Navigating the Winding Roads of Infidelity without a Map

If you have a heart attack or are diagnosed with cancer, it is treated with seriousness and urgency. No one says "try not to think about it," "focus on good things" or "just let it go." No. The doctor sits you down and refers you to a team of helpful, trained professionals who are lined up to draft a plan with realistic expectations, answer your questions, and assist and support you until you are healed.

The recovery plan is laid out for you. You are given step-by-step instructions and a contact person, or a team of experts, to guide you through it to the end. No one would expect you to know what to do and how to do this; you are not a cardiac surgeon or an oncologist — well maybe you actually are but, for the sake of argument, most of us here on this page are not. In the case of infidelity, however, the road map isn't anywhere near as clear.

Feeling Lost After Betrayal

After infidelity, when you experience the shock of your entire reality being ripped apart, you are basically in a free fall of confusion and choices to make, with no one standing by to guide you. There is no instinctive plan, and no one is assigned to check on you and ensure you have what you need, are on the right track, and are headed toward healing. You are on your own. Recovering from betrayal is the loneliest journey I have ever experienced.

Most of us never thought about what we should do if we found ourselves in this position. We might have had the fleeting singular thought of, "If they ever cheated on me, I would just kick them out." But I know I never thought further about what people actually do in this situation — or how to go about figuring it out, for that matter. Let me be the one to tell you: You might, unfortunately, encounter landmines once you start navigating this desolate terrain, and not everyone who tries to help will actually be helpful.

If you tell your dermatologist you have lung cancer, they are not going to say, "I have seen that before; let me take a crack at it." No. Your dermatologist will recognize that your problem is specialized, and that it needs to be treated by someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in that area. They would never risk doing you more harm by hacking away at body parts they are not trained to treat. To that end, not all counselors have an understanding and respect for the unique nature, deep trauma and profound impact of infidelity. True infidelity experts, however, understand the widespread ramifications that infidelity and intimate betrayal can have on a person's entire life.

Finding the Right Help

When a counselor is not specifically trained in the treatment of trauma or infidelity, they will often apply treatments or methodologies intended for more generic marital problems or general life issues. Rather than adapting methods to the specific needs of the client, they will expect the client to adapt to the treatments. This is unreasonable and completely unhelpful.

Can you imagine your dentist telling you that if you flossed more, your brain tumor would vanish? And that if it isn't working, you just aren't trying hard enough? You would never believe that, right? But after infidelity, we are offered these kinds of ridiculous and hurtful "truths" by well-meaning but misguided professionals, family, and friends, and we are often left feeling more damaged and betrayed than when we started.

Finding the right help is hard. When you are feeling confused, hopeless and exhausted, it is even harder. When the person from whom we are seeking help is not a good fit, or doesn't have the right experience or skills, many betrayed partners find themselves feeling more frustrated, more misunderstood and sometimes even crazy. Already feeling rejected by our spouse, it is easy to take this as a personal failure, since betrayal already leaves us feeling like there is something terribly wrong with us, and that we are lacking or worthless.

The point of all of this is that many of us feel, or have felt, lost in this process. We are often alone, hiding, and have no idea where to turn or whether we are doing it "right" or just making it worse. I just want to validate that if this has been your story, please be assured it's OK if you think you have flubbed it a bit when finding your way through this minefield. We all have different stories and different needs, and we all react differently to each situation and kind of help. Again, it's OK. Please don't beat yourself up like I did.

What Lies Ahead on the Road to Recovery

You aren't supposed to know what to do with all of this pain; it never should have been part of your life, so you couldn't possibly be prepared for it. This is not your fault; but now that you are here, this is a very good place to be for this crossroads in your life. Just reading this blog shows you have started down the path to healing yourself and maybe your relationship, too.

If you haven't already, I recommend looking at the free First Steps Bootcamp. It won't fix you, but it will give you an idea of the ground that you will need to cover in more depth in the coming months, whether through therapy with an infidelity or trauma expert, small group work, a program such as EMS Online, or whatever else you choose.

Regardless of which road you choose for your recovery work, please understand that you will need to do a great deal of work along the way. The what and how is up to you, but you will need to take charge of your own healing. Your spouse cannot do your recovery work for you, and they may not even be supportive of your choices to work toward healing. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks; this is for you. The more you can advocate for yourself, the more invested and successful you will be in your personal restoration. No matter what happens in your marriage, you will know that you did the best you could and will be better off for it.

What do we know for sure in this disorienting storm of pain and uncertainty? The sun will come up tomorrow. You might not care about it right now, but it will still rise. My therapist told me, "Disappointment can motivate future growth, or it can define current failure". Sometimes, it is both. Try not to get discouraged by the bumps in this winding road. If you encounter a detour, keep going. If the help you found doesn't "help," try something else. Don't assume you are doomed to be in this much pain forever. There is good help out there, and you are absolutely worth it.

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Comments

Thank you for this wisdom

Thank you for this wisdom hard earned. So very much truth in what you say!

Thank you SadChristine.

I really appreciate your comment.

Where do you turn?

Thanks for validating this craziness in finding therapy for our own healing journey. Learning how to recognize that the therapist is working for you and that you have every right to keep searching for the necessary skill sets that can make your therapist help you on this difficult journey is empowering for those of us who have been betrayed by the one person who we thought had our back when we said “I DO.” Without the support of others who have also traveled this road, healing is most likely, impossible. Keep breathing and keep going forward.

You are so right Skier

Thank you for your comment. I know for me my total loss of confidence and feelings of worthlessness following the betrayal made it that much harder to even consider that a therapist might not be a good fit or have the right skills - I just assumed the problem must be me. That kind of thinking just feeds on itself and it took me a long time to feel I could advocate for myself. It sounds like you have reached that place and that is empowering. I'm sorry you are here, but I'm glad we have each other on this road.

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