My Spouse has violated our relationship. What do I do about it?

It is traumatic to discover that your spouse cheated on you by engaging in sexual or romantic behaviors that violate the basic foundation of trust in your intimate relationship.

You may be experiencing a confusing cascade of intense thoughts and feelings: shock, rage, fear, shame, and grief.

“I’m in shock! I don’t know what to do, what to feel, or what to think!”
“I’m overwhelmed with rage!”
“How can I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I realize this was going on?”
“What else don’t I know? I need to do everything I can to find out more information!”
“It’s my fault! I’m not attractive enough! I haven’t been supportive enough!”
“What is the right thing to do? Is he a fraud and a compulsive liar?  Or does he have a disease? Should I end the relationship? Or, should I be more understanding and give him a chance?”
“There is no one I can talk to about this. I am completely alone!”

Spouses and partners experience a confusing cascade of feelings: shock, rage, fear, shame, and grief. Here’s what you can help you cope.

Focus on basic self-care

It is normal to be in shock after a sudden discovery. The first task is focus on the present moment and on basic self-care. Though it may be difficult, work to make sure you have time – as much as possible – for rest, for healthy food, and for exercise. Do whatever you need to do to feel safe, as much as that is possible. You can ask your spouse to give you space – whether that be another room in the house, or outside the house. Do not attempt to do anything that is not immediately necessary. Find people who are safe to speak with as you figure out what to do.

Do what you need to do to feel safe

In the meantime, focus on what you need to do in the moment to feel safe, what contact you want to have, what space you need, what commitments you need from your partner in terms of external accountability (access to his electronic communications, filtering, etc)

Find others who can support you

Partners are often isolated and do not have others with whom they can speak honestly about what is happening. Especially with regard to sexual acting out, others may be dismissive or judgmental. You need and deserve to have support from others: other partners who have had similar experiences; you also need guidance from therapists who have training and experience in working with partners. You need and deserve the support of others who can help you understand the issues, strengthen your self-care, and establish necessary boundaries and limits with the addict as you clarify how to move forward in your life, whether it be by working with your spouse to heal your relationship or by ending the relationship.

Find healthy ways to manage your rage

Your rage is understandable and justified, but it may cause you to act in ways that do not help you or cause you additional problems. Find healthy outlets for your rage – venting the feelings in private or with others who can be supportive, exercise, meditation, etc. Then clarify what specific, practical actions you need to take to channel your rage constructively.

Stop blaming yourself for having been deceived

You may be blaming yourself for having been deceived and think that you should have known. However, it is not your fault that you were deceived. Your spouse made a decision to act out, to hide the behaviors, and to lie. You had every reason to believe and trust that your spouse would not engage in such egregious and deceptive behavior. And, if you are looking back in retrospect and angry at yourself for not recognizing warning signs and signals, remind yourself that it is always easy to have 20/20 vision in hindsight.

Clarify what you need to know

Spouses often become focused on finding out more information, and it can be helpful to do so; however, sometimes partners can become overwhelmed with too much information about details that further increases trauma or so focused on finding out . Take the time to reflect on what information and how much information is important to know

Stop blaming yourself for your spouse's bad behavior

Many partners blame themselves for their spouses acting out and violations. You may feel that you are not attractive enough, not responsive or supportive emotionally. For sex addicts, their acting out behavior is not primarily driven by issues with his partner, but by compulsions and habits that developed in childhood and in life as a adolescent and in adulthood prior to the relationship with you. Even if there are relationship issues, what you deserve is that he would work to communicate with you and work to resolve these issues – either on your own or with professional help. You spouse made so such choice.

Take time to decide whether to work on the relationship or end it

You are understandably confused as to whether you need to end the relationship or whether there is a possibility of healing. It will take some time to clarify the issues and make a decision. You will need to assess your capacity to stay in the relationship, and under what circumstances, as well as gain understanding, over time, of the extent to which your spouse acknowledges he has a problem and commits to his own recovery and healing.