About the Author
Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 10,000 hours of clinical experience. Shaun speicalizes in marriage counseling, affair recovery, sex and porn addiction treatment. Click here to schedule an online counseling appointment with Shaun.
Infidelity: Self Care is Critical
Why Take Care of Yourself?
- Self-Care is about combating the very real & difficult effects of stress.
- The discovery or disclosure of infidelity typically creates high, sustained stress for both parties. Stress depletes us on many fronts: physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Paradoxically, just when we most need additional support, we’re often least likely to engage in behaviors designed to obtain those supports.
- Failure to take care of yourself WILL MAKE THINGS WORSE.
- So, if you do not take care of yourself in the recovery process, you are nearly guaranteed to find both you and your relationship getting worse.
What do I need to do?
- Sleep 8 hours per night
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, both bedtime and waking.
- Nutrition: eat a healthy diet and reasonable portions. We often turn to food as a comfort, eating too much of foods which are not good for us in the first place. Food can actually be comforting and healthy if you handle it well. Give your body what it needs, not what your emotions want. Also, research on the mind-body connection clearly shows that failure to eat well and get adequate sleep leads to a decreased ability to regulate one’s emotions.
- Exercise: be physically active regularly. Choose activities which are both good for you and those you enjoy. You may find yourself gravitating to physical activities which you never previously enjoyed, like going rounds with a punching bag. This is okay to do.
- Connection. Infidelity can leave both spouses feeling very cut-off from relationships. Connection with safe individuals is key for couples in recovery. A safe individual is a person of the same gender who cares about you, your spouse and your marriage. They are someone who can listen without telling you what to do, but who can also pull you away from the emotional edge if need be. Safe people can keep information private, allowing you space to sort though your situation. Finally, safe individuals are available. Often times, a person may check some of the previous boxes, but they are not able to or do not set aside the time needed to be there for you. You need time to talk with someone who doesn’t make you feel like an additional burden.
- Fun. Take time to have fun with others. This may sound crazy, but doing nothing but thinking about or talking about the infidelity is not helpful. You will need times to laugh and relax in the midst of this season. Such light moments do not mean you are being fake or forgetting what is going on. Instead, think of them as moments of refreshing which are critical to you being able to keep going.
- Step into emotions — don’t run from them. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and talk about it, journal, cry, etc.
- Take a long term perspective in the midst of each moment. Define what your overarching goals are, such as reconciliation. These will be important to reference during difficult moments. If, for example, a betrayed spouse is very triggered by a reminder, they may want to remember that they will not always feel as they do today. They may also want to refrain from their immediate impulse to go confront their betraying spouse, hoping to transmit some pain & fear to them. In such moments, a believer is pushed to trust in God and His direction (such as not seeking vengeance).
- Use good self-talk. We speak to ourselves more than anyone else. Be mindful of what you are saying. Things to consider:
- Research clearly shows that once a relationship starts to go sour, people often interpret a partner’s behavior in the most negative ways possible. Such thinking leads to destructive reactivity and snow-balling (every small upset escalating into great conflict under the guidance of problematic assumptions).
- Stepping back and asking yourself in the moment “What am I upset about here” helps to clarify your current pain or fear.
- Don’t always answer this question with platitudes about the injustice of the affair. Such broad statements only escalate & justify destructive behaviors. Instead, get specific with what is going on right now and specifically what just happened that caused a trigger. For example, instead of saying “Of course I am angry, you and an affair!”, consider saying, “I am really angry and hurt right now because we just drove past the restaurant you took the affair partner to.”
- Hold the conclusions about your spouse and your situation bit more loosely. Often times, due to the emotional trauma of an affair, we are on alert for any sign of dangerous behavior in our spouse. This can lead us into the harmful habit of “shooting first and asking questions later.” After all, we reason that it is better to be safe than sorry. Yes, you may be correct in your original thoughts assertions about your spouse, but be willing to ask yourself, “Is this this only way to make sense of this, or could there possibly be another explanation?” Doing so will not have the cost of allowing the betraying spouse to “get away with it.” It will allow you, as the betrayed spouse, to avoid additional pain.
- Ride out the wave of emotions. In the midst of powerful emotions it can seem as if they’ll never end, but they will. As strong as these emotions may feel in the present moment, if you “ride out the wave,” the feelings will often reach a peak and then diminish on their own.
- People often prolong & increase their distress by berating themselves for having their feelings, or by reminding themselves of how unfair it is that they should have to feel this way, or even demanding that the partner do something to make the feelings better. If instead, you can imagine these feelings as a wave that will come and then decline, you may feel better equipped to deal with your present circumstance.
- This is also helpful for the betraying spouse, who may have waves of powerful shame and anger. It is important accept these emotions are a part of reality at this point allow yourself to experience these. Do not blame your spouse for your shame and anger, they are not the cause.
- Venting. Sometimes, you just need to vent. It’s a way of taking the edge off all the intense emotions. Letter writing, journaling, exercise and talking to a friend are all ways of being able to vent effectively without getting destructive. Right or wrong, venting to your spouse is likely to be ineffective & even counter-productive, creating greater pain/new pain, rather than allowing for relief.
- Distraction. Sometimes you need to get away from your immediate emotions while staying connected to your long-term goals. Getting in the moment with immersive activities is an option. For example, going hiking with a friend, taking time to do crafts or paint, and getting a massage are all sensory rich experiences allowing you to be immersed in the present rather than your emotions.
- Increase positive experiences. In the midst of stress we often cut-off positive outlets of enjoyment, becoming consumed with problems. While we want to be thoughtful and engaged in dealing with problems, such an ongoing consuming stance will ultimately be counter-productive. Decide to do fun, enjoyable things, in spite of not wanting to.
- Connection with church. Take time to be a part of a Bible believing & teaching congregation. Over and over again the God reminds us in the Bible of our need to be a part of the church. Here are just a few references:
- For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” – Matthew 18:20 (ESV)
- Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:25 (ESV)
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
- So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12:5 (ESV)
- Be connected in your local church. You don’t want to miss out on all God has for you!
- Time in Scripture reading and prayer. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17 (ESV). We need encouragement and we get it by knowing the truth and spending time in God’s presence. Taking regular times to read your Bible and praying to the Lord is essential. If you struggle in understanding the Bible, we recommend you try reading the New Living Translation. Start at the beginning of the New Testament, and you will be amazed at what God will show you.
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