met another woman he felt attracted to that he would be having dinner with said woman ‘to explore the attraction.’ He recounted this in several interviews. I just believe that Wayne never believed his wife would do it to him. When she did, he was actually shocked. I still love the messages in Wayne’s books, but when I learned about his very different view on marriage, I lost a lot of respect for him as an individual. I think Wayne believed that he might have an extramarital woman who was 13 years younger rather than his wife having an extramarital man who was 13 years her junior. Wayne was also very open about his extramarital sexual dalliances when he was with that very same wife.

              In a way, I think it was kind of unfair for Wayne to talk about his incredible devastation about being the recipient of an affair when he himself had several (sexual) girlfriends while married. I have often wondered while a man with so MUCH insight can have so LITTLE INSIGHT when it comes to extramarital affairs. But, since he unfortunately passed away, we will never know. Wayne had more books in him and he left too soon.

              • blueskyabove July 11, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

                Sarah P.

                To me religion represents a particular doctrine/dogma. It requires me to believe in the teachings of the institution. Spirituality is an experience. It doesn’t require me to believe in anything. It allows me to decide for myself what is true for me. It may or may not be true for anyone else. I can only view it from my perspective, my experience.

                I find it interesting that you went from spirituality TO psychology while others have gone from psychology TO spirituality. One case in point: Dr. Robert Holden. His chosen career was psychology. After six years training in the field plus years of his own private practice, he switched gears and changed his focus from what he referred to as being a ‘problem spotter’ (of which he personally felt he was REALLY good) to helping people see their own innate potential to be happy, loving, fearless and creative. It doesn’t require having a label attached to the person before they can begin to heal. It doesn’t require the person to be dependent upon someone else. It merely requires you to be loving, caring, and open-minded toward yourself. I like that.

                I don’t disagree with you on finding balance. No where in my studying does it suggest we humans could operate in the world of form from a pure esoterically viewed position. We exist in the physical world where there are limitations. That doesn’t mean we have no choices. Just because someone hasn’t been taught this doesn’t negate it. People-need-to-know-this. IMO, it doesn’t matter how many ‘grooves’ have been ‘carved ‘ into someone’s experience. The brain is part of the body, part of the world of form. I/you/all of us are so much more than that.

                Thoughts are energy. Nothing exists in our world that didn’t first exist as pure thought. Thought is the first level of creation. We are all creators. And since we are the ones who created the “grooves” with our thoughts, we can also change them. Tell me, Sarah P., why do you appear to resist people knowing this? Why do you only give them the part that requires a label…as if it is the labeling process that contains the healing? It reminds me of the story of choosing to give a man a fish or teaching him how to fish. I’d much rather they learned how to support and sustain themselves.

                Re Wayne Dyer: If what you wrote is true and not some dirt being spread around on gossip sites, then Hallelujah! He wasn’t perfect! Still doesn’t change his message, and I repeat, “I dare say it only got stronger.” If nothing else, it shows me how imperfect we ALL are, and provides me another opportunity to decide Who I Am and Who I Now Choose To Be in relation to it. Would you care to share your sources of information?

                • Sarah P. July 12, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

                  Hi BlueSkyAbove,

                  You have brought up wonderful points as well as questions.

                  Regarding spirituality versus dogma, I could not agree more. I consider myself to be a spiritual seeker but I do not like dogma and I would never consider myself perfect Heck no.

                  In fact, I am not a huge fan of organized religions (whatever they may be) because there is too much hypocrisy. For example, if someone wants to commit adultery– it’s what they choose to do– but if this person does it IMO that person should not call themselves a Christian/Jew/Muslim etc. because all of these belief systems have prohibitions against infidelity. Christianity/Judaism/Islam is a way of life and if someone falls short in such huge ways, then I don’t like it when they label themselves as Christians/Jews etc when they fall so short. If they cannot walk the walk, then they should not call themselves that thing which they profess to be.

                  I follow all kinds of different spiritual teachings but was raised in a home that has mainstream protestants (Methodists etc) and also believed in metaphysical/prayer-based healing. (One my mom’s side they are ethnic Jews but gave up practicing Judaism formally. Some converted to Christianity and others are agnostic) For myself, I study all kinds of spiritual perspectives but if I had to have a label, I ultimately go back to mystical Christianity or mystical Judaism. If you read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay I would say that is pretty much what I personally believe but it is not limited to that.

