Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month I decided to write about something you may have a lot of experience dealing with: The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD,) after discovering infidelity.
Knowing about the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after infidelity and how to cope with them personally, and in your marriage is important.
In fact, it is just as important to know about PSTD as it is to know about the symptoms of grief because you are more than likely experiencing the symptoms of both.
It's really no wonder that it takes so much time and effort to fully recover after discovering infidelity in your relationship.
Let's start by exploring what exactly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is.
We know that experiencing combat, major car accidents, rape, and other traumatic events can lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
However, what people don't always realize is this:
Experiencing infidelity betrayal in your marriage or relationship can bring on some, or all of the symptoms of PTSD too.
If you have the symptoms of PTSD, you may feel majorly stressed, on edge, and afraid - even after the danger of infidelity is over.
PTSD also tends to start at different times for different people.
The signs of PTSD may start soon after a traumatic event, such as after each infidelity discovery, or it may start months or years later.
It all depends on when you are able to allow the traumatic event into your mind and reality.
Some of the main PTSD symptoms include the following:
- Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event over and over again in your mind. You may also feel like the traumatic event is happening in the present moment.
- Trouble sleeping
- Nightmares about the traumatic event, or things related to it.
- Feeling alone
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling panic, fear, or worry
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling sad
- Being on alert for signs of the trauma occurring again.
- Feeling jumpy or on edge
- Being triggered by things that remind you of the traumatic event.
Many betrayed partner's call these crazy-making feelings the "Emotional Roller Coaster" and they truly are!
Infidelity discovery tends to cause a mix of overwhelming feelings with many peaks and valleys.
When you consider all of the losses that also come with discovering infidelity in your relationship such as:
- The loss of emotional safety and security
- The loss of what you thought reality was in your relationship
- The loss of your belief that your partner would always protect your heart and be faithful to you
- The loss of control over what's happening in your relationship
It's pretty easy to see why you would struggle emotionally after discovering infidelity.
There are so many layers of issues involved with relationship infidelity. In fact, I haven't even begun to list them all.
A full description of what happens emotionally, physically, and mentally after infidelity betrayal would take a whole book to explore.
Are you experiencing any of the PSTD symptoms I mentioned above?
If so, let's explore some ways to help you cope.
1. Embrace, feel, own, and process your feelings.
This step is so very important for your recovery.
As you know, I'm a huge advocate of journaling because it helps - especially when you do it regularly over a period of time.
After betrayal it's important to have a place to release all of your true feelings - the good, the bad, and the totally ugly.
And of course, the grief.
Journaling is an excellent way for you to do this.
If you don't deal with your feelings, you may choose to go the route of emotional numbing instead.
Overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, overworking, or shopping may help you in the short-term, but your feelings will still be under the surface, waiting to be triggered.
This will stall your recovery.
2. Deal with the personal trauma reactions you are experiencing, such as the obsessive thoughts, the anxiety, and the stress reactions.
Work on establishing safety in every part of your life so you do not continue to be re-traumatized, over and over again.
You can begin to identify what you need to feel safe by writing down your response to the following:
"In order for me to begin feeling safe again I need . . ."
It's also important to learn how to calm yourself through gentle, kind self-talk and slow, deep breathing.
Take excellent care of yourself through stress-reducing behaviors such as practicing yoga, taking walks, expressing yourself through art, listening to calming music, or learning a new hobby.
3. Seek the help of a professional therapist who specializes in PTSD.
Sometimes PTSD symptoms are resolved over time, through the use of the above strategies.
Sometimes they aren't.
If you find the symptoms of PTSD are interfering with your ability to meet the daily responsibilities in your life, it may be time to seek outside help.
A therapist or counselor who specializes in helping you with PTSD can mean getting the support and techniques you need to begin overcoming the trauma you experienced.
Do you plan to try to save your marriage after infidelity?
If so, it is extremely important that you establish safety in your marriage by doing the following:
1. End the threat of ongoing infidelity.
Additional infidelity discoveries are re-traumatizing. They will set you way back in your recovery progress.
Make sure he has agreed to the goal of saving your marriage and is following through on actions that support that goal.
If saving your marriage is truly his goal, going "No Contact" with anyone or anything that is a threat to your personal well-being or marriage should be his goal.
This means not being "friends" on social media or anywhere else.
Protecting you and your marriage means all lines of communication with those who are a threat to your relationship must be shut down permanently, not temporarily.
If he wants to be let into your heart again, he needs to earn that right through his actions.
2. Take baby steps to re-establish intimacy and connection as a couple.
Infidelity diminishes intimacy and connection with a spouse.
In fact, for many women, diminished intimacy and connection is one of the first signs that his affection has gone elsewhere.
It's time to make a commitment to reconnect and make time for your marriage a weekly priority.
3. Use honesty as a key to rebuilding trust over time.
To support ongoing honesty, trust, and communication, both of you will need to work on managing your emotional reactions to each other.
This can be hard work at first, but it's worth the effort.
When you take full responsibility for what each of you say and do, you begin to build safe communication and closeness.
4. Recommit to each other in a formal, meaningful way.
Make plans to recommit to each other through a vow renewal ceremony.
This helps provide both of you with a fresh start and the beginning of a brand new marriage.
It is an acknowledgement that the old marriage is over, you are closing the door on it for something new.
This can be quite meaningful.
5. Your unfaithful partner strives to make amends to you.
Think about how he can make amends to you.
If he were to ask you, "How can I make it up to you?" what would you say?
Given the major emotional injury he caused, making amends to you is a very fair expectation and one he should strive for.
6. Consider a post-infidelity separation and divorce agreement.
Draw up a signed, notarized, marital agreement for separation and divorce, should he decide to be unfaithful again. This is for your future protection, and sets up clear consequences for his actions.
As you can imagine, PTSD is a complex, emotionally challenging disorder to overcome after infidelity.
Remember to seek the help of a professional counselor if you find it too difficult to manage your life and and daily responsibilities.
You deserve kindness and care after what you've been through.
I hope you found this article about PTSD, infidelity, and marriage helpful.
Until next time . . .
Wishing you hope and healing always,