Betrayal and Its Aftermath
- Mary had been married to Jim for 12 years when she discovered a necklace in his jacket pocket. She was surprised at first, but put it away and “forgot about it.” Several months later, Jim asked if she had found a necklace and described the one she had stumbled upon months earlier. Jim told Mary that he had found it at work “the day before” and needed to return it to office security.
- Now Mary became alarmed. Not only was Jim carrying around a woman’s necklace, but he was lying to her as well. She then remembered seeing an odd telephone number appearing repeatedly on their monthly bill. She also noted that their usual pattern of intimacy had ceased around the time she found the necklace. Jim said he was “tired” from working overtime at the office.
- Mary became hostile toward Jim, but never addressed his lying, nor did she approach him with her suspicions about an affair. Instead, she showed her disapproval through her behavior, alternating between emotional distance and irritability.
- As Mary’s anger grew, Jim began to justify the affair in his own mind. He reasoned that he was “entitled” to the affair, since Mary had been treating him in a cold, hostile manner. “Mary has been shutting me out,” he explained and, indeed, she had.
- This pattern continued for several more months until, one day, Mary received a phone call from the distraught husband of the woman with whom Jim was having an affair. by that time, Mary and Jim were barely speaking to one another. Their emotional hostility was apparent to their two young daughters, who had become disruptive at home.
The discovery of an affair is often a traumatic, stressful experience, and Mary’s response is fairly typical. Initially, she denied the problem, overlooking obvious clues that something was wrong in her marriage.
Spouses in denial, like Mary, often remain aware of the indiscretion on another level and, in response, may behave in a cold, angry manner. Some by pass the denial stage and become enraged or depressed upon discovering the affair. Others enter a state of shock, finding it difficult to follow a daily routine. Their concentration may become poor, and they often forget what they are doing in the middle of a task. They may head to the market and wind up at the bank. Sleep and appetite changes are common. Some people become ravenous and others lose the desire to eat much of anything.
As the shock wears off, obsessive ruminating about the details of the affair may begin. The betraying partner and others may find listening to this repeated recitation of facts and conjectures grueling. Suspicions are heightened and the betrayed partner often demands a full itinerary of their spouse’s daily activities. There may also be bouts of crying as the full weight of the betrayal is experienced.
Of course, the marital partners are not the only ones to suffer. As can be seen in the case of Jim and Mary, affairs affect every member of the family, including the children.
What To Do
During this phase, the betrayed partner should treat him/herself with the same degree of care and understanding (s)he would extend to a person who is seriously ill. Major life changes or decisions should not be made at this time. The use of alcohol and non-prescription drugs should be avoided. The betrayed should also avoid experiences (for example, popular books and films) that may trigger unresolved issues surrounding the affair.
About 30 percent of those who experience a marital crisis of this type become clinically depressed. Symptoms of depression include the loss of interest and pleasure in life along with several of the following symptoms: irritability, sadness, bouts of crying, as well as changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and activity levels. Problems with concentration are frequently reported, along with feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Decision-making can become impaired. Suicidal ideas or thoughts can arise and are reasons to seek professional help at once. The severity of the depression and its duration must also be considered. If the depression does not begin to lift in two to four weeks, professional consultation is in order.
How Can a Professional Help?
Most affairs happen when there have been problems in the marriage for some time. Most couples will make some attempts to improve the situation on their own, since it is very difficult to maintain a hostile atmosphere for long, either beginning the reconciliatory process or initiating plans to live separately. In many cases, however, outside intervention is necessary.
When seeking professional help, there are a few things to keep in mind. Seek out a state-licensed mental health professional. When calling to inquire about an appointment, ask how many years the person has been in practice. In general, affairs are complicated matters and require the expertise of a professional who has had the benefit of extensive experience.
When volatile emotions or severe depression emerge and persist, individual therapy is necessary to reestablish emotional stability and must precede any attempts at couple’s therapy.
- Through individual therapy, Mary was able to achieve the personal stability to later pursue couple’s therapy with Jim. The couple sought therapy with someone other than Mary’s individual therapist, so that the couple’s therapist could be more objective and maintain a more neutral stance.
Jim and Mary waited until they were on the brink of divorce and their children were affected before seeking professional help. It would have been wiser to seek help earlier. If you or a person you love is being affected by an affair, remember – professional help is available!
The following references may also prove helpful for those who would like to read more on this topic:
- After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful (1997), by Janis Abrahms Spring, with Michael Spring (New York: HarperCollins);
- Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity (1999), by Emily M. Brown (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass); and
- Affair-Proof Your Marriage: Understanding, Preventing and Surviving an Affair (1998), by Lana Staheli (New York: HarperCollins).
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.