Humans do not like uncertainty. We like a clear direction. An arrow pointing the way. A road that is paved and marked with bright yellow stripes showing us where to go. As a result, when we experience uncertainty we often make hasty decisions, simply to try to eliminate the anxiety that uncertainty creates. Never mind if it is a good decision. At least we chose a fork in the road and are heading somewhere instead of dithering around with our fear while trying to figure out what to do.
The instinct and impulse to find a way out of anxiety and uncertainty is what causes some betrayed partners to make fast decisions about their relationship in the aftermath of betrayal. Choosing to leave or declaring that you are staying can feel like at least it points your feet in a direction.
I was talking with one of my clients who is a betrayed partner about the issue of uncertainty and she told me, “At the beginning, right after discovery of my husband’s affairs, I didn’t care if I was doing the wrong thing. I just felt like I had to do something. Not doing anything felt powerless and helpless and I couldn’t stand it. I had to take action, even if I was going to regret it later.”
Discovering betrayal is a little like being thrown out of a boat into a stormy ocean. You have no safety, your life is at risk, and even though you may not know what to do it is imperative that you do something, or you will surely drown.
To be told in the middle of being tossed about by the wind and waves that you should try being still, taking a breath, and getting your bearings can feel insane. But it could also save your life.
Learning about your partner’s infidelity is the same. In the middle of so much change, loss, fear, doubt, and uncertainty, it is vital that you take a beat, a moment to stop flailing about trying to figure out what to do at the big picture level of your life (to stay or leave the relationship). You need to focus on your present moment—what do you need to do right now to help yourself. You must ask, “What will bring me just a smidge of comfort, clarity, calm, and relief?”
In 12-step fellowships, there is a saying that goes, “Do the next right thing.” Applying this saying to my own circumstances, whatever my circumstances have been, has helped me so many times to step out of the crazy-making anxiety of trying to figure things out, to come into my present moment, and to start living in connected awareness to what I need right now.
Sometimes I find I need a drink, or a nap, or a snack, or a hug, or a conversation with someone close to me. Sometimes I need to take a walk or play for a while to let off some steam. Sometimes I need sleep, or to journal my thoughts, or to cry, or to throw rocks in a pond while being angry. Sometimes I need to laugh, to be entertained. Sometimes I need the peace and quiet of a gentle night on my porch.
The point is that when we come into our present moment and focus on what we need right now, it brings us out of our anxious minds. Our minds often worry about decisions that we do not yet have the information to make. This type of worry, before we are actually equipped to take action, creates suffering.
Doing the next right thing brings us out of our busy-mind, down into our bodies where we can connect with ourselves and care for ourselves with loving kindness. This helps us get our bearings, calm ourselves, and fill our empty tanks.
Only when we are being responsive to our immediate, in the moment needs do we have the resources and energy to take stock of where we are and fully consider the larger questions that are in front of us.
A second issue to consider is that big decisions often require time. Big decisions such as staying or leaving your relationship are life-changing. They are significant. They need reflection and time and space to be fully considered.
Often when we are making big decisions, whether about our relationship, or moving somewhere, or changing jobs, or having a child, etc., we need to try those decisions on mentally and emotionally for a while before we know if they are right for us. To do this, we need space and time for mental and emotional reflection. We need to be able to walk around the issue, consider it from all sides, imagine ourselves in the changed circumstances that the decision will create, and feel our hearts whisper wisdom to us about what we are to do.
This cannot happen in a rush. It cannot happen when driven by fear and anxiety. We can only give ourselves the ability to thoroughly consider big decisions by giving ourselves plenty of time and space. No deadline. No agenda. No swirling, racing, busy-mind cornucopia of anxiety.
So, if you are dealing with betrayal and facing one of the biggest questions that arises from being cheated on (do I stay or leave?), please be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that this is a big question and that it comes with fear and anxiety and uncertainty. Allow yourself to feel the fear and uncertainty and hold those feelings with kindness and understanding if you can. Then give yourself permission to take care of what you need right now to help stabilize emotionally and have the energy to fully consider the question in front of you. Then give yourself even more permission to wait until you know your decision is the right one before making it, taking all the space and time you need to determine what is best for you. Give yourself the room to be in a process that unfolds over time and know that opting to ‘wait and see’ is not doing nothing. Instead, it is an active, intentional, grounded-in-awareness choice and you will be glad you made it.