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)
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