Dear Suzie, It’s been 2 months since the day I confessed to having an affair, and my husband was devastated. I am the last person he’d ever expect to do something like that to him, and although he says he wants to work it out, I’m not sure he will ever get past it.
I’ve told him everything, and yet he still questions me every day.
He says he’s trying to forgive, but it feels like we are sinking deeper and deeper. Suzie, I love him so much and I want our marriage to survive. What else can I do?
Thank you for your question. It may surprise you to know that I get calls and emails very often that sound similar to what you’ve just described — from partners like yourself, who’ve violated the trust in their relationship, only to discover afterwards that the pain they’ve caused is worse than anything they were prepared to handle.
Does this describe you?
Well, I want you to take heart. You see, I believe that with every adversity (especially the ones we bring down upon ourselves) lies within it the seed of opportunity.
The secret to transforming adversity into opportunity is found in knowing (and doing) the correct things.
So, while I can’t save you from the natural consequences of your mistakes (nor should you want me to), what I can do is share with you my top 10 strategies on how to handle those consequences in a way that moves you toward healing and recovery… in the fewest possible steps.
CAUTION: I’m not telling you what you should do. These are simply 10 suggestions that point you to some of the things you can do.
Keep this in mind:
Every marriage is different, and every affair unleashes its own levels of damage. I caution you to use your own intuition and take into account all of the many variables that are involved. With that said, let’s begin with the first step.
The Wayward Rehab online course is my 30-day CSI (correction and self-inquiry) online program in which I teach wayward partners how to correctly handle the negative side effects of having an affair and give them the best tools, strategies and insights to make sure it never happens again. The course is one-part self-help, one-part life coaching, and one-part crisis and coping strategies that will work together to help you transform mistakes into learning steps
Admit (and accept) that you made a mistake
What defines a mistake?
Here’s the definition I like best: A mistake is any action or behavior that fails to bring you the results you intended. Using that definition, ask yourself this: Did the affair bring the positive results you were looking for? Are you happy, satisfied and feeling good about the decision you made? If not, then it was a mistake.
Why this step matters:
Maybe you’re wondering…
“How does admitting that the affair was a mistake help me survive the aftermath?”
That’s a great question. Let’s explore the answer.
Here’s my theory on mistakes.
I believe mistakes are teaching tools.
In other words, when you make a mistake, it’s a sign you have something to learn.
This means mistakes are a call for correction (not punishment). But what happens to the person who doesn’t (or can’t) admit they’ve made a mistake in the first place? You guessed it, they’ll fail to correct the mistake. This leaves them open to making the same mistake again and again.
Whenever I see this, I consider it a real tragedy.
You see, the problem isn’t making mistakes. The problem is failing to recognize and accept when we’ve made mistakes, because it’s only when we see our past mistakes that we become motivated to correct them.
Accept (and admit) that your past actions were mistakes. Don’t defend, deny, edit or try to minimize them. Step up and fully accept your mistakes, and let your partner know that you are now fully willing (and able) to correct them. This will communicate clearly to your partner that you have the courage to take responsibility for your actions. And those who have this type of courage simultaneously display that they also have what it takes to correct them. This knowledge brings a sense of security to the partner who’s been betrayed. And when it comes right down to it, security is the one thing every betrayed partner longs for.
Now, on to step number two…
Accept the natural consequences of your mistakes.
The Law of Natural Consequences states “Every act has natural consequences and those consequences are returned to the doer.“ Maybe you’ve never heard the of law of natural consequences being laid out this way, but you’ve probably heard it said in other ways. For example, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” “What goes around, comes around,” “What you give is what you get.” These are all pointers to the fundamental law that all actions have natural consequences (both good and bad). And those consequences are returned precisely to the doer in some way.
Preschool teachers are trained to teach this.
A big part of the role expected of preschool or kindergarten teachers is to teach their students about the law of natural consequences. For example: Whenever a preschooler spills juice, makes a mess or throws a tantrum, teachers have been trained to allow the child to experience the natural consequences of his or her actions. If they are doing their job correctly, they will not interfere, chastise, punish, or protect the child from experiencing the natural consequences of their mistakes. Why? Because so much early childhood research has revealed compelling evidence that proves whenever children are allowed to experience the natural consequences of their mistakes (without interference), they’re much more likely to learn and self-correct. Guess what?
