Have you discovered that your partner has been unfaithful to you or had an affair?
The concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is generally quite well known in society these days. The problem was that although I could relate to the PTSD symptoms identified in research, most of the articles only mentioned people who experienced or witnessed a terrifying event such as assaults; murder or natural disasters. At the time I was unaware of PTSD for people who experienced infidelity and didn’t realise it actually existed. Even when I researched Infidelity PTSD, it was difficult to find any articles mentioning it until I discovered one, written by Mitzi Bokmann (2019) that I could relate to. As I read through the PTSD symptoms, I realised that I experienced all of the symptoms and maybe by writing this article I can help others relate to it as well.
It was by accident that I discovered a message send by her on his phone – the day of my oldest daughters’ 16th birthday, 2 years ago. At the time I did not see any warning signs until that terrible dark day came upon me.
I remember that unbelievable hurt, that nauseating feeling that makes you sick to your stomach. I couldn’t eat for weeks and cried every day for more than a year. The feeling of loss and grief because I had lost my beloved husband, not to death, but to the world, and everything that we stood for, was unbearable. Similarly, I had this feeling of guilt because I couldn’t be the mother, I used to be for my kids. Infidelity took my presence and attention away from them, for a while, and with me not being able to cope, my oldest daughter decided to stand in for me and take care of her two younger sisters.
No one told me to go for PTSD counselling. The only thing I did at the time was to work on my marriage, go for couples counselling and try to fix what was broken in our marriage. I needed to understand where I went wrong and how my husband could have done this to me and our 3 daughters.
Having a look at the typical PTSD symptoms, I will share some of my own experiences and emotions that relate to them.
Typical symptoms of PTSD:
Here are a few of the symptoms that people with PTSD – more specially infidelity PTSD struggle with.
- FLASHBACKS: You may experience flashbacks of the traumatic event, which normally includes the day you found out about the infidelity, your partners reaction, or denying it, and all the lies that went with it. Those flashbacks can cause feelings of panic, extreme stress, dizziness or heart palpitations. Flashbacks happen when the mind is alert and awake.
- NIGHTMARES: Frequent nightmares are very common. It’s mostly about the event or about your partner having an affair. I am still getting nightmares 2 years after the incident, but luckily not so frequently anymore. It depends on my interaction with him. If we had a disagreement, I would struggle to sleep and then I would be easily triggered to have nightmares after the conflict.
- AVOIDING REMINDERS: On the anniversary of the traumatic event, anxiety builds up around your memory of the experience and the event. Since it happened on my daughter’s birthday, I had to make a decision not to think about it and be happy on her special day. It was only when I was alone that I could grieve or cry. Avoiding people, places and countries and not wanting to have a social life are also quite typical reactions.
- INSOMNIA: You may experience a lack of sleep because your mind can’t stop thinking about the event. You constantly analyse his behaviour to try make sense of it all.
- ANGER: You may experience irritability and anger in varying degrees and sometimes very unexpectedly. Unfortunately, my daughters and direct family saw that side of me, but with their love and support, it didn’t happen too often. Anger against my partner and physical outburst towards him also occurred.
- MEMORY LOSS: Some experience blocking out certain events and emotions. I still sometimes struggle to recall recent events.
SO HOW DO I DEAL WITH INFIDELITY AND PTSD?
The first emotion I can recall after he admitted to me that he was unfaithful was denial. Let me explain this in more detail. After so many lies, I discovered more evidence on his laptop that he did have an affair. The next day I couldn’t think straight and decided to take the girls with me and get as far away from him as possible. It was as if suddenly I didn’t know this person that I thought I knew…I tried not to speak to him as if he didn’t exist, because the hurt was so bad. However, I knew I couldn’t stay away too long and I realised that I had to face reality, I could not ignore it for ever. And then there were the emotions, missing my husband intensely, thinking about forgiving him quickly so that things could go back to normal – almost as if nothing happened. It was my way of coping!
One word of advice, do not make the same mistake, seek help and support as soon as possible. By trying to ignore the trauma, will just hinder your progress to start with the healing process.
2. UNSTABLE EMOTIONS AND DISORIENTATION
Do you find yourself experiencing a wide range of emotions? Do you find yourself crying one moment, then being overly happy and the next moment having outbursts?
Do you find yourself feeling detached from the here and now, not being able to concentrate, detached from your children, people, staring into nothing for hours not realising how time has gone by? (Bokmann, 2019)
People with PTSD struggle with disorientation and unstable emotions. The pain that has been caused to them is so extreme that it renders their emotions uncontrollable. Our brain is disorientated and overwhelmed because of the power these emotions have over you.
Time will help these emotions that are out of control. They are very strong right after the event and cause significant pain, but it does get better after time. Make sure to get some help if you still feel it’s uncontrollable and it’s too hard to cope. Counsellors do help you to be aware of the triggers that can cause emotional outbursts.
For now, it is important to be aware that the wide range of emotions that you are struggling with are completely normal. Accepting them as part of the healing process will allow you to do just that – HEAL.
3. DISTRACTIVE PAINFUL THOUGHTS
Do you find yourself constantly seeing images about your partner being unfaithful to you? Spending more time in your head and not in the here and now? Thinking about how you missed the signs, and question your ways, your self-worth, who you are?
Unfortunately, we as individuals are prone to focus and replay the negative thoughts of what happened, having negative images about ourselves and playing them over and over again. It’s important for us to learn how to control these thoughts and to heal so that these thoughts stop crippling our normal daily lives. (Bokmann, 2019)
According to Bokmann (2019), the following can support us in doing so:
- Having an awareness of these thoughts, realising they are only thoughts;
- Accept that thoughts are not serving you, but don’t feel like you must ignore them;
- Let these thoughts float through your head and don’t try and analyse them or give them power;
- Then let these thoughts go
It’s important to know that these thoughts will come back and that you need to practice these principles over and over again until it finally disappears.
4. TRUST ISSUES
Many people trying to understand surviving Infidelity PTSD, find that they have developed significant trust issues.
When the person who we love the most, on whom we have put our hopes and dreams, who we trust more than anyone else betrays us, then our place in our world is profoundly affected. – Adapted from Bokmann (2019)
It’s important to spend as much time with those people who love you and those you can trust. Remember only One person betrayed your trust, not everyone. For me personally, it helps to spend quiet time with our Saviour Jesus Christ. It helps me know that whatever l did or did not do, HE forgives me. It is important for me to know who I am in Jesus, and not what my husband said about me.
With time, prayer and help, one can learn that trusting people is possible and that even that person who betrayed your trust, might be worthy of it again.
Surviving or recovering from Infidelity PTSD is definitely possible. With TIME, AWARENESS and HELP, you can get through this immense pain.
For now, keep your head up high, believe in the future and accept where you are. It will get better.
Written by a Humanitas Student who wishes to remain anonymous