One of the many things I’ve noticed in numerous blogs of Betrayed Spouses is how much time is spent venting about the affair and their former (or still currently) Cheating Spouse. Absolute venom and rage. So much so that it appears to me to be getting in the way of personal and marital healing. I don’t even dare comment on some of these blogs because I don’t want to become the new target for their rage. They are invested in their anger and you don’t dare point out any conflicting points of view or information they have not considered. They are mad, dammit, you’re going to know it and they have their legions of like-minded supporters to cheer them on in their rage. Their blogs are like approaching a pile of radioactive material! I can’t imagine their spouses are feeling very good about their chances for marital recovery if their blogs are any indication of their mind-set and how they deal with problems and stress.
This is not to say anger isn’t normal under these circumstances. It is! Your partner/spouse betraying you with a relationship with someone else is among the worst kind of double-crosses one person can do to another. You’re profoundly shocked. Hurt. Humiliated. You feel a profound sense of rage that your spouse could do this to someone whom they claimed to love. You literally can’t sleep or eat. Whenever you see your spouse, you feel an unending cycle of negative, nasty thoughts. You want to save your marriage but your thoughts these days center more about hurting your spouse back for the thing they’ve done to you. The rage you are feeling about being betrayed is simply too much and you explode in a fit of harmful words as well as behavior. Constantly.
If I had been the Betrayed Spouse, I know I would’ve been mad. Hopping, screaming mad! I would’ve seethed with resentment. I don’t know if I could have got past it the way my wife did, frankly. Maybe she’s a more balanced and mature person than I am. But I know this — many Betrayed Spouses can’t get past it. I see it all the time. They are done and “outta here!”. Marriage is over. Period. Most people would hardly blame them. Infidelity is a knife to the back.
But I also believe this: Anger is a stage in marital recovery and at least initially is prevalent, appropriate, and predictable. Even healthy. If you don’t get the anger out, you will never be able to move past it. You will merely explode at some other point. Anger serves a constructive purpose in bringing about healing. However, anger needs to be channeled in healthy and constructive ways.
A key to recovering from infidelity (especially if you are interested in rebuilding your marriage) is to avoid bad responses. Bad responses create MORE problems, not fewer. It will cause resentment, discouragement, and may cause your Wayward Spouse to leave you anyway. It may confirm to them that you are not the right person for them after all (a thought that often precedes a spouse embarking on an affair) and that they were not only right in having an affair, but this might be the right time to “exit, stage right” from the marriage. Is this what you want?
I also believe that, if the anger does not subside over time, or appears unpredictably long after you claim to have forgiven your Wayward Spouse, it’s no longer healthy, appropriate, and helpful to you or your marriage. Anger can be helpful to the Betrayed Spouse; however, there comes a time when revealing your angry feelings reaches a point of diminishing results. It starts creating more troubles than it solves.
There are two types of anger here: The “initial reaction fury anger,” and the “long-term bitterness and resentment slowly festering inside anger.” The first is appropriate and helpful. It’s a “gift” to yourself, really. However, the second is a “cancer” on the marriage and needs to be overcome.
Many Betrayed Spouses know whether they have hit this point, although many do not. Those that do want to let go of their anger, but may not know how. They desperately look for a way to avoid the nightmare of rage that never seems to end. Are there strategies to overcome it? I think there are.
First, I think it’s helpful to recognize what anger in this case really is. It isn’t a shield as much as it’s a weapon. The weapon you use against an enemy, but in today’s world, you are destroying yourself by using it. You want them to hurt back because you hurt. And because you fear it happening again and you want them to know the likely result if they do. YOU ARE GOING TO YELL, CARRY-ON AND HURT THEM BACK!!
But, instead of expressing your ANGER, express your HURT. Calmly. Rationally. Express the ideas that are driving your anger. Tell them WHY you are hurt and angry, instead of giving into the rage of just being angry. You’ll get further. You need to communicate your own pain to your spouse if you are intending to move past this terrible trap and continue in the future to acceptance and finally forgiveness.
Another strategy is to attempt to look at things from the Wayward Spouse perspective. I know this isn’t easy, and I’m not saying that you should compare their rage, hurt, shame, guilt, etc, with your feelings. After all, they chose to do this. The choice was made for you, not by you. What I’m saying is this — they too have feelings, especially in the aftermath of an affair. And they too are likely to have grievances about you and the relationship/marriage.
And frankly they are not unlike a drug addict– and should be considered as one. An affair is a chemical addiction like any other. The craving to be with the lover can be so intense that objective reality doesn’t have much of a chance. The fact that a spouse and children may be permanently injured by this cruel indulgence doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters is spending more time with the lover. That makes it an addiction.
And now it’s gone. Cold turkey. You the Betrayed Spouse may not realize it, but they need your help to overcome all the aftermath of their affair too. The hurt. The pain. Guilt. Shame. The loss of their dignity and self-esteem. They are in a terrible state right now and might not really know what to do. They may be on the fence even though they have an overwhelming sense that they screwed up badly and are now facing the biggest crisis of their lives virtually alone. Nobody is on their side. Not even you. And everyone else is lining up with you. Understand the siege mentality settling in within them. The “fight or flight” response will be very strong. They need forgiveness. Understanding. Compassion.