This strategy works the same for adults.
When adults are allowed (or allow themselves) to face the natural consequences of their mistakes (without evasion, denial, or punishment), it also motivates them to self-correct.
What are the natural consequences of having an extramarital affair?
Natural consequences can include:
- Loss of your partner’s trust
- Guilt and shame
- Increased conflict, arguments, and hostility
- Loss of respect from friends and relatives
- Loss of self-esteem and self-respect
Why this step is so important:
Nobody likes to deal with the negative consequences of their actions. Therefore, for many of us, the knee-jerk reaction (when faced with results we don’t like) is to try to avoid dealing with them. However, when you resist dealing with the natural consequences of your mistakes, you also resist learning how to correct those mistakes
Keep in mind: Natural consequences isn’t the same as punishment. (far from it)
For example, when you step off the roof of a building, you fall to the ground. That’s the natural consequence of the immutable law of gravity at work (not punishment).
Let’s think back to the kindergarten teacher we talked about earlier.
She doesn’t punish the child. She allows him (or her) to experience the natural results of their actions. If they spill juice on the table, the teacher stands back and allows them to clean up the mess they made.
The same is true in your situation. As you allow yourself to experience the natural consequences of your mistakes, it motivates you to forget about feeling guilty and to get to work cleaning up your mess.
Decide! From this moment forward – accept the natural consequences of your indiscretions, and begin the process of cleaning up your mess… without resentment. Notice I said “without resentment”. This is a key insight. Because if there’s any resentment in your heart, it will stifle your sincerity and block your ability to learn, grow and self-correct. At this point, that’s the last thing you want. Instead, what you need is to find a way to turn this mistake into a learning step. One of the best ways to do that is to willingly accept the natural consequences of your own mistakes, thereby transforming negativity into a positive act of courage.
Seek to understand rather than to be understood
Last Friday, I was speaking to a close friend on the phone, and she told me about a conversation she recently had with a therapist, who told her about a female patient he had worked with who had just gone through a very traumatic and painful divorce (after she accidentally found out about her husband’s long-term affair with another woman).
What was interesting about this story, my friend said, was that the therapist told her that the reason his client had decided to end her marriage of over 20 years was not because her husband had cheated (even though that did play a part). She decided to divorce him because he never displayed any empathy toward her after she had discovered his affair.
Here’s what the woman told her therapist.
“I could have forgiven him for sleeping around on me, but I just couldn’t get past his lack of understanding about how it made me feel. He wasn’t willing to put himself in my shoes, and since he couldn’t do that, I knew he lacked the capacity to truly love me.”
This story teaches us a very valuable lesson.
It points to the old adage that often, more damage is done after the affair than by the affair itself.
For the woman in the story, the experience turned out to be a double betrayal. Not only did her husband betray her with another woman, he also betrayed her with his unwillingness to understand her feelings. And it was that second betrayal that became the straw that broke the camel’s back.
What this tells you:
A lot of what happens after the affair is discovered is in your hands.
What you do and don’t do has a tremendous impact on whether or not the primary relationship survives. If you want your relationship to survive, then being able to feel empathy for the person you’ve hurt is a big part of that. Sadly, most wayward partners end up doing the exact opposite.
Here’s a typical scenario…
Once the affair is discovered, arguments erupt. Feelings flare. The truth gets bent and twisted as each partner tries to win at all costs. Hateful words fly back and forth as the wayward partner tries desperately to make the betrayed partner understand:
- I never meant to hurt anyone.
- I never meant for the affair to happen.
- It’s not my fault. It was all just a big, horrible mistake.
- I couldn’t help myself.
- It will never happen again!
Notice the pattern?
Did you see it? The wayward partner is seeking to be understood by the betrayed partner! This is a huge mistake and usually triggers the betrayed partner to feel even more betrayed. So instead of moving towards understanding, connection and recovery… the conflict continues to grow.
Lean in and listen… this is important to your recovery.
