One of the biggest challenges you may ever have to face in recovery is finding out that your partner has been unfaithful. This can feel a terrible betrayal and it can be like a hammer-blow to your self-esteem. The fact that this happened could make it feel as if you never really knew this other person – it can be as if the person you loved has died. Dealing with this type of challenge will require a great deal of strength, but you can face it without losing your sobriety.
The Dangers of Infidelity in Recovery
Finding out that the person you love has cheated on you can completely pull the rug from under your feet. Some of the dangers if you react badly include:
- being used as a justification to relapse
- meaning the relationship is destroyed even though it could have been salvaged
- using this as an excuse to not only relapse but to never attempt sobriety again (“I tried being sober and look what happened to me”)
- becoming a cause of long-lasting dysfunction in the relationship
- being used to justify bad behaviour (“I did X because you did Y”)
- if there are children involved, it can cause trauma to see this happen to their parents
- the trauma of infidelity can trigger depression
- being a source of great stress and anxiety.
How to Deal with Infidelity in Recovery
The most important thing to understand when dealing with infidelity is that any action you take on impulse is likely to be regretted later on. The worst thing you can do now is allow your emotions to control your behaviours because this will mean you will act on impulse. This is a challenging event, and the only hope for a positive outcome is that you gain control of your emotions before you act.
The shock of discovering your partner has been unfaithful can put your body into a state of high alert. This level of anxiety is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and it usually involves a lot of tension in your body; your thoughts will begin to race as well. This state of high alertness is helpful if you have lion running after you as there would be no time to think things through, but it is not a good state for responding to bad news. Therefore, before you can begin to manage the infidelity, you need to move your body out of this fight or flight response.
S.O.B.E.R is a mindfulness technique that is designed to help you deal with challenging situations in recovery in which there is a tendency to act on impulse. The first thing you need to do is stop what you are doing – do not take any action until you are calm. You now need to observe your body to check for signs of high alertness (for example, a tightness in your chest area), and breathe in order to calm yourself down. Now that you feel calmer, you can expand your awareness, so you can judge what is happening in a more objective way. The final part of the process it to respond in the most effective and positive way.
It is important that you listen to your partner carefully to find out why she or he has been unfaithful. You need to make it clear that you are not interested in excuses, but in explanations. If you are both honest about what has happened and there are lessons to be learned, it will not only be possible to salvage the relationship but to also improve it as well. It will likely take a long time before you can completely trust this person again, so you need to make this clear.
Here are some other suggestions for how you can deal with infidelity:
- experience the pain of what is happening but don’t use it as a weapon to beat yourself or this other person up with
- try not to rush into any decision to end the relationship – giving yourself some time to reflect and lick your wounds is likely to mean a better decision later on
- offer yourself some self-compassion and don’t blame yourself for what happened
- allow yourself to cry if you need to
- journal your feelings rather than keeping them locked up inside
- go to plenty of recovery meetings and share about how you are feeling
- talk to your sponsor and sober friends
- throw yourself into recovery so you can remain strong.