How to Heal from the Trauma of Affair Discovery | #MyCounselorSays

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC

Question:

Debbie says, “How can I get the loving words he texted to his affair partner out of my head? It’s been two and a half years since I discovered.”

Read more to find out what Shaun Lotter, Christian Counselor specializing in marriage counseling and affair recovery, says about why discovering infidelity causes trauma, and how to heal from the pain of an affair in the marriage relationship.

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 10,000 hours of clinical experience. Shaun specializes in marriage counseling, affair recovery, sex and porn addiction treatment. You can schedule an appointment with Shaun for online counseling or in-person at our Springfield, Missouri counseling center.

Video Transcript

(Transcript is generated by a software and may have discrepancies from the video.)

Cassie

Welcome to My Counselor Online. I’m Cassie and this is My Counselor Says. My Counselor Says is where you submit a question, either for yourself, or for a friend,  and one of our incredible therapists takes their time and answers your personal question. So let’s go find out what My Counselor Says.

Shaun Lotter on the Pain of Discovering Infidelity

Well, the first thing I want to say to Debbie, and anybody who is in her situation, or has been in her situation, is that the pain is really tremendous and absolutely real. Finding out that your spouse has been involved with and expressing affection, love, and care to someone in a romantic relationship, other than you, is just absolutely devastating.

Why Discovering Infidelity is so Painful

So I first want to start off saying how the pain of that is real. I want to go a little bit deeper in explaining why that’s that’s so significant. I’m going to cite Sue Johnson, who is a researcher and clinical psychologist who helped to design the theory of counseling called Emotionally Focused Therapy. In one of the things she explained, she talks about this idea of the significance of forming bonds or attachments for human beings; that’s what we’re made to do. We’re basically created to seek out and enjoy finding other people. This will be like our marriage, forming close connected relationships with them.

She goes on to say that when we experience a major issue, and she puts infidelity out there as one of these issues, she calls it a breach or a tear in the attachment. Attachment injury is a ripping of that connection with that significant other, which is extraordinarily painful.

Discovering Infidelity Causes Trauma

The emotions with that are so overwhelming that it really takes on a life of its own, as a traumatic experience. The reason why it’s traumatic is because, especially in the case of a marriage relationship, is that this relationship means so much to us. To have that person that we’re in close connection with leave and go to somebody else creates a tremendous injury and trauma there.

This is why, when you think about what he said to the other woman and what was shared between the two of them, you’re going to experience tremendous pain. So I want to answer your question, but I wanted to kind of give it a framework for you and others who maybe don’t understand or don’t know why they hurt so much.

What Kind of Recovery Work Have You Done as a Couple After the Affair?

Moving on to your question. The first thing that I would ask is, what kind of recovery work have you and your husband engaged in together? The injury in infidelity happens in the context of relationship. If a couple wants to recover, we’re both recovering individually, meaning he’s recovering from what he’s done, you’re recovering from what he’s done in the infidelity, and those are two recoveries. But, there’s a third recovery, and that is our recovery together in the marriage.

As I talk with couples, it can sometimes be that there hasn’t been sufficient work done around repairing the relationship. Maybe they haven’t done much counseling around that, or they haven’t done the in-depth work that they need to. And so, things are still very, very raw and unsettled. We’re not okay.

What is the Current Condition of the Relationship, After the Affair?

The second thing I would want to ask is, what is the current condition of your relationship with your spouse? Has your relationship with your spouse healed and grown to a place where you experience love, care, and connection? Is it a place of security and safety for you, where you can rest in the exclusivity of it together?

Sometimes those echoes from the past hurt so much because we don’t have what we need in the present.

I want to say that again. That’s significant.

Sometimes the words, for instance, this expressed infatuation or affection that he may have had with the affair partner, resonates today for us because we’re still in this place where we don’t have what I just described. We don’t have that experience of a secure, safe connection with our spouse, where there’s love, compassion, and care. We don’t have that resting place or that sense of exclusivity in this bond that we have together, and so all of that plays in our mind, that echo from back then, because we’re hurting with what we don’t have today.

We’re hurting because we don’t have that with our spouse.

You may say, “Listen. We’ve done some really good recovery work as a couple and both individually. We’re enjoying the relationship. Today we’re enjoying that. I believe we have what it is you’re describing, so that’s not it.”

Specialized Trauma Work May Be Necessary for Healing from Affair Discovery

And so the third thing that I want to suggest to you is that it may be necessary for you to do some specialized trauma work around the injury, since infidelity is experienced by betrayed spouses as a traumatic event. Sometimes it’s necessary for us to go and do some interventions around that.

EMDR Trauma Therapy

Just to give you an example of one of those, sometimes we do something called EMDR, which is eye movement desensitization reprocessing. It’s basically a therapy technique that was originally found to work with soldiers coming back from war and those kinds of situations, but it has been shown to be effective with a lot of different kinds of trauma.

And so what you’ll want to do with that is, take some time to investigate doing some individual work, maybe EMDR or something like that, that’s specifically designed to address trauma.

Well, I hope that’s helpful to you. I look forward to seeing you guys here next time for another Asking for a Friend.

Cassie

Thank you so much for submitting that question!  We certainly love to answer your questions. If you have a question for yourself or a friend, you  can submit it using our web page and then look for the answer in an upcoming edition of our weekly e-newsletter.

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