Trying to get your partner to understand why you made such a poor decision is like trying to explain to the ocean why you built your sandcastle on its shores. Not only is it a complete waste of time, it’s totally irrational.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to be understood. What I’m saying is that when YOU are the one that triggered hurt feelings, seeking to be understood (rather than to understand) comes across as insensitive. Trust me when I tell you, right now, the last thing you want to do is come across as insensitive.
- Spend 90 % of your time listening and 10% talking.
- Allow your partner to win most of the arguments.
- Listen to learn (not to agree or disagree).
- Seek to understand rather than to explain.
- Then, sit back and watch for miracles.
Did I just say miracles?
Yep. I said it. And here’s why: One of the greatest feelings in the world is the feeling of being understood, especially when we’ve been hurt. If you truly want to help your partner (and yourself) heal, start by focusing on understanding what your partner is feeling. When you do this, you and your partner will feel a deeper sense of connection than you ever felt before. In fact, you very well could turn this around from being the end of the world, to being the beginning of a whole new world… just by seeking to understand what your partner is going through.
Let’s keep moving forward…
Think rationally, not emotionally
To say that being in the “hot seat” (after your affair was uncovered) feels extremely uncomfortable, would be the understatement of the day, right? And yet, it’s exactly because of this level of discomfort why so many wayward partners end up adding insult to injury and doing more harm than good. For instance, they make rash and often emotional decisions that come back to bite them in the long run.
What is emotional thinking?
When you think with your emotions, you put your feelings in the driver’s seat and allow them to drive your choices, decisions, and actions.
Here’s the bad news…
Feelings lie; they wax, they wane, they change in a flash. This means that if you’re making decisions based on feelings, chances are, you’re going to make a lot of poor decisions.
What is rational thinking?
It’s thinking that’s guided by logic and reason. When you think rationally, you look at situations objectively. You evaluate the impact of your decisions, both in the short term and long term.
And perhaps the biggest difference between the two:
Emotional thinking: You’re not able to accurately evaluate the consequences of decisions/actions.
Rational thinking: You’re able to clearly evaluate the consequences of decisions/actions.
Why this step matters:
You have so much riding on the outcome of this situation; it’s critical that you make decisions rationally, not emotionally. But because it’s the type of situation that creates so much stress and pressure, many people end up making more emotional decisions than rational ones. (And that’s exactly the opposite of what they need to be doing.)
Let’s take an example from the world of high stakes poker.
The world’s very best poker players know that staying rational in high-stress situations is the only way to come out on top in the long run. Why? Because the more emotional you get under pressure, the higher the probability of making mistakes.
In poker, when players get emotional under pressure, they’re often referred to as “steaming” or “being on tilt.”
The instant this happens to a player… the stronger players move in for the kill. They know… “The more emotional the player, the more mistakes the player makes.“
Those same rules apply to you.
When you allow yourself to go on tilt and start thinking emotionally (and when you’re under pressure), you’re going to make costly mistakes.
Now maybe you’re wondering how you can possibly think rationally in such a highly emotional situation? That’s a fair question. Here are some tips to get you started.
Look at each decision in three dimensions.
- The Sure Shot vs. The Long Shot
Most gamblers are emotional thinkers because they have a tendency to bet on the long shot. It’s important to remember that the long shot is called a “long shot” for a reason. The whole point of making decisions rationally is to give yourself the best odds of being right. The long shot almost never offers the best odds.
- Measure Short-Term Impact vs. the Long-Range Impact
Emotional thinkers never consider the long-range impact. This shortsightedness costs them a lot in the long run. For example, credit card companies know this. This is why they offer you zero down today, and pile up the interest later. When thinking rationally, it’s important to factor in not just the short-term, but the long-range impact as well.
- Weigh the Emotional Reward vs. the Emotional Cost
Pleasure is an emotion, and a very powerful one at that. We all love to have our pleasurable emotions triggered, stroked, and aroused. Why? Because we like to feel good. This is why we tend to make poor decisions under the influence of pleasurable emotions. And this is one of the challenges extramarital affairs present. They trigger our pleasurable emotions, and it’s easy to get hooked on those emotional rewards and disregard the emotional costs.
Am I saying rational thinking while under pressure is easy?
