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?
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, then 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.
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.
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