Once both of you get beyond the anger stage and move towards reconciliation, it will be appropriate to calmly discuss both of your grievances. Believe it or not (and some of you never will), for most Wayward Spouses, the reasons they had affairs point to a larger or smaller degree back to huge gaps in their marriages. They may also have real “rage” against you for years of misunderstanding or neglect. And right now you have them under siege. And they are also beating themselves up. Rage, especially unpredictable and inappropriate rage, may put them on the defensive, but it might also enrage them too. And maybe drive them out the door too. While I’m not saying you give them a pass for this, you need to step outside of yourself and look at things from their perspective too. It will help.
I know for me that my wife’s moments of rage put me on the defensive and discouraged me. Especially after 6-12 months had gone by since D-day. I didn’t handle these unpredictable events very well. When she had them, my mind began to wonder whether recovery was even possible and if I should make plans to leave her. When I shared this thought with her, it tended to give her a better perspective about what was going on inside me. I did wrong. Royally fucked up. But I wasn’t going to be a human punching bag indefinitely. Life is too short to do so. I tried to be patient. I tried to understand what SHE was going through and that on some level, I deserved it. I truly did. But when you are under assault, you just want it to stop. And eventually you begin to resent the person assaulting you.
Some also suggest giving yourself a “time out”. Remove yourself from situations when you feel the cycle of rage beginning. Take a breath. Go outside. Go for a run. Do anything but explode.
Others have suggested keeping an “anger journal” — which could be in a book or on-line (like a blog). A secret one. This is not to throw in your spouse’s face. It’s your way of venting and then being able to go back and recognize the common threads and patterns in your rage cycles, a first step in overcoming them. As you look at your journal and anger list, honestly look at the sources of anger that come from within you or from your own actions.
Recognize that your anger is hurting your own health! Try and keep this in mind that, if nothing else, your own health is being undermined by continued anger. Your body behaves differently when you are anger perpetuates for a long time. The way your blood vessels deposit fat changes, the way your mind functions changes, and the way your body processes is also affected by anger. Not to mention the psychological stress and pain that you have to deal when you are constantly angry.
Seek support, from trusted friends, family members, a counselor or a support group. It can be very helpful to vent some of your hurts and frustrations with someone other than your spouse. That being said, I would be careful in whom you confide in, however. If you use a family member to vent about your spouse’s affair, realize that they will likely forever turn against your spouse and it will be awkward whenever your spouse is around them. And this could actually hurt recovery. So choose who you confide in wisely. Couples counseling with a trained professional is often very appropriate. It provides a structured, professional way to deal with anger. You’ll have a “coach” in there to guide you and your spouse in this process.
You cannot pursue justice and reconciliation at the same time. Try and keep your ultimate goal in mind. If it’s “justice” — that your spouse needs to “pay” for what they’ve done — you might as well draw up the divorce papers and save yourself the time and angst. Because only a spouse with no other options will stay under a circumstance that they will pay indefinitely for their sins without an end in sight. Why? Because there never really is any good way to fully pay this debt. However, if recovering your marriage is the goal, and you keep this in mind, you will realize that acting-out with words and actions will not just retard progress, but send it into reverse. You have been aggrieved. I agree. But if you want to save your marriage, you will reject the allure and power of being the continuous victim. You will recognize that forgiveness means letting go of the anger. And that without forgiveness there can be no healing. And healing requires compassion. Hate what your spouse did, but also keep your ultimate goal in mind.
In conclusion, remember that, in essence, the anger is continuing because you feel that the anger is protecting you from getting hurt again and is going to make your spouse realize how much you are hurt. This makes you believe that it is the anger which will make your spouse will feel remorseful of their action and will make them change so that they do not do such a horrible thing again.
It’s true that initially your anger will serve the purpose of making your spouse realize their mistakes and feel remorseful for their actions. However, after a certain point they will just find it irritating and become defensive about the anger. Anger is not a shield, it’s a weapon. It’s a weapon for attacking someone. And if you are constantly angry, your spouse will think that you are constantly attacking them, which will only result in them becoming defensive and maybe attack back. Or leave.
If you want to heal after the affair, it is imperative that you learn how to stop the anger. It is highly recommended that instead of trying to forgive instantly, you first try to accept what has happened and learn to live with it. The forgiveness will come eventually. And once you do accept it, the anger will slowly fade away.
Communication is the key to healing the marriage after an affair. If instead of being angry, you just communicate with your spouse how you are feeling, it will be much more constructive. Communicating anger is “communication,” but its a diversion from the real issues inside you and rarely will expressing it loudly and unpredictably achieve what you think it will.
And one more thing: I would be very careful what you say to your Wayward Spouse, even in anger. If you’re trying to hurt them back, you probably have, I assure you. You have wounded them. And they might not be able to forget your words. Ever. And it could undo any honest attempts at recovery. Fighting is not abnormal. But fight fair. It’s necessary to the long-term health of a marriage, whether recovering from an affair or not.