No, of course not. But what I am telling you is that’s it’s possible. (especially when the stakes are this high)
Rational thinking gives you the best odds of making the correct decisions. In other words, the more pressure you are under, the more rational thinking you must embrace.
Let’s move on to the next step…
Focus on what you do want (instead of what you don’t want)
Have you ever bought a new car, only to notice over the next few weeks how many cars there are like yours? Did those cars suddenly hit the road, or were they already there and you just hadn’t noticed them before? Scientific research had proven that the latter is actually true. It makes you wonder… why hadn’t you noticed them before?
The answer is found in the part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System or RAS, and it plays a vital role in your ability to achieve the results you want.
Here’s how it works…
Your Reticular Activating System is like a communication link between your conscious and your subconscious mind.
For example, your conscious instruction goes something like this: “Notice other cars like this one.” Your subconscious (which has a search engine function a billion times more powerful than Google’s) begins to search for relevant results and brings them to your awareness. Now, you’ll begin to notice cars that look like yours.
Here’s how this applies to your situation…
Chances are, you never noticed how much infidelity-related information was available until that information became relevant to you. Keeping in mind the function of your RAS (and its communication link to your subconscious mind), now you’re more prone to notice headlines, movies, songs, or anything else that relates to infidelity. In other words, your RAS determines much of what you notice.
Why this step is important:
Even your Reticular Activating System is more powerful… it does act a lot like Google’s search algorithm. In other words, it doesn’t evaluate your search instructions. It simply executes them and shows you the results.
This tells you that what you focus on determines the results you see because it only wants to show you what’s relevant to YOUR life. And relevance is what it’s all about (and what made Google one of the largest companies on the planet).
In the aftermath of infidelity, many wayward partners forget this principle. Rather than focusing on what they DO WANT, they spend a lot of time worrying, panicking, and focusing on what they don’t want.
Like a self-hypnotic mantra, they repeat to themselves:
- I don’t want to fight.
- I don’t want to go through this.
- I don’t want to lose my partner.
- I don’t want my marriage to be over.
- I don’t want my family to be torn apart.
- I don’t want my wife/husband to be angry with me.
Here’s the problem with that kind of thinking…
Your subconscious mind can’t process negative commands. In other words, it deletes the word “don’t.” Now, let’s take another look at the above self-talk and notice what type of commands that person is actually giving their own subconscious.
don’twant to fight.
don’twant to go through this.
don’twant to lose my partner.
don’twant my marriage to be over.
don’twant my family to be torn apart.
don’twant my wife/husband to be angry with me.
Since I know that’s NOT what you want…
Keep your mind focused on what you DO WANT.
In other words, keep your thoughts empowered by only focusing on positive outcomes. See things working out (even if you don’t know how they’re going to work out). Ask yourself: “What do I want today? What’s good about this? What could be good about this?
Ask yourself, “Am I focused on what I want?” If not, change your focus.
This goes way beyond positive thinking. This is positive processing. This is positive expecting. This is positive self-hypnosis. The secret is giving your RAS only positive commands, so when it engages the super powers of your subconscious mind, it only brings back the positive kinds of results you want to see.
Step number six…
Take the Right Actions After an Affair
Back in college, I used to have a friend named Stephen who could talk his way out of anything, whether it was being late with a term paper, missing a deadline, showing up hung-over in class, all the way to getting caught in bed with another guy’s girl… he would somehow talk his way out of trouble.
His stories were legendary on campus.
My friends and I used to enjoy hearing about his latest adventure — how he wiggled his way out of some impossible situation or another. I would sit there shaking my head in a combination of awe and envy. It seemed that Stephen had a knack for manifesting the right words at the precise time he needed them. It appeared that the more stressful the situation he was in, the more articulate and persuasive he became.
It was quite a skill.
One day, I remember asking him, “Stephen, how is it that you know exactly what to say to make people let you off the hook?” He said, “I just cover them with words.”
I never forgot it!
Imagine breaking the rules, disregarding the policies, defying the system, and then being able to just talk your way out of the consequences. It seemed like magic to me. Like most of the students on campus, I used to envy Stephen, wishing I had that kind of on-the-spot verbal get-out-of-trouble skill set.
