Surviving Infidelity: 4 Pillars to Navigate Uncertainty, Disappointment and Trauma

When devastation hits, we embark upon this journey of survival. We begin to wonder, “How do I survive this enormous amount of pain and trauma I’m in? How do I make it through to the other side?” Sometimes, we may even wonder, “How do I make it through today?” What I have found in my own healing from and surviving infidelity efforts is that I’m doing two things simultaneously: learning and unlearning.

As the amazing author Richard Rohr says, when we are in midlife, we are both learning and unlearning. As we grow older and start dealing with real problems in life, we start to realize that we may have to unlearn some of our coping mechanisms if we’re going to be able to heal.

I may not know what you’re facing today, but I do know that you probably came here because you could use some help, some hope and some fresh vision right now. The wonderful thing about growing through pain and devastation is that as we start to heal, there comes a bright sadness; it’s a grounded joy, a sober awareness.

You know when you meet a person like this because they have a certain smile, they have a twinkle in their eye where they’re happy and they’re joyful, but they’re not naive; they understand real life means real pain, real problems and real disappointment. Real life means looking back and saying, “I didn’t see it going this way.” You’ve probably had to embrace this; I know I’ve been there more times than I can count.

It’s at this point where we start to do recovery work, where we start to come to grips with the feeling: “My life does not look the way I wanted it to look, and that’s OK.” You’re here, and you can embrace this season and learn everything that you can possibly learn. You’re no longer continuing to sulk into despair and hopelessness but, rather, you’re finding joy, contentment and peace with the fact that your life can still be good; it isn’t what you expected, but it can still have meaning, value and happiness. That’s because there’s an awareness that comes from healing and surviving infidelity.

As you do recovery work to heal, your perspective, heart and understanding change. Wherever you might be today, I’m sure that you’re in need of some guideposts to navigate through this. Whether you’re new to this or have been at this for decades, this blog is for you. Today, I’m going to talk about four pillars on surviving infidelity and navigating through the uncertainty that stems from it.

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1. Finding Ways to Express Gratitude

Full disclosure: A lot of my ideas were inspired by Rohr, but I’ve put my own spin on them. During some of the darkest parts of my life, what I have wanted most were some helpful points for me to go, “OK, I can try that.” I was drowning, and I needed some things that I could hold on to; I needed something to help me make sense of the incredible hopelessness and lostness that I was feeling.

The first one I want to talk about is gratitude. I don’t just mean realizing that things could be worse because that’s hollow. Instead, when you’re surviving infidelity and going through this agony, it is vital that you search out gratitude. I can show you journal upon journal of me going through difficult times, in which I was searching out things to be grateful for, such as my:

  • Kids.
  • Health.
  • Support system.
  • Therapist.

Sometimes, I was just grateful for my car being reliable that day or the meal in front of me that brought me contentment. Gratitude is absolutely essential when surviving infidelity.

What I’m talking about is a resilient, intentional gratitude to focus on what you do have. I promise you that if you look through the right lens, you’re going to find something to be thankful for — even if everything is a mess right now. You’re going to have to hold on to that gratitude because it’s one of the vehicles that will carry you through this painful time.

2. Honoring Your Pain

So often, I think we shame our pain, we hide our pain, we demean our pain; we kind of harass ourselves for being in pain. The voice that we use to shame our pain can be so devastating and so agonizing. This voice continues to stuff the pain down and, in the process, we can rewound ourselves because we’re not treating ourselves with compassion or honoring our pain.

When you’re in pain, one of the best things you can do is honor that pain — not worship that pain, but honor it. I’m not saying you just have to “suck it up,” I’m saying you’ve got to understand your pain and be compassionate with the hurt that’s inside of you. Shaming your pain will not bring healing. Hating yourself will not bring healing.

You might be saying, “Sam, what does honoring my pain look like?” Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Getting help. Whether you’re the wayward spouse or the betrayed spouse, I hope you’re finding the right, expert help to guide you through this.
  2. Acknowledge and address the pain. It’s saying, “This is the pain I’m in and I want to address it.” It’s not shaming or denying the pain, and it’s not beating yourself up; it’s bringing your pain out from the shadows and into the light so you can face it head-on.

Honoring your pain means that, no matter how dark or devastating it is, you acknowledge its existence and decide to no longer run from it. It’s making peace with it and, as weird as this might sound, making friends with it. Honoring your pain means realizing it’s a part of you so you can begin to address, understand and heal it. Your pain doesn’t have to keep you captive, and it doesn’t have to rule your life.

3. Seeing the Situation With New Eyes

When’s the last time you made a conscious choice to really see your spouse or mate with new eyes? When’s the last time you tried to see your situation with new eyes? When’s the last time you tried to have a fresh outlook on what happened? In recovery work, if you keep tackling your situation from the same angle and with the same perspective, it’s no wonder why you’re stuck

One of the best things about consulting an objective third party, be it a therapist or support group, is they cause you to see the situation and yourself with new eyes. If you keep viewing your situation out of the lens of your trauma and your hurt, you might continue to hold on to your anger and resentment.

If you continue to shame your pain and your past, you might have trouble moving past it. When you’re unable to see the situation with fresh eyes, it can feel as if you’re spinning in circles without a clearly marked exit.

I have learned that we as humans are incredibly stubborn. When it comes to surviving infidelity, it takes expert help to get us to the point where we can begin to say, “OK, what I’m doing is not working.” To move forward and stop reliving this pain, we need fresh eyes, fresh vision and fresh help.

4. Going Forth Into Action

I have to be honest with you: No one can do your recovery work for you. Whether you’re the wayward spouse or the betrayed spouse, there’s work that has to be done to heal after infidelity. The pain and trauma that you’re experiencing will not just fade away with time. But as you decide to heal, everyone around you reaps the benefit of your actions. Be it reading books, watching videos, taking courses or getting professional help, these intentional actions will benefit you and your loved ones, too.

Sometimes, it takes work to just get out of bed — and I want to honor that. And it takes serious work to acknowledge your pain and seek out ways to heal it. Healing is not for the faint of heart. Surviving infidelity and fully healing from it requires action, it requires courage and it requires a refusal to quit. Nothing about healing after infidelity is easy, nor should it be.

As I get older, the temptation to quit on relationships or anything that’s hard seems to grow exponentially. But, as I alluded to earlier, that bright sadness allows me to honor the part of me that says, “I am not quitting. I am not giving up.” Today, my hope is that you can remember why you began this healing journey, that you can continue to be the best person you can be — not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. Please know that I am so hopeful for your recovery work journey, and I encourage you to not quit on yourself. I encourage you to honor your pain, honor your journey and be proud of the fact that you are still here.

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"This is the first time I have ever talked to other betrayed women or listened to talks specifically for the betrayed. It made me realize that what I am feeling and going through is ‘typical’ for the betrayed. I finally didn't feel like I was crazy or overreacting, and my feelings were validated." — 2020 Hope Rising Conference attendee.

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