Discovering that you’ve been betrayed or deceived is devastating. Discovery is disorienting, and creates feelings of uncertainty about yourself, your spouse, and your life.
To make sense of the new information you’ve received and to seek a sense of safety, some of the most common activities partners engage in immediately after discovery are:
- Searching phone records, email accounts, or financial statements
- Asking many questions of their unfaithful spouse
- Reading books, blogs — anything they can find — about infidelity, betrayal, or addiction
- Reviewing the past and the history of their relationship, in an effort to make sense of the life they remember given the new information they have
These are all normal and to be expected immediately after discovery.
But eventually every partner must turn the focus back to herself, and away from what happened in the past, what her spouse is doing (or not doing), and living in fear of what will happen in the future.
It’s far from easy, but it is absolutely necessary if you truly want to move beyond betrayal. You must begin depriving the painful past, addiction, acting out, or affair partners of your energy and attention.
What does it mean to deprive the past, addiction, or affair partners of oxygen? It means turning your attention away from what you want less of so that you can focus and nurture what you want more of.
What we focus on increases. If you’re focused on infidelity, addiction, or affair partners, then these are the topics, themes, and people that will dominate your thinking and your life.
On the other hand, if you’re focused on your self-care, your dreams and goals, and how you can show up as your best self in your life and in all your relationships, you will feel better, reach your full potential, offer your unique gifts to the world, and enjoy more connection and intimacy in your relationships.
Here are 5 ways to deprive addiction, betrayal, or an affair partner of oxygen:
- When you’re tempted to ask your spouse another question about the past — especially if you have already received Formal Therapeutic Disclosure — ask yourself if the answer is likely to bring you more healing and clarity. If you’re not sure, don’t ask.
- Refrain from researching anything related to your spouse’s past, including pornography, sex workers, affair partners, etc.
- If you struggle to stop asking detailed questions about your spouse’s acting out past, make a pact with a trusted friend or mentor who is standing for you to move beyond betrayal, that you will call her/him to process the question you want to ask before having a conversation with your spouse.
- Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not bring up past acting out behaviors or affair partners during conversation.
- Be honest with yourself about how much of your thinking is preoccupied with your spouse’s past acting out activities, or with sex workers or former affair partners. Since your thinking is in your circle of control, spending your time reviewing the past or reliving acting out events in your mind is self-traumatizing and extremely harmful to you.
And if you want to take your practice of depriving the past of oxygen even higher, consider making a demonstration that addiction, betrayal, or an affair partner no longer has power over you.
For example, if you have avoided driving down a particular street, or going to a certain restaurant, hotel, etc. because that place is related to past acting out or deception, this choice was likely made for good reason — as an an act of self-care and protection. However, what many partners find is that over time this kind of avoidance begins to feel as though addiction or an affair partner has “won,” and is being given too much power.
What might it feel like to reclaim that place for yourself, rather than giving it power over you? Admittedly, this is an advanced level move, and is not suggested for any partner in the first year post-discovery. But I can tell you from experience, it is a deeply empowering choice.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2020)
Vicki, thank you for this post. As I read it, I realized that since January I have not been so focused on his addiction. However, I also feel emotionally checked out of our marriage. I have no inclination towards any affection.
In July of 2018 I found out my husband of 28 years had been going to a Strip club the last 4 months. We were growing apart and communication and intimacy were very low at that time. He loved the attention that he paid for. He has said there was no touching during the private dances. I want to believe him. It is still breaking my heart. I still look up things in the internet about those clubs. I don’t even know what I’m looking for? He has been completely transparent with me since then. I can see his phone, bank accounts at any time. He even sends me where he is with the GPS tracking app. He is a wonderful husband now. And I trust him again. Why can’t I stop thinking about this?? We went to couples counseling and it did help. I think I may need to go back. Thanks in advance for your help.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Dianna, I admire the courage it takes to to experience betrayal and to be vulnerable and trust again. And I can see the efforts your husband is making to take responsibility for restoring trust by being transparent and forthcoming with you.
I hear your challenge is letting go of the past — of course, it broke your heart! I know that for me, when I focus on the past or what hurt me, I feel fearful and anxious. When I focus on the present and what I am grateful for, I feel calmer and even joyful.
How would it fit for you to experiment with a daily gratitude practice? I write down at least three things every day that I am grateful for, specifically about my spouse or my marriage. I also invite you to experiment with depriving oxygen to anything related to betrayal (including researching online) one day at a time. Try both of these for the next week, and then check in with yourself to see how you feel!
Thanks so much for your advice. I will work on both. 😀. I have to.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom. My husband was unfaithful to me in the past with a lot of compulsive behavior. He was pretty sick, really. He has done a lot of work in recovery as have I. Last week, out of the blue after no contact for several years he received an email from a former affair partner asking for a favor and a reply. My husband talked to a trusted male friend about what to do. He shared the email with me. He did not reply to the email and blocked The address. My husband did the right thing.
This event was very triggering for me. But I have been determined not to let it steal my energy and take my oxygen as you say. I do have control over where I choose to focus. I feel encouraged to bounce back and not be brought down.
Thank you for your encouragement.