The grass is never greener…
Years later, I ran into Stephen at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. (I almost didn’t recognize him). He looked like a totally different guy. After chitchatting and catching up a bit, I jokingly asked him whether he’d been getting himself out of any tight spots lately by covering people with words. His jaw dropped and his entire demeanor changed. “Oh, I guess you didn’t know, Suzie, about a year after I was in class with you, I got kicked out of the undergrad program. It was all because of my stupid antics. Everything went downhill so fast. I tried to talk my way out of it, but it didn’t work. I guess I had used up my nine lives.“
I was shocked! (to say the least)
You could have knocked me over with a feather. “Wow!” I said, “Stephen, we all totally admired you as the great verbal Houdini. We thought you were invincible. We thought you could talk yourself out of any tight spot.”
“Well,” he said, “Even Napoleon met his Waterloo. I had to learn my lesson the hard way. I was in complete denial. I just wasn’t doing my work and I believed I could make up some elaborate excuse to make it all right. But it all caught up to me. I thought I was good. But I was really just stupid.”
This was one of those “Aha!” moments for me.
It was clear Stephen had never developed other types of problem-solving skills. He had totally relied on his ability to talk his way out of trouble. When that failed, he had nothing else to fall back on. He was like a golfer who had mastered just one golf club. Sure, he was great with that one club, but because that’s all he had, there was no way he was going to win any tournaments.
My point is this:
To survive your own affair (with your dignity intact), you can’t rely on just trying to talk your way out of trouble. It’s going to take more than “covering them with words” or saying you’re sorry. You’re going to have to expand your toolkit. You’re going to have to back up those words with right action steps that move you (and your partner) towards healing and recovery.
Why this step matters:
Taking the right action after your affair really matters, because at the core, what hurt your partner the most were the wrong actions you took. Now, if you want to correct the hurt (and I’m assuming you do), then it’s important for you to demonstrate to your partner (and to yourself) that you’re willing to take right actions.
How can you demonstrate right action steps?
That’s a good question. Here’s a short list of possible right action steps. Add your own to the list… and keep in mind that the more right action you take, the closer to recovery you get.
- Take a fierce (and honest) inventory of yourself.
- Learn how to accept forgiveness for your mistakes.
- Permanently and gracefully exit the affair.
- Go to marriage or relationship counseling (if your partner wants to).
- Learn how to deal with extramarital temptation and neutralize sexual lures.
- Take steps to show him he’s your #1 priority (not your work or your pride).
- Practice patience. Practice patience. Practice patience.
- Volunteer full disclosure of your location, activities, and schedules.
- Learn to live transparently (willingly share passwords, email, Facebook, cell phone, and other accounts).
- Cease any (and all) deceptive activities permanently.
- Make yourself available both emotionally and physically when needed.
- Give him his space when requested, but don’t run away, walk away, turn away, or turn him down when he wants to be close.
- Learn more about how to rebuild trust and heal relationships. (Read my article about How to Rebuild Trust After Infidelity.)
- Volunteer to take on extra household and/or family responsibilities for a while.
- Finish small projects around the house. (This helps with closure.)
- Avoid giving in to the urge to run, hide, or blame others for your circumstances.
- Avoid any kind of substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, sugar).
- Avoid acting out the pain (getting drunk, kicking the dog, engaging in high-risk behaviors).
- Avoid isolating yourself or emotionally shutting yourself off.
- Avoid defending mistakes, misplaced loyalties, or misguided decisions.
- Avoid trying to win every battle, fighting for your rights, or trying to score brownie points.
- Avoid assuming you know how long recovery should take.
- Avoid giving up too soon, running away, or walking away because the going gets tough.
- Avoid trying to buy, bargain, or beg your way back into the relationship.
- Avoid using guilt or anger or playing the victim card to manipulate the circumstances.
Know you are worthy of Love and forgiveness
Have you ever heard the story about the water bearer who carried two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master’s house each day? One of his water pots had a crack and leaked half its water out before arriving at the house. The other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water after the long walk from the river.
