If you're lucky, you'll never have to know what it's like to be the victim of infidelity. Still, the statistics aren't promising: About 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an affair at some point in their marriages. If you've been the victim of an affair, you know that it hits like a punch to the gut. The many emotions that follow feel like a hailstorm of pain. There are some predictable emotions, such as anger, panic, betrayal or a sense of loss. And depression has been so acute for some people that they have become suicidal.
Yet, in the array of feelings that hit so hard, there may be some emotions that you never expected to feel. When I sit with couples to discuss the aftermath of an affair, here are five emotions that take everyone by surprise:
You knew that if you ever discovered an affair, you'd be angry, but why are you feeling shame? Shame is usually prompted by a sense of humiliation because a person believes he/she has made a mistake. So if anyone should feel shame, it ought to be your partner, right? After all, your partner is the one who behaved badly. But discovering an affair causes you to evaluate yourself. People have a tendency to wind and rewind the movie reels of their lives, looking for blame; they will often feel as if they had messed up somewhere. You're not alone if you feel shame; it's natural when something this important has gone wrong.
Feeling sad is a natural response to losing the affections of someone you love, but emptiness is different because it's the absence of emotion. People are alarmed when they look inside and realize there's nothing there. A feeling of emptiness is actually a psychological mechanism that kicks in during any period of shock; in some ways it actually protects the mind. Given time and resolution of the trauma, it usually dissipates.
You may have told yourself that if your partner ever cheated on you, you'd dump him or her in a heartbeat. Many people share that feeling. So why, when you feel that you partner has stayed, are you thinking about wanting him or her back more than ever? Separations between partners can generate an increase in attraction, and imagining you partner is someone else's arms can stir a longing to pull you close together. And there's a good reason why you feel possessive toward your spouse. He or she belongs to you — not as property, but as someone who has exclusively promised to partner with you for life. Keep reading...
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