                  Regarding going from spirituality to psychology, you bring up a really valid point and this has certainly been a journey for me. I could write an entire book about why, when I grew up in such a spiritual environment, I would go and study psychology and its teachings so deeply. It’s hard to summarize but I will do my best. I grew up in a home where I was taught to see the best in people and taught to see them as creations of God, just like myself. And since God created man ‘in his own image and likeness’ as Genesis says, then people must be good. But then, I started running into all of these people who shattered my soul, bit by bit. I only had spirituality to look to and so I felt that when I went through such terrible experiences I must have deserved them since God made man good. I started to think I was a terrible person and did not know how to get along in the world. When I started reading psychology and found out about personality disorders, my life changed. I took a lot of psych classes as an undergrad but did not major in it. I did not formally pursue a graduate degree in psychology until much later and finished Master’s courses in 2012. Psychology saved my life because I figured out how to distinguish between people with personality disorders or toxic people and between my own actions. That is I figured out what did I cause something versus what someone else did to cause it. I used to think it was all my fault if something went wrong. And I also learned I did not have to be a victim. The most important thing I learned is that humanly speaking, not all people are good. There are a lot of ‘bad’ people out there and those same people seem to not have a conscience about what they do. This was HUGE for me because when you believe everyone is good, you can often become blind to the fact others are hurting you. So, I still practice spirituality and I believe in one God. I put God first in my life and take time several times a day to pray.

                  I agree with everything you say about nothing existing unless it was first pure thought. In fact, I was raised to believe this and quantum physics also demonstrates this. On the level of quantum physics everything exists as energy and that energy exist at the level of potentiality. For example, light can be a particle or a wave depending on the observer. The observer has to think it into being a particle or a wave and the observer determines the form. This was proved in the famous ‘double slit’ experiment. (This is my summary, so I would recommend people read it for themselves– I am not a quantum physicist.) Then there are the ice crystal studies where someone can change the form of the way the water crystalizes depending on whether or not they are thinking hateful or loving thoughts. They showed this in the documentary “What the Bleep Do We Know?”
                  http://whatthebleep.com/

                  Then there is the book Biocentrism by Robert Lanza. He is a doctor/scientist who has basically proved that thought creates reality. A description from his website:

                  “Almost every society of mankind has explained the mystery of our surroundings and being by invoking a god or group of gods. Scientists work to acquire objective answers from the infinity of space or the inner machinery of the atom. Lanza proposes a biocentrist theory which ascribes the answer to the observer rather than the observed. The work is a scholarly consideration of science and philosophy that brings biology into the central role in unifying the whole. The book will appeal to an audience of many different disciplines because it is a new way of looking at the old problem of our existence. Most importantly, it makes you think.” —E. Donnall Thomas, 1990 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine

                  “It is genuinely an exciting piece of work…. The idea that consciousness creates reality has quantum support … and also coheres with some of the things biology and neuroscience are telling us about the structures of our being. Just as we now know that the sun doesn’t really move but we do (we are the active agents), so [it is] suggesting that we are the entities that give meaning to the particular configuration of all possible outcomes we call reality.” —Ronald Green, director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute”

                  So the big question– why don’t I write about this stuff more? Well, I do. It’s all in a self-help book that I have been working on for a while. One day I will publish it when it is time. In the meantime, my first priority is working on a book with Linda and Doug about affair recovery that will be published and printed through Balboa Press.

                  I have not necessarily gone from spirituality to psychology. Spirituality still comes FIRST and my metaphysical beliefs come first for me on a personal level. But I have found the majority of the world is not on the same page and so I need to write about affair recovery solutions that are applicable to everyone. This is why I write mainly about peer-reviewed ideas from the psychology, medicine, and the neuroscience community that have been proved to be helpful. I am trying to reach as many people as possible and provide practical solutions to those who are not an emotional space where spirituality resonates with them (yet).

                  As for Wayne Dyer, I have read these things in the past. Go ahead and google them and see what you find. Most sites will show you that he and his third wife never divorced even though she had a lover. I heard an interview with him a long time ago where he talked about his unique view on marriage and relationships. Please don’t get me wrong– I love Wayne Dyer’s work and I wish I could have met him. I had the opportunity to meet him about a month before he died and I kick myself for not taking it. I just figured I was too busy and figured since he was healthy he would be giving seminars for another 10 years. Yeah, I was wrong!! I love Wayne’s work and it will always be relevant. I just find it strange that someone so spiritually advanced could have such non-standard views on commitment. No, Wayne was not perfect, but I do admire his work just the same.

                  Thank you for opening up this discussion. Have you read the book Biocentrism or have you read Bruce Lipton? These are scientists who are finding the very same things that Hindu mystics knew thousands of years ago. I often tell my best friend that the “silly scientists” are finally catching up to what any shaman, guru, mystic, or other truly spiritual person could have told us 3,000 years ago. (And yet, these same silly scientists still have relevant things to say as well.)