Finally, after years of arriving half-empty, the imperfect water pot began feeling guilty. It was miserable and depressed at its failure, so it apologized to the water bearer.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t accomplish what the perfect pot did.” The water bearer was surprised and said, “What do you have to apologize for?” “Well,” said the cracked pot, “after all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw.”
The water bearer smiled with compassion and understanding, and told the pot, “Did you take note of all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you? Didn’t you notice how the flowers grew so lovely because of the water you leaked? And did you see there were no flowers on the perfect pot’s side?”
What did you take from the story?
Personally, I’ve always loved the message of this story. To me, it illustrates how we don’t have to be perfect in order to be worthy, valuable, and loved. It reminds us that even in all our imperfections, we are perfect. As we go through life, we leave behind a trail of missteps, but those missteps are not to be judged… simply forgiven.
After you’ve had an affair, I believe this is a crucial insight.
Key Insight: Regardless of what you have done, you are worthy of love and forgiveness. Of all the things we’ve talked about so far, this one is usually the one that most people who’ve been unfaithful have a hard time accepting. And yet, it’s true.
Why this step matters:
If you’re feeling guilty, sorry for yourself, or like you don’t deserve to be loved and forgiven for what you’ve done, just know these feelings don’t help. In fact, I caution you to notice that there’s a big difference between guilt and remorse. Let’s take a deeper look at those differences.
Guilt vs. Remorse:
Guilt is a form of punishment we inflict on ourselves (often in the hope that if we do it, God, life, or our partners won’t have to). Remorse, on the other hand, is looking back with regret at the choices we’ve made.
Key Insight: People are more likely to change their behavior when they feel remorse, and more likely to continue their behavior when they feel guilt.
Here’s the thing about guilt: While it makes us feel bad about what we did, it won’t prevent us from repeating it. (If it did, the junk food industry would plummet overnight.)
Remorse, on the other hand, calls for us to acknowledge when a past decision was a mistake. Even though people can be tempted to repeat guilty pleasures, most of us are not tempted to repeat our mistakes.
See the difference?
This is a subtle yet very important insight. If you’re feeling guilty or sorry for yourself or unworthy of forgiveness, then you’re more likely to continue making the same mistakes that got you in trouble. In other words, guilt doesn’t serve you. In fact, it’s hindering you from actually learning from your mistakes.
Rather than feel guilty or unworthy of forgiveness for your indiscretion, know that you are human, and so mistakes are a natural part of your journey. Because as one famous Hawaiian kahuna observed, “The reason for water is fire.” And so the reason for forgiveness is mistakes. One exists to counterbalance the other.
Which means… not only are you worthy of love and forgiveness — you are guaranteed it.
Let’s move on to our next step…
Seek professional marriage advice
Right now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself something like, “Of course you would advocate seeking professional help. You’re a professional!”
That’s right. I am. But that doesn’t make my opinion wrong, does it? Because it’s not much different from recommending my best friend to see a dentist if her teeth are hurting, or my brother to see an auto mechanic if his car won’t start.
Why this step matters:
Consider this example…
Pretend for a moment that you want to hike through Yellowstone National Park, and it’s your first time exploring the park. One of the key decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not: (1) to wing it; or (2) to stop by the park’s information booth to get a map and directions from one of the park rangers before you go. Talking to a professional in the aftermath of infidelity makes a difference in the same way as having the right map makes a difference when you’re hiking through unfamiliar territory. They can give you pointers, tools, a plan, and proven strategies to help you get from where you are, to where you want to go.
However, there are three things a professional can’t do for you:
- Save your marriage.
- Do the work for you.
- Provide all the answers.
Why? Because that’s not their function. Their function is to guide you towards healing and recovery; to strengthen your motivation to learn; and to help you see more choices and possibilities than you might have seen on your own. Now, as wonderful as all that can be… the choice to accept or disregard these tools and the advice you get is always up to you.
There’s a huge difference between asking for help and accepting the help you receive. And yet, both are equally important. Many people go to marriage counseling, get relationship help, read self-help books, talk to experts… and then, when help is offered, they often don’t accept it. Why? I believe it’s because deep down, they’re afraid of change. They want others to change, they want circumstances to change, but they don’t want to change themselves.
Know this: Asking for help is only one part of being helped.
