Discovering sexual betrayal plunges you into loss and grief. Suddenly you are faced with more losses than you can count. Loss of trust in your partner, loss of trust in yourself, loss of the relationship you thought you had, and loss of your dreams for the future.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of grief and loss associated with death and dying, identified five stages of grief. These five stages have become recognized as the stages that people dealing with all types of trauma and significant change go through. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not linear.
For example, you may begin your day telling yourself that at least your partner didn’t have sex with a real live person (bargaining and denial stages). A little later you might remember walking in on your partner looking at Internet pornography and you might feel tremendous rage, disgust, and shame (anger stage). That afternoon you might feel lifeless, unmotivated and exhausted (depression stage), while also feeling like you are beginning to understand more about sex addiction and see why your partner has done the things he has done (acceptance stage).
The stages of grief are a winding journey, skipping around in no particular order, doubling back on themselves and sometimes washing over you all at one time. Grief is also often on its own schedule, rising up inside of you at the most inconvenient times and places. If you can honor grief when it shows up and allow yourself to feel it in spite of how inconvenient and exhausting it can be, this will allow the emotions to be processed and help you to move through the grief and loss more quickly.
Let me clarify a bit about the stage of acceptance as just that word can feel triggering for some betrayed partners. Acceptance does not mean being okay with or excusing your partner’s behavior. Acceptance is about beginning to understand how your reality has shifted, and coming to grips with how to live well in your new reality.
Over the coming weeks you are going to be grieving the many losses resulting from betrayal trauma. For many the biggest losses seem to center around losing your sense of self, and losing the partner and relationship you thought you had.
Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself plenty of space to feel sad, to cry the buckets of tears inside of you and to talk with safe friends about what you have lost. Grief is an exhausting emotion so you are going to be tired. Very tired. Patience with yourself and realistic expectations about what you can manage are needed. And because I don’t think betrayed partners can hear this enough in the beginning, I will say it here: this will not last forever. You are going to experience joy again. You are going to come out of this and you will once again feel happiness, contentment, gratitude, and openness. This is a dark tunnel you are passing through but there is daylight at the end of it.