Six Things to Let Go of Post Affair

imagesLearning you have been betrayed by the very person who vowed to love, honor and cherish you until parted by death is devastating. Most betrayed partners remember with vivid clarity, every detail of the day they discovered the affair. Not one moment passes by where there is not an acute awareness of their spouse’s decision to stray from the marriage covenant. The knowledge of the infidelity is always present, in every context of life.

Survivors of adultery say you are healed when you can recall the affair and it no longer causes deep emotional anguish. Until that point, every remembrance of the affair threatens to take your breath away, but you do not have to be a hostage to depression or enslaved by fear. With consistent and focused therapy, you can recover and relinquish the toxic waste that has been weighing you down. These six things are healthy to let go of post affair:

  1. Unforgiveness– Forgiving your husband/wife may seem reasonable, especially if you’re trying to reconcile the relationship, but the affair partner? You may not even want to forgive them or perhaps it feels like an impossible task considering their blatant disregard for your marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Talk to God, process your feelings in therapy, but choose forgiveness. I know it isn’t easy and it may take a while to get there, but unforgiveness will fester and spread like cancer. Forgiveness is making the difficult choice to radically accept what you cannot change and agreeing to no longer hold this egregious action against the people who caused you this seemingly unending pain. Forgiveness will liberate you.
  2. Images– If you suffer from mental images of your husband/wife with the affair partner, you are not alone. These abominable images come to your mind at the MOST inconvenient times, they are hard to erase and become the triggers that fuel many arguments and sleepless nights. They are not emotionally healthy and they get in the way of being present with the people you love. So when the intrusive images make their presence known, interrupt the experience and block them by thinking of something more positive.
  3. Despair– One of the reasons betrayal hurts so much is because it is a weapon found only in the hands of someone you love. Your enemy doesn’t have this power. Betrayal is mutiny, a violation of a trust, an inside job. After a betrayal it is common to feel despair. You may even question who you are and court suicidal thoughts. Humiliation and embarrassment become your closest friends. It’s okay to acknowledge the feeling, but don’t live here. Discuss these feelings with your therapist. Even if your marriage is not salvageable, you will recover. Divorce despair and pursue healing and wholeness.
  4. Demonizing the affair partner– It’s easier to forgive your spouse when you are trying to save the marriage and demonize the affair partner. And though there may be many reasons for demonizing him/her: decimated finances, pregnancy, STDs, etc., the brutal truth is, they (your spouse and the affair partner) are BOTH to blame. It is highly unlikely the affair partner will feel guilty enough to take responsibility for their actions or even apologize for their home wrecking antics. Don’t let this person live rent free in your head and don’t waste your precious time plotting revenge.
  5. Ruminating on the affair– Instead of ruminating on the affair and all the “what if’s,” focus on the redemption of your marriage and the new things God is doing in your life. If your partner is repentant as evidenced by terminating the affair, expressing remorse and taking active steps to repair the damage while participating in your healing, you are headed in the right direction. It is safe to stop replaying the events of the affair disclosure in your mental theatre.
  6. Interrogating your spouse– I advocate for the affair details to be shared with the offended party in order for proper emotional healing to take place. Constantly interrogating the guilty spouse, however, will only serve to push them away and you end up reliving the trauma. A good therapist will help you flesh out the affair narrative, learn the causes of the infidelity and repair the breaches. Resist interrogating your spouse and allow your therapist to facilitate the questions and answers you need in order to heal.

 

Two Responses to Valley Experiences

Spring and early summer is typically when local communities gear up for Relay for Life; an organization whose tagline “celebrate, remember, and fight back” inspires its participants to raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society (relayforlife.org, 2014). It’s also the time of year that triggers a flood of memories from my own experience with cancer.

I frequently refer to my encounter as “the valley of the shadow of death” because those were some of the darkest hours of my life. It was an emotionally charged journey, filled with questions and uncertainty about my tomorrows. “Will I live?” “Will I die?” “Will I always feel this miserable?” These represent just a few of the questions that reverberated through my mind at any given moment. During periods of tribulation our faith is often tested and we learn what we are made of. People usually respond to valley experiences in one of two ways:

1. Grow closer to Jesus – These folks make an intentional decision to grow closer to Jesus; it doesn’t happen by chance. Although their suffering seems unbearable, they cry out to God in raw pain and He answers in tangible ways resulting in growth and greater intimacy.

2. Move further away from Him – Moving away from the Lord in times of tribulation is also a choice, although it may not always be a conscious one. Sometimes, people simply drift from God; usually because He did not answer them in the way that was hoped for.

After some deep soul searching, I chose to grow closer to Jesus. So I sought Him with my whole heart and in the midst of my suffering, I found Him walking with me, holding me, wiping away my tears and equipping me with promises I could hold on to. The most tangible promise God gave me came from 2 Chronicles 20:15-17:

15 “…This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’” (italics added for emphasis).

Are you currently walking through your own “valley of the shadow of death?” Perhaps your valley isn’t cancer, but the death of a loved one, job loss, financial woes, a wayward child, infidelity, divorce, you fill in the _____________. Choose your response to your valley experience wisely my friend. Refuse to waver in your faith, even in the face of uncertainty. Go out and face whatever mighty army is coming against you and commit this truth to your heart…when God fights, God wins!

6 Reasons to Seek Therapy

Everyone experiences periods of stress, sadness and loss. Successfully navigating through those seasons in life is challenging enough, but what if you are not successful in working through negative or even positive life events? You might find the quality of your mental health compromised.

Psychotherapy can be a potent tool for resolving many of life’s problems, but you shouldn’t see your shrink for every little problem life throws your way either. You don’t have to be “crazy” or on the verge of a nervous breakdown to go to therapy. So how do you know when it’s time to call a professional? How bad do things need to get before you seek help? When you’re dealing with debilitating depression or you get stuck in the grief cycle,  the signs might be obvious, but at other times, it might not be so cut and dry so you shuffle through life until things become unbearable.