You could spend thousands of dollars on books, tapes, seminars, workshops, therapy and coaching sessions, but if you aren’t willing to accept the advice, recommendations, and directions… then you’ll only be spinning your wheels.
Ask for help and accept it. And in the end, your journey will be much smoother. Ask for directions from someone who knows the way. And in the end, you’ll get to where you’re going much faster.
Ride (don't fight) the emotional roller coaster
I’ve always been fascinated by surfers. Maybe it’s because the only time I ever tried to learn how to surf, I ended up with a mouthful of seawater and a bruised ego. Or maybe it’s the contrasts in a surfer’s personality that I find so fascinating.
Think about it… On one side, there’s this laid-back surfer attitude, but on the other side, it takes guts to face the danger of the most powerful force on the face of the earth — the ocean. Or maybe it’s just the passion. Some say surfing isn’t a sport, it’s a calling. I’ve heard it said that after being bitten by the surfing bug, you’re never quite the same person again. I’ve seen firsthand evidence of this. Back in my late teens, I dated a true blue, die-hard surfer. Let me tell you: When you date a surfer, there are two things you learn very quickly:
- You’ll always be the mistress because the ocean is the wife.
- Nearly all of life’s problems (both big and small) can be solved using surfer logic.
According to him, the secret of surfing (and life) isn’t to fight the energy of the waves, but to flow with it. Even though this may sound very Zen, I’m not sure this guy even read a book (much less a Zen sutra). Yet, I must tell you he was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. (Too bad I wasn’t into being a mistress.)
I think in this situation, you would do well to take a leaf from his book of surfer logic. Because while you might not be facing ocean waves, you are no doubt facing a backlash of emotional waves unleashed by the discovery of your affair. This means chances are good that from the moment your partner found out, you’ve both been on an emotional roller coaster.
Why this step is important:
About 3000 years ago, a group of native Polynesians looked at the powerful ocean waves battering their shores and asked themselves an important question: “What if we could learn to work with this energy, rather than run away or fight it?” That, according to legend, is how surfing was born.
Emotions are a lot like waves on the ocean.
- Ocean waves are caused by high winds and storms at sea. Emotional disturbances are caused by major disappointments and high stress (something like the discovery of betrayal tops the list).
- Just as ocean waves aren’t horizontal but actually move up and down, neither are our emotions linear — they actually rise and fall and can either lift us up or pull us down.
- Just as ocean waves carry enormous amounts of energy, so do our emotions.
- And like ocean waves, when it comes to dealing with waves of negative emotions unleashed by infidelity, you also have to decide whether to flow with it or fight it.
Before we go any further, let me clarify a few things.
Q: What’s the emotional roller coaster?
A: The emotional roller coaster describes the erratic and unpredictable mood swings that both the betrayed and wayward partner will commonly experience after an extramarital affair has been uncovered.
Q: Why do people experience this type of emotional roller coaster?
A: I believe it has a lot to do with how much emotional stress we’re able to deal with at any one time. For most of us, deception and betrayal trigger a lot of stress, pain and disillusionment.
Q: What kinds of emotions are involved in the emotional roller coaster?
A: At least eight emotions make up the emotional roller coaster:
- Fear is the most common emotion on the emotional roller coaster and the most difficult to deal with. Both partners will experience it.
- Anger is a reaction to loss, hurt, and unpleasant surprises. It’s often the most unpredictable emotion, since it can be triggered by anything that reminds us of what we feel we have lost.
- Guilt is a form of self-punishment, and usually the most uncomfortable emotion of all, because guilt never sleeps.
- Shame is triggered by harsh self-judgment. This occurs when you judge yourself as a bad person, rather than as a person who made a bad mistake.
- Sadness is often stimulated by the loss of things like trust, specialness, innocence, or the disillusionment of a dream.
- Jealousy is (of all the emotions on this list) probably the most damaging to a couple’s relationship. It occurs when you mentally compare and compete with another person.
- Disgust causes us to pull away. This often happens when a person has experienced a gaping loss of respect for themselves or others.
- Hope is the antidote to disappointment. Hope keeps us going when, on the surface, things look bleak.
