BEFORE YOU START
AMBIVALENCE IS NORMAL
WHAT IS AMBIVALENCE?
Ambivalence in the context of an affair is having two opposite forces that effectively are fiercely competing with each other. Most betrayed partners are trapped between two instinctual forces:
The deep need to bond, attach and connect with a life partner, and
The need to protect oneself from a threat.
You will experience this tug-of war as a cyclical dynamic that they repeat over and over again during the initial aftermath of a betrayal. This cycle can happen multiple times in one day and can also be experienced as smaller cycles happening within larger cycles.
You may find yourself waking up on a beautiful morning, sharing the bed with your spouse who slept with someone else only a few weeks ago. Your mind and body are sending signals of comfort and safety. You feel comforted in each other’s arms. You deeply appreciate your history together and the life you built as a couple and a family.
Literally, the next moment, you are overwhelmed by a sinking feeling of agony and dread in your body. There is a red light flashing inside that an impending doom is coming. Reality leaps into your consciousness and you remember that your life has been destroyed. You feel punched in the gut, unable to breathe. You do not know the full extent of the betrayal, but you know that you are with a person who cannot be trusted. You feel rage inside that wants to strike out. But that feeling is tangled up with a storm of other confusing emotions that you can't seem to sort out. You do not know what to do as you get sucked into the vortex of ambivalence.
TWO PARTS OF YOURSELF
It is like there are two parts of yourself.
If the part that is desperate to stay takes over, then the other part that wants to run tells you you are a fool, a sucker, unsafe and that you will stay stuck.
If the part that wants to run wins, then the part of you that wants to stay screams, “Don’t give up!” and you’re still stuck.
If this description feels hauntingly familiar to you, you are not alone. You are trapped in a search for safety: through distance versus through connection. It is a push/pull dynamic that inevitably creates confusion and exhaustion.
DEALING WITH PUSH / PULL
Here is the best way to deal with this dynamic:
Grant permission to yourself to fully experience both needs.
Do not get stuck by the fact that they are opposing forces.
When angry, pain, and fear dominate your mind, create distance. Be clear with your partner that you need space. Say: “I am so hurt and angry with how you have destroyed my life and have been feeling this all day. I am going to be in my room for the rest of the night and I need you to take care of the kids and don’t knock on my door even to check in.“
On the other hand, you should allow yourself to reach out to your partner when you feel open to being comforted or feeling close, or you want to check in with the betraying partner to gain reassurance on his/her recovery path. Try saying: “Can we sit on the back porch and talk? Would you listen to what I am feeling and share how you are doing? I want to feel close to you.”
As you learn to accept all parts of yourself you will feel more at peace just being present with your feelings and thoughts. All that you are experiencing is normal, makes sense, and is part of your journey. By allowing yourself to fully experience it, you will begin to find peace and have a better chance to heal.