Most people don’t go to counseling until things reach the “unbearable” point, prolonging their misery and angst. The obvious truth here; however, is the sooner you seek help, the quicker you will be on the road to recovery and feeling better. In fact, it might actually make the problem worse by avoiding professional help so, before things get to the point of being unmanageable, here are six reasons to seek counseling now:

1. The problem is causing significant distress

Deeply intense emotions such as explosive anger, overwhelming sadness, fluctuating moods, complicated grief, or anxiety that impairs your ability to function may be signs that counseling is needed. If you are having thoughts of suicide, thoughts of harming someone else or if you are participating in self-injurious behaviors (i.e. cutting, burning or choking), seek help from a professional immediately. Disturbances in your normal sleep patterns such as sleeping too much, trouble falling or staying asleep, withdrawing from family and friends, and appetite changes, can also be telling signs that its time to talk with someone. Therapy can also help with strained relationships and marital conflict.

2. You’re self-medicating in order to cope

It is easier to numb the pain by self-medicating than to deal with the issues that are causing the problems in the first place. However, not dealing effectively with your problems creates new ones and makes a bad situation worse. If you are self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or food [to name a few] and you need one of these substances to get through the day in order to deal with life stressors, it is a sign that you are trying to numb feelings that need to be addressed in counseling.

3. Something traumatic has happened

If you have a history of sexual trauma, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse, neglect or some other traumatic event that you have not fully dealt with, counseling could be a powerful tool in bringing necessary healing.

4. You’re stuck in the grieving process

Not everyone who has experienced loss (even major loss) needs counseling, but if you find yourself stuck in the grieving process and you’re unable to move forward, you might find therapy helpful. Grief can get complicated and doesn’t always resolve on its own. Some people respond to grief by withdrawing from family, friends and activities while others over engage and throw themselves into relationship after relationship. Counseling can be effective in working through the grieving process and help you to unpack suppressed emotions.

5. You no longer participate in activities or with friends

You avoid the things that used to bring enjoyment, including family and friends. Perhaps you feel you’ve lost direction or no longer find purpose or meaning in activities that you once could not live without. Many people pull back in seasons of painful emotions. This could be a sign that something isn’t right. Seeing a counselor might help bring clarity or assist you with a new start.

6. There’s no medical cause for your physical symptoms

Mood disturbances can cause a host of bodily aches and pains such as recurrent headaches, neck and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, general fatigue, frequent colds and a diminished sex drive. If your doctor has been unable to find a cause for your physical symptoms, it might be time to call a counselor. It just makes sense that when we are emotionally sick, our bodies are negatively affected.

If you do decide to give counseling a try, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in therapy forever. Many people feel better after one session and a lot of problems can be resolved in under ten sessions. Talking about your thoughts and feelings with an empathic, supportive person can not only make you feel better, it can be life changing by bringing about the emotional healing you desperately need.

Therapy can provide you with the tools for transformation. You can learn new coping skills, improve relationships, and build the life you’ve always envisioned for yourself. What are you waiting for? Lets get started!

Why Forgive?

Almost everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of another person, either intentionally or unintentionally. Smaller offenses such as snapping at someone due to stress or forgetting a lunch date with one’s spouse can usually be forgiven rather easily and can even be forgotten after a little time has passed. More serious; however, are offenses such as abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), infidelity and lying to name a few. These violations can actually leave soul wounds; such an imprint can carry life-long implications.

Considering the emotional suffering associated with soul wounds, it seems only natural to react in anger and desire revenge. The mere suggestion of forgiveness, seems not only unfair, but ludicrous. Yet forgiveness is the exact healing agent needed in order to move forward and live freely. I can identify three foundational reasons to forgive.

1. Forgiveness breaks the bondage of hatred and pain and sets the captives free. Retaliation is a typical response when one has been hurt, it’s human to want to make the offender suffer in similar ways. Left unchecked, bitterness grows like cancer and infiltrates an already calloused heart. Before long the injured person has unintentionally created an emotional prison filled with anger, hatred and pain. This leaves the guilty party in a position of control as they continue to yield power and influence as events of the transgression are replayed over and over in the theater of the mind.

Remaining in unforgiveness is like picking a scab from a wound before it has a chance to heal. Clearly, the benefits of forgiving far exceed the alternative…remaining in unforgiveness. The greatest benefit is often experienced by the person extending forgiveness because it offers release from a self-created emotional prison. The act itself is contrary to the flesh and a near impossible task without Jesus.

2. Forgiveness is both, an act of grace and a gift. Forigiveness is not to be confused with a “pardon” which is letting the perpetrator go free without punishment, it’s not letting them off the hook and it’s not pretending the transgression never happened. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to cut the cords of an oppressive burden and let it roll away. Forgiveness is an act of grace [the giving of something that is unearned and undeserved] and leaving room for God “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NASB).

3. Offering forgiveness improves the quality of one’s relationship with others, allows for spiritual growth and may lead to better health. Dwelling on past hurts robs precious time from those who matter the most (family and friends). Choosing forgiveness frees up the mind and emotions to be present here and now and opens the door to enjoy greater intimacy with God while experiencing inner peace and compassion for others.

Releasing the strangle hold of unforgiveness and choosing forgiveness makes room for emotional health and can lead to lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, and a lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse (Mayoclinic.org, 2011).

After two people have so seriously injured one another, even after apologies have been exchanged, regaining spontaneity and carefree affections doesn’t happen overnight. Some relationships may even be irreparable, but you can walk in peace knowing you did the right thing.