Q: How can you tell if you or your partner is riding the emotional roller coaster?
A: If you have to ask, you’re not. With that said… here’s a short list of signs that indicate you might be riding the emotional roller coaster:
- You experience unpredictable outbursts or erratic thinking.
- You feel hopeful one minute and hopeless the next.
- You vacillate between anger and sadness.
- On one hand, you love your partner and you want to work it out; on the other hand, you want to walk out the door and never see your partner again.
- You have a hair-trigger-temper and you don’t know what might set you off next.
- You feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
- You feel guilty one minute and rebellious the next.
- You experience a constant, underlying sense of dread, anxiety, and fear about your future.
One last note about the emotional roller coaster:
If it’s happening to one partner, it’s happening to both partners.
Emotions are contagious. When someone you love is experiencing the emotional roller coaster, they take you along for the ride. This means that you’re going to have to deal with it together.
Take a page from the book of surfer’s logic. Don’t fight the emotional waves when they surface within yourself or your partner; instead, flow with them. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works.
Now, you know what to do.
Instead of resisting (or running away from) the intense emotions, you can stand up on your metaphorical surfboard and ride out the storm, until it loses its strength.
Now, let’s look at the final step…
Get your ego out of the way
This step reminds me of a famous Zen story about a cup of tea.
One day, a university professor seeking to learn about Zen went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked and talked about Zen. As he kept talking, the master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing tea making a mess, until he could no longer restrain himself.
“It’s overflowing! No more will go in!” he blurted out harshly.
“Your mind is like this cup,” the master replied. “How can I teach you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
This is the problem with the ego. It’s the part of the mind that believes it knows it all, and so, it cannot learn. This tells you that the ego is predisposed toward learning failure… and so, if you want to survive your own affair, the most important thing you can do right now is get your ego out of the way.
Why this step is important:
Remember, everyone has an ego. So, having an ego isn’t the problem. The real problem is not being able to restrain your own ego. Why is the ability to restrain (get your ego out of the way) so important to your survival? Here’s why: Left unchecked, the ego runs amok like a bull in a china shop — ransacking, sabotaging, blindly running into walls and doors, and generally making a mess of things. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb (don’t chop it off while I’m out here) and say that 10 chances to one, it was your inability (or unwillingness) to rein in your ego that got you into this mess in the first place.
Five key things to keep in mind about the ego
- The ego is rooted in fear (but it often covers this with cynicism).
- The ego is blind (but it often covers this with deception).
- The ego is insecure (but it often disguises this with arrogance or superiority).
- The ego is unforgiving (but it often disguises its contempt as pride).
- The ego is afraid of love (but it often covers this via some type of sabotage).
Keeping all these things in mind, maybe you can see why the biggest step in surviving your own affair is to get your ego out of the way. Because obviously, if you let your ego run the show, it will continue to ruin things.
Observe yourself, and notice when your ego is trying to run the show. A big tip is those times when you find yourself shutting down or disconnecting from others. When you notice this happening, move to the opposite perspective.
- When you feel fear… move towards love.
- When you feel like hiding… move towards transparency.
- When you feel superior or arrogant… move towards humility and surrender.
- When you feel like there’s nothing left to learn… open your mind to discovery.
Let's recap how to survive your affair
There you have it.
My 10 steps to help you survive the aftermath of your own affair. I have faith that you were able to move your ego out of the way enough to see the value of taking these steps. If you did, then I believe things are going to improve for you immediately.
However, your next step could be the most important one.
For more in-depth coaching on how to deal with the negative aftermath of your affair, download and listen to my Wayward Partner’s Complete 7-Step Infidelity Recovery home study coaching program.
In this program, I have included Standing in the Storm. In this session I teach you how to tap into more of your own inner resources, so that you can better handle (and overcome) the negative backlash brought on by your past indiscretions.
Remember, actions speak louder than words.
Now is not the time to be passive.
You need to be active, and take right action steps that move you towards healing and recovery. I have given you some pointers in that direction. Now the ball is in your court, and I challenge you to take the right actions starting now!
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!
Don’t forget… You can now get over 13.5 hours of my best Wayward Partner strategies. Learn More Here