How does infidelity impact those who get divorced (i.e. divorce recovery) and what are their unique challenges? For the next few weeks we’ll explore life after divorce and infidelity and how it plays out for individuals who’s marriages fail as a result. This week we’ll focus on the specific barriers the betrayed spouse faces and the baggage they may carry into future relationships. Moving on after divorce, especially when infidelity is involved, is not easy.
After 26 years of marriage and three beautiful children, Martha* discovered her husband was cheating on her with girls closer to her children’s ages than her own. Her first response was to kick him out. There was little or no remorse on his part. He felt she should just get over it. Eventually she invited him back, prematurely she now admits, for the sake of the kids. She wasn’t even sure what she needed to forgive given his lack of disclosure. All she knew is what her own efforts at discovery had revealed. Change was not something that interested him, in fact the only change he felt necessary was on her part; she needed to get over it, lighten up and be more fun. Eventually her husband’s unwillingness to commit to a monogamous relationship led to divorce.
“How do you move forward when the best of who you were has been shredded and rejected?” she asked. That harsh reality is now 11 years past, but healing didn’t begin until recently. Charged with charting a course for her family, she ignored her own need for restoration. In her mind, financial survival and raising children were the top priorities and as she put it, “I didn’t even feel I had the right to have needs.” “It was all so scary,” she added. “I didn’t just lose my husband, I lost my whole life. I lost the majority of things that made me who I am: my home, many of our friends, my identity as his wife, my confidence, my security and my future.”
Life after divorce and betrayal creates unique challenges for the injured spouse. They have to overcome issues with…
Infidelity shatters the reality of the injured spouse so thoroughly that they often have trouble trusting their realty, their judgment, others and even themselves. Moving on after divorce, how can you know you aren’t making the same mistake again? How do you release your heart to the care of another? Even finding Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful doesn’t necessarily solve the dilemma. It takes a great deal of individual work before enough healing occurs for self-confidence to return and hope for the future is recovered. Until that healing comes, releasing one’s soul to the care of another is a challenge at best.
Betrayal is frequently a traumatic experience for the injured spouse. Divorce in no way remedies the problems of emotional flooding. Reminders of what happened can create strong emotional reactions for years to come. While an unfaithful spouse may understand the root cause of that reaction, others who weren’t involved at the point of crisis may find their reactivity confusing. Failure to take the time to process the trauma of the betrayal on top of divorce recovery can leave them susceptible to emotional flooding for years to come.
Life after divorce and betrayal can leave the injured spouse with an unfounded fear regarding the faithfulness of future partners. It’s understandable, but the need for safety can be higher for these individuals. Choosing not to mistrust is frequently a daily struggle and key to divorce recovery. It’s no wonder that hypervigilance becomes a natural part of their being. The old saying “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” rings truer than ever before. The last thing they want is to be hurt again and in their mind “better safe than sorry” can become a limiting factor for future relationships.
4. Risk aversion:
For those who divorce, infidelity often creates a problem with intimacy avoidance. One approach to avoid future pain is to always hold a part of self back in future relationships. Being “all in” can present a serious challenge if you choose to avoid the risk of future pain. While there’s a part of us that longs to be connected to a special person, taking that risk may seem next to impossible if betrayed in a previous relationship. You may find, while moving on after divorce and into future relationships, that you feel as if you have hit a wall when the relationship progresses to a deeper level of intimacy.
5. Negative lens:
Betrayal may create an aversion for anyone of the opposite sex. To create safety, a person may choose to believe that all men cheat, or that all women lie, etc. Divorce does nothing to correct the stereo-typing of an entire people group. As a matter of fact, life after divorce potentially creates more bitterness and mistrust of the opposite sex. The inability to find a place of forgiveness and reconciliation can create a jaded perspective of life, which prevents them from ever reconnecting again.
Eleven years later, Martha is still single. Until last year she longed for a new relationship, but still struggled with issues of trust. She went through “Divorce Recovery” and even led divorce recovery classes, but was still limited in her ability to move forward. Last year she entered Harboring Hope. “I never knew anything could go deep enough for my healing,” she explained. “The other women in my group refused to let me avoid looking at my issues. I finally recognized that I had legitimate needs that had to be addressed and Harboring Hope. systematically led me through the necessary steps for healing.” On the importance of community for specifically healing infidelity, she adds, “The girls in my group are still serving as a healthy support for one another months later. I’m learning to trust God’s goodness in all my situations.”
At Affair Recovery we know the wounds of betrayal can be healed. Regardless of whether your spouse has left you or not- don’t lose hope. You have legitimate wounds as a result of the betrayal and you owe it to yourself to do the necessary work to heal. At the very least go to Free Resources at Affair Recovery and get the information you need to begin your healing journey. For those who have divorced and who really want to pursue deep healing, Harboring Hope is a vital next step.