  8. TheFirstWife July 7, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    Hopeful. I understand where you are. It is so hard to be positive and move forward when the CS leaves a trail of lying and deceit in their wake – and the behavior(s) in some way continue to appear.

    It makes you want to throw in the towel at times.

    I just mentally have to divorce mysekf from it.

    Our CS our very similar – I just found an email to a work colleague my H sent that irked me. If it were me I would not be corresponding with the opposite sex in any way that could be misconstrued.

    Of course I mentioned it to him / I don’t think he really understands my point but agreed it would have been best if he had not written the email at all. Maddening!!

    But I am moving on from the point. It is so frustrating that these CS don’t really get it. Two months after Dday2 my H had a business trip. Never told me a fake colleague was attending. Duh!!! That resulted in a fight via phone. She was not the OW but come on here!! Open and transparent – he just doesn’t get it sometimes.

    Maddening.

    I hope you can fight your way to a sunny day 😉

  9. Kate July 7, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    Great article, but I have to say the question from your psychiatrist friend about why women find infidelity so bothersome really irritates me. I think a better question is: What is it PRECISELY about monogamy that men struggle with? Is it simply a lack of sexual variety? Passion? Romance? Nobody boosting their egos? Instead of putting this on women – why can’t we just accept that men love us but want to spend time with other women? (a form of blame-shifting if you ask me) isn’t this something men should be examining within themselves?

    Here is my take on that issue: The whole premise is based on the false notion that people can control their emotions. They love you & don’t want to leave you right up until the day they do. Introducing new people into a relationship creates competition. Competition is about comparison. Would your psychiatrist friend be comfortable with his wife spending time with other men? Even if she never said it, would he be comfortable with the idea that the reason WHY his wife liked spending time with other men was because they were better in bed? These kinds of inevitable comparisons erode relationships in insidious ways.

    Unless the time men want to spend with other women consists of just sexual transactions (in other words, prostitutes) my guess is it involves romance & courtship behavior- because that boosts their egos. That means lavishing attention, money, compliments, gifts, time etc. on this new woman. In other words, all your best efforts are flowing OUT of your marriage. That sends the message to your wife that she’s not worth the effort anymore. That she’s just a commodity now – someone to cook your meals & do your laundry & raise the kids. You love her & don’t want to leave – because why would you? You’ve got someone at home to take care of you (like a mommy) and a girlfriend for fun & romance. You’ve got the best of both worlds! Your wife, not so much.

    And romance is fantasy – it’s fun & exciting! Who wouldn’t want to spend time there? But while you’re in fantasyland, reality doesn’t go away. Every minute spent with someone outside the marriage is time your spouse has to pick up the slack in the REAL world. You know, parent-teacher conferences, taking care of elderly parents, doctor appointments – all that stuff that’s such a drag & no fun at all.

    Shirley Glass surmised that men don’t have affairs because they aren’t GETTING enough at home, but because they aren’t GIVING enough at home. I think this is spot on. Please feel free to share this with your friend. I’d love to hear his response & get his perspective.

    • Sarah P. July 7, 2017 at 11:21 pm #

      Hi Kate,

      I agree with everything that you have said. All great thoughts about why most women demand monogamy. (I am the first to admit that I demand monogamy in my relationship and my husband is very aware of my very strict boundaries.)

      And this is so very true about when men don’t get enough at home, they don’t give enough at home.

      I like how you bring up the idea that a man wants a girlfriend and a mommy. My parents had a dear friend who was a retired opera singer. Though an American, she had spent her entire career singing in Milan, Italy. When I started taking voice lessons from her as a teen, she would tell me about all of her dating escapades in Italy. She would say, “Don’t ever date an Italian man or any other man who grew up in a culture that has the Madonna/Whore complex.” Then she would talk about how men in Italy were real boyfriends and lovers to their wives until their waives had a child. Then the game was up– the wife was relegated to being ‘mommy’ and was only good for cooking, cleaning, diaper changing, and the occasional romp twice a year to ensure the conception of another child. On the other hand, the mistress snow got all of the gifts, romance, and sex that the wife once got before the wife became ‘mommy.’ Perhaps in our culture, we still have a hint of that Madonna/Whore complex on a subconscious level. Within this framework, once a woman becomes a mom, she is supposed to do mom stuff and so a svelte mistress is needed to attend to the guy’s every romantic and sexual need. Only most women just DO NOT sign up for such a situation.

