Relationship Connection: How long is too long to struggle after my husband’s affair?

Question

I found out my husband cheated on me three years ago this month, and I still find myself dreading the anniversary date of that discovery. Is this normal?

We are still married and things are better between us, for the most part (no marriage is perfect), but I still have so much pain from that experience.

He’s told me he’s sorry so many times, and I don’t worry that he’s doing those things anymore. So why am I still hurting? Is there anything I can do to get through this month without completely falling apart?

Answer

First of all, you’re not crazy for feeling the residual damage from your husband’s affair, even three years later. I don’t know the full story of what you’ve been through, but know that it’s completely normal to struggle even though the experience is technically over.

Instead of just trying to muscle through the next few weeks, I’d like to have you look at the bigger picture of your affair recovery over the past three years.

Healing from the impact of betrayal is not a linear experience that starts out with the pain of discovery and then automatically feels better with time. Instead, it’s a unique journey for each couple based on several factors such as the unfaithful partner’s willingness to tell the truth, previous betrayals, duration of the affair, and other factors.

Also, simply stopping the affair is only the first step in the healing of an affair. It’s common for the unfaithful partner to stop the affair and then refuse to ever talk about it again. If the injured partner brings it up again, it can cause more drama between them if the unfaithful partner doesn’t want to talk about it.

I wonder how many of these steps you’ve been through as a couple to truly heal from the impact of the affair. If you’ve been asked to never bring it up again and haven’t had a chance to work through the injury to your relationship, then it’s going to be difficult for you to move forward and feel safe in this relationship.

If your husband has been fully honest and you have been able to work through the impact of the affair on yourself and your marriage, then are you able to turn to your husband for comfort during this time? Can you ask him for reassurance of his love and commitment, even if he’s told you already? The true test of his reformation is his ability to have long-term compassion for your pain.

Betrayal trauma is similar in many ways to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, complete with flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and fear of anything that reminds you of the original trauma. The betrayal strikes so deeply that it can take years to fully trust again.

Consequently, it’s normal to feel more emotionally raw around the anniversaries of major losses.

When we experience a traumatic event, it’s like our body takes a snapshot of all of the sensory data around us. For example, we might remember certain places, smells, times of the year or situations that remind us of the trauma we’ve experienced.

The most helpful thing you can do is reach out to those closest to you and share what you’re feeling. Going though this alone will only compound the isolation that is tied to the original betrayal trauma.

Open up and let your husband know you’re feeling vulnerable and sensitive. If you need to visit with him about it, see if he’s willing to.

If it’s something that creates more struggles in your marriage, I recommend you seek the help of a marriage counselor who specializes in affair recovery so you can work through the unfinished business of your husband’s affair.

Stay connected!

Ed. note: This is a republication of Geoff Steurer’s Nov. 7, 2013, column.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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11 Comments

  • ladybugavenger August 3, 2016 at 10:27 am

    That’s why I divorced my ex husband after I cheated on him. I knew both of us, probably more me than him, couldn’t live every day with it. And let’s face it, if I loved him or more so if he loved me, I wouldn’t have cheated on him

    Divorce him!

    • ladybugavenger August 3, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      For all my haters: come on now, I wasn’t a Christian back then, 20 years ago, I was an angry person angry at the world. Thank God for Jesus!

      • ladybugavenger August 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

        Now I’m a joyful person angry at the world haha! ❤️

      • Bob August 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm

        praise jesus! and on that note let’s pour another drink, but ain’t 10am a bit early to start drinkin’ LB? ahah

        • ladybugavenger August 3, 2016 at 6:51 pm

          Come on now, I’m off work for the next who knows how long lol. There is no such thing as time in this sitch. ??

          • .... August 3, 2016 at 9:32 pm

            GO RAIDERS !!! GO LADYBUG !!! ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

  • 42214 August 3, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Zero tolerance. Get outa there.

  • .... August 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Yeah divorce him. Just make sure you get all the Cheetos and Coke. …!

  • NotSoFast August 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I hear what your saying ladybugavenger.
    I feel the same with our current President. Screw me once- shame on him. Screw me over & over again– … can him and his friends.
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • old school August 3, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Really struck a nerve. You should ask yourself “Why your together now”, is it love, or just convenience. If the latter you may find yourself ten years down the road with a decade of regrets to live with. You need to center yourself and decide why you forgave in the first place. There you will find your answer

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