In early January, I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the first annual Infidelity Survivors Anonymous Retreat here in Texas.
During the Q&A Session on Saturday afternoon, one of the participants wanted to explore why she still gets triggered sometimes—even after many years of solid self-care, relationship healing, and boundary work.
Like most betrayed partners, she sometimes gets triggered—and angry—when she sees another woman who fits the profile of someone her unfaithful spouse has been attracted to in the past.
As we explored her thoughts about these occasional painful incidents, what we discovered together is that at the root of these triggers was a lingering belief that somehow the betrayal she experienced in the past was a reflection on her—her value or worth.
When a betrayed partner perceives her unfaithful spouse’s past or current behaviors as reflecting on her in some way—meaning that the infidelity was due to something she did, something she said, or something she didn’t do, or didn’t say, or the way she looks—she will suffer.
You may be thinking, “Of course, I know it’s not about me.” But has the thought traveled from your head to the core of your being?
The belief that infidelity has something to do with you is the single biggest thought distortion for all betrayed partners.
Maybe you were told—by your spouse, your family, or others—that it was your fault. And unfortunately, there are countless cultural and societal messages that nurture the toxic mindset that women are responsible for the trauma and abuse they experience.
Like the partner who raised the question of why she still gets triggered, you may have already had done a lot of healing work. But chances are, this distorted thought—or lie—still pops up from time to time.
So, the one thought I invite you to embrace is:
My spouse’s preferences, choices, and actions are not about me—ever.
Of course, what your spouse does impacts you. And when it does, I hope you will own the power you do have to practice the best self-care you can to manage and reduce the impact.
But when you slip into the mindset that his (or her) choices are about you—about the way you look, what you did (or didn’t do), or anything else that is specific and personal to you—you are engaged in distorted thinking. And this kind of thinking will cause you more unnecessary distress, pain, and heartache.
So what to do?
When you start having thoughts that make infidelity and betrayal personal—meaning about you—try this simple reframe:
My spouse’s choices and actions belong 100% to him.
I am not responsible for what he chooses to do or not do.
Or you could simply say, “It’s not mine. I’m not going to pick this up and make it about me.” You can then re-direct your thoughts, attention, and precious time to life-embracing, pleasurable, and solution-focused activities.
Infidelity is never a reflection on you. Ever.
If you’d like to receive blog posts just as soon as they happen, enter your email address now in the Subscribe to Blog via Email form on the right of this page. And if there’s a topic you’d like me to address in future articles, please enter it in the Comments section below.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity. Submitted comments containing profanity, offensive language, or otherwise objectionable material will not be published.
Christene Lozano says
Vicki, I love when you highlight this: “You may be thinking, ‘Of course, I know it’s not about me.’ But has the thought traveled from your head to the core of your being?” – there can be the intellectual understanding of a betrayed partner knowing it’s not about them. At the same time, the emotional impact and devastation is understandably still there. Gently reminding themselves that it is not about them is great practice.
I’ve also found it to be helpful to describe to betrayed partners that sometimes, consciously or subconsciously, they may blame themselves for their partner’s behaviors because it can help give them a sense of safety and control in such an unmanageable situation. This can be confusing to hear since blaming themselves can feel crappy, but if it’s something they did (or didn’t do), then the betrayed partner may think that if they themselves did things differently, the betrayer’s behaviors could have been prevented.
By accepting the often painful reality that “My spouse’s preferences, choices, and actions are not about me—ever” and “My spouse’s choices and actions belong 100% to him. I am not responsible for what he chooses to do or not do” the betrayed partner also accepts that the betrayal was out of their control. Understandably, that can be such an unsettling feeling for the betrayed partner.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Excellent point Christene!
I found this generally helpful and there are things I can apply. For me two things stand out.
1. The hurt of the infidelity is still raw (2 months discovered), and that may be the case for this woman years later. The sheer hurt of betrayal and not the distorted thinking could be the cause.
2. As a male survivor of infidelity, I have to implore you to make the language more inclusive. I read the whole thing and had a hard time connecting with it, because like most resources around this issue, it’s female centered. Yes the example used was about a woman betrayed, but the affirmations and general advice should be neutral.
Thank you again for sharing this resource.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Thanks Pat, I hear you about the hurt of infidelity and how it can last for years. That is why it is extremely important for partners moving beyond betrayal to learn how to practice exquisite self-care and boundaries. Without those, it is too easy to get stuck in the past and give betrayal, affair partners, and even pornography more oxygen than they deserve.
Regarding language, Here’s an article you may be interested in.