      One time I told my husband if it were a world where you only had a choice between mom or mistress, I would NOT be either one. I would be career woman and live for myself. But there is no way in heck I would play the role of mom in a world where a woman was either a mom or a sexual toy. I would NOT buy into either role since both roles serve men and work against the interests of women. Nope, I would totally go on strike, make my own money, and date single men only if I wanted to. But it would have to be on my terms. I expect more from men and won’t tolerate anything less.

      Anyhow, if I run into that psychiatrist again, I will let him know your take on this and then ask him the question about “why is it so hard for men to be monogamous?” Only, I fear that I already know the answer. Like many men who say this, he will probably pull out that tired, old argument from evolutionary psychology that would claim it’s a man’s biological imperative to spread their see. Blah, blah, blah. I have several arguments against why it is not a man’s biological imperative and why a 50/50 female to male ratio and monogamy works. I think when men feel like they need lots of women, they see us solely as objects. It’s really a narcissistic and entitled attitude when men feel they are biologically programmed to be with so many women.

  10. Neverending July 7, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

    Was the trauma healing process, for PTSD spouses, who were ultimately left, for the OW covered at the conference? Cases in which the 3 healing steps won’t occur. Thanks so much for this excellent article.

    • Sarah P. July 7, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

      Hi Neverending,

      I understand from your comment that your husband left you for the other woman and I would like to say that I am extremely sorry.

      In these situations there can be no working it out with the spouse since he or she left for the other person. This was my experience– I was never able to work it out with my ex since he chose her and got married to her. The best advice I can give is see a skilled therapist who knows how to treat PTSD and who can help you rebuild yourself piece by piece.

      On the other hand, perhaps the book Runaway Husband could be helpful to you. She addresses the topic of what happens when a husband who for all intents appears to be in a happy marriage leaves for the other woman with no warning.

      https://www.amazon.com/Runaway-Husbands-Abandoned-Recovery-Renewal/dp/0986472107

      I am going to be interviewing Vikki Stark, the author of Runaway Husbands, later this month. My next post will also address the runaway spouse syndrome. I have not finished it yet, but it will be posted later this month, so stay tuned. Hopefully you can find something in there that is helpful. I am really sorry that I cannot give better advice on this– I wish I had something more for you at this point in time. I sincerely hope that you are able to find your peace amid all of this. Finally, know that you are not alone– we have a great group of women here and they are always happy to offer great advice.

      Many blessings,
      Sarah

  11. TryingHard July 10, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    I read Runaway Husband. Very Very good and highly recommend. I also recommend He’s History, You’re Not.

    • Sarah P. July 12, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

      Yes, and soon we will release an interview with Vikki Stark– so stay tuned. 🙂

      Thanks for the book recommendation– have not heard of He’s History, You’re Not but will order it.

  12. Puzzled July 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    I’m curious to what the percentages are of affairs by husbands vs wives. I would guess it’s much higher in men but all I know is that in my marriage it was my wife. I’m sure that I was suffering some type of PTSD. I’m not sure anyone going from “everything is great” to “I’m not in love with you & people change/ drift apart/etc” can cope without some issues. We’ve worked through the stages mediocre at best but we are better. However, the Atonement phase is where I struggle most. She’s never been honest about who it was, always “someone from work or it’s over and it doesn’t matter”. It’s hard to fully trust with these answers.
    Even though things are better, I’m still struggling 2 years out. I can tell myself a million times that it was her choice and not me. But, the struggle is real: why wasn’t I enough? I told her just a couple of weeks ago: there aren’t many things that I could say that I was damn good being, but a Dad and a husband were the two that I worked hardest on every day, but sadly, being a Dad is the only one that I’m sure of. She was angry and hurt but I said “how can’t I feel that way?” You chose someone else and I have to deal with that every single day.

    • TheFirstWife July 20, 2017 at 6:16 am #

      The CS just doesn’t understand the aftermath of an A.

      I just don’t know why they don’t get it. They see the pain and devastation.

      Still shaking my head.

  13. Butterball September 15, 2017 at 2:50 am #

    In reading your description of the effects of PTSD on a spouse within a relationship, I can’t help but see that the description matches my MLC husband far far more than it describes me. I still think you are missing something in not dealing with the role of PTSD contributing to the spouse’s waywardness in the first place. And at least we are adults and capable of understanding the clear and direct role that our spouses’ infidelity plays in triggering PTSD.

    The way in which our spouses’ childhood-induced PTSD effects them is much harder for them to realize and be able to put the blame in the correct place, because the perpetrator is not the same as the trigger, which is us.

    Maybe some will say I am making excuses for my spouse but I have to say that as much as I am hurting and he is aware I am hurting, he must be hurting even more to be able to cause me so much pain and think it is nothing